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Amazon launches Alexa Fund Fellowship to support university research on voice technology


By David Schwartz
Published: March 7th, 2017

Amazon is funding a series of fellowships for university researchers focused on unlocking the potential of voice technology, which has become more visible in part through Amazon’s Echo device and its Alexa voice service.

In an announcement from Doug Booms, Amazon’s VP of Worldwide Corporate Development, the company unveiled its Alexa Fund Fellowships, which will revolve around voice technologies, “Innovation requires a collective effort, from large companies like ours to two-person start-ups, and from casual hobbyists to major academic institutions,” Booms said. 

The fellowship program will “support universities and researchers focused on transformative voice technologies such as text-to-speech (TTS), natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR) and conversational artificial intelligence (AI).”

Fellows will receive funding as well as access to Alexa devices and mentoring from an Alexa Science team. “The year-long program culminates in a demo day where fellows can showcase their work for peers, university faculty and members of the Alexa team,” Booms added.

Four initial fellowships have already been awarded to Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins, the University of Southern California, and the University of Waterloo. Both Carnegie Mellon and Waterloo have already chosen fellows and begun offering classes for engineering students, while courses from Johns Hopkins and USC will begin in fall 2017.

 “Voice computing is no longer science fiction. By understanding the principles behind the interaction between computers and humans, our students can develop new applications and start-up ventures,” said Pearl Sullivan, dean of the Faculty of Engineering at University of Waterloo. “With our intense focus on experiential learning and early innovation, this program with Amazon will enable our engineering faculty to use Alexa as a teaching tool for artificial intelligence topics on voice recognition and speech synthesis.” 

 “We are pleased to deepen our relationship with Amazon through the Alexa Fund’s support of our PhD program in our Center for Language and Speech Processing,” said Ed Schlesinger, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University. “Advancing our relationships with corporate leaders such as Amazon will assist us in our mission to continue to make positive impacts on society through our research, education, and translational activities.”

The program is being financed out of the $100 million Alexa Fund, which was created in 2015 to support voice technology innovation and fund start-ups in that space.

According to Booms, the first participating universities were chosen “in part for the quality of their technology transfer and entrepreneurship programs, and we’re excited to work with them to support Alexa Fund Fellows interested in commercializing their work.” The fellowship program is currently being run in private beta. Universities interested in learning more about it can find additional information on the Alexa Fund Fellowship website.

Source: Amazon Developer

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