Amazon expands Alexa Fund Fellowship to 18 universities to support voice technology research

Some of Amazon’s newest Alexa-powered devices. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Amazon has expanded its Alexa Fund Fellowship, a program designed to fund and support researchers and universities working on voice technology, from four universities to 18, including its hometown school, the University of Washington.

As part of the expansion, Amazon split the program into two areas for the 2018-19 school year, awarding fellowships for graduate students focused on conversational artificial intelligence and a fellowship for faculty to become experts in voice interfaces at their schools.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the University of Southern California will receive both fellowships. There are universities from the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and India involved in the second year of the project.

Here are the other schools involved in the graduate fellowship program:

  • International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad, India
  • Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, Mass.
  • University of Cambridge, Cambridge, U.K.
  • University of Sheffield, Sheffield, U.K.
  • University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
  • University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.
  • University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

And these schools received the faculty fellowship, aka the Alexa Innovation Fellowship:

  • Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz.
  • California State University, Northridge, Calif.
  • Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.
  • Emerson College, Boston, Mass.
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • University of California, Berkeley, Calif.
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Ill.
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich.

As part of the program, Amazon covers cost of tuition for graduate fellows and offer a competitive stipend and mentoring from an Alexa scientist. Innovation fellows receive funding to help student startups, Alexa devices, hardware kits and regular training with Alexa Fund-backed entrepreneurs.

At MIT, Alexa Graduate Fellow Jessica van Brummelen is researching ways to make it easier for students to learn and create conversational AI interfaces, including expanding the MIT App Inventor program to include Alexa skill development. Another graduate fellow, University of Cambridge student James Thorne, is looking at how to leverage AI for fact-checking.

Alex Fred-Ojala, an innovation fellow at University of California Berkley is integrating a voice module into the popular Data-X Lab course at the Saturja Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. Andrew Singer is the associate dean of innovation and entrepreneurship at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s College of Engineering, and he will be teaching a class on audio and signal processing using Alexa development kits.

Amazon introduced the Alexa Fund Fellowship in 2017 at four universities: Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Southern California, and University of Waterloo.

The fellowships are an off-shoot of the Alexa Fund, a $200 million vehicle for Amazon to invest in startups focused on voice technology. Amazon first debuted the fund in 2015 at $100 million and doubled the allocation to support international startups and other initiatives such as the fellowships and the Alexa Accelerator, which is now in its second cohort of startups.

All these programs are part of a plan to crowdsource development of Alexa, which recently topped 45,000 capabilities, or “skills” in Amazon lingo. Through programs like the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Services, developers can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken commands.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to identify the correct locations of the universities