Brightlands AI Hub kicked off in Heerlen

Published on: 26 February 2021

Astrid Boeijen, CEO of Brightlands Smart Services Campus and trailblazer of the Brightlands AI Hub: “Artificial Intelligence and data science will play a major role in determining our future prosperity and well-being. We have only just begun to make the most of the added value this represents for the social and economic challenges in our region and beyond.” The Brightlands AI Hub will be a single flagship and a single point of contact, and is part of the Netherlands AI Coalition national network. Boeijen: “The hub bundles the strengths that we already have in this field and is good for Limburg, the Netherlands and the Euregion because it further improves the business climate, helps us to attract and retain talent, and we can tackle innovation issues together. It also helps us better target efforts to acquire additional funding for research and development. This includes the development of specific innovation labs, among other things.”


The Brightlands AI Hub is an initiative of the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen, Maastricht University, Open University, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, VISTA College, the Province of Limburg, Accenture, APG, the Municipality of Heerlen, Parkstad Limburg city region, LIOF (Limburg Development and Investment Company), LWV, MKB Limburg, Regitel, Brightlands Chemelot Campus, Brightlands Health Campus and the Brightlands Campus Greenport Venlo, Maastricht UMC+, Zuyderland, VDL Nedcar, the Dutch National Police Force and the CBS. Annette Mosman, president of the APG Board of Directors: “This broad partnership between public and private parties will help us continue, full steam ahead, to research and develop artificial intelligence in practice and further shape the related innovations.”

Powerful ecosystem

With the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen as its driving force and core, Limburg has a strong position in the fields of artificial intelligence, data science and digitalization. Launched in 2016, the Brightlands Campus in Heerlen comprises an ecosystem of 80 companies, knowledge institutes, government bodies and other organizations and is active in the development and application of AI and data science. The campus is also part of the four Brightlands Campuses in Limburg. Data science and AI also play an important role at the Chemelot Campus in Sittard-Geleen (circularity), the Health Campus in Maastricht (health) and the Greenport Campus in Venlo (healthy nutrition). The surrounding ecosystem also boasts extensive expertise in data science and AI, as well as the ambition to develop and deploy it further. This applies to industry, SMEs and hospitals in the region. “The Brightlands AI Hub wants to strengthen and build on this ecosystem. A large number of companies, government bodies and institutions have already joined the Brightlands AI Hub and we would be happyto welcome new parties,” says Astrid Boeijen.

The Netherlands AI Coalition

Om de AI-hub Brightlands te realiseren, ontvangt de hub de zogeheten kickstartfinanciering van de Nederlandse AI Coalitie, waarmee ze een bijdrage kan leveren aan de ambities van de NL AI Coalitie om Nederland een leidende rol te bezorgen op het gebied van Artificiële Intelligentie. Met de vorming van de hub wordt gevolg gegeven aan het AINED rapport ‘Versnellen, vergroten en verbinden’ en de Actieagenda van de Nederlandse AI Coalitie, waarvan het realiseren van één nationaal AI-netwerk één van de pijlers is. Naast de AI-hub Brightlands zijn eerder ook de AI-hub Amsterdam, AI-hub Brainport, AI-hub Zuid-Holland, AI-hub Oost-Nederland, AI-hub Noord Nederland en AI-hub Midden Nederland van start gegaan in het kader van de NL AI Coalitie. Samen fungeren de AI-hubs als gezamenlijk aanspreekpunt voor bedrijven en kennisinstellingen in de regio die willen werken met AI, verbonden in de NL AI Coalitie.


The Brightlands AI Hub focuses on both technical AI research as well as research on the application of AI in areas such as the public services, public safety, sustainable industry, health and healthcare. Joost van den Akker, Deputy for Economic Affairs, Education and Sport for the Province of Limburg: “In its provincial economic policy, the Province of Limburg is committed to strengthening the Limburg economy and reinforcing the competitive position of SMEs in Limburg. The Brightlands AI Hub offers SMEs in Limburg and Euregional entrepreneurs in the surrounding areas the opportunity to expand their knowledge of AI and data science. The hub also offers support and solutions to social and business issues, and stimulates innovations at companies in order to strengthen the competitive position of the Limburg business community.” Astrid Boeijen: “In Heerlen, we have accumulated extensive experience with collaboration between companies, government agencies and knowledge institutes. This triple-helix collaboration as it’s known is the best breeding ground for innovation, and we are going to get citizens involved in this. International crossovers are also set up with organizations in Germany and Belgium, which is only logical given the location of the hub. A lot of attention is paid to the education of students for the retraining or continued education of company staff. Digitalization in SMEs receive support through our MKB Datalab.”


In terms of the technology “under the hood”, the hub has plenty of knowledge and expertise in machine learning, explainable AI, game theory, cognitive robotics, man-machine interaction and other areas. When it comes to the application of AI, the hub also has a lot of experience with secure data sharing, blockchain, privacy-protecting technology, data visualization, ethics, and the social and legal aspects.


The hub is assured of the influx of new talent. Nearly 1,000 students enrolled in the AI, Data and Compute Science bachelor’s and master’s programs at Open University and Maastricht University learn the ins and outs of machine learning, imaging, cognitive robotics, explainable AI, human-machine interaction, optimization and game theory. The Applied AI and Human Interaction specializations within the ICT program at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences facilitate a direct transition to the follow-up master’s programs at Maastricht University and Open University. VISTA completes the continuous learning pathway with a connection to the HBO-ICT bachelor’s and AI programs at Zuyd University. Martin Paul, president of Maastricht University, “The fact that the AI hub is part of the Netherlands AI Coalition is a major achievement, both for the Brightlands Smart Services Campus in Heerlen and the entire Brightlands concept. Researchers and students at our universities and schools of applied sciences can work with partners from the private and public sectors to put AI technology to use in service of society: in Limburg, the Netherlands and beyond.”


Over the next few months, the plans for the Brightlands AI Hub will be further elaborated on. Astrid Boeijen concludes, “We expect many parties to join because AI will only grow in importance in the years to come. We have an excellent starting point but there is still much to be done to secure a good position for Dutch companies, education, science, government and citizens. And we do this in cooperation with all of the partners.”


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