Amazon team Seattle bound



L-R: Amanda Cercas Curry, Alessandro Suglia, Karin Sevegnani and Ioannis Konstas

A group of Heriot-Watt students are gearing up for an American adventure.

Next week, three computer science PhD students and a faculty advisor from the Interaction Lab, in the school of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, will travel to Amazon's headquarters in Seattle as part of the annual Amazon Alexa Prize.
It is the second year running Heriot-Watt has been involved in the global university competition, which is dedicated to the advancement of conversational artificial intelligence. It challenges teams to develop a software capable of understanding and responding to humans in a socially intelligent manner, over many different topics of conversation such as news, music, movies, and celebrities.

We've learnt a lot from last year and I'm hopeful we can do even better this time round.

Amanda Cercas Curry

The group fly to the United States on Monday, 14 May for the Amazon Alexa summit where they will demonstrate their software, take part in a panel discussion and meet with the other teams. 

Alana Team leader, Amanda Cercas Curry, a second year Computing Science PhD student, is returning to the famous city having visited last year with the previous university team, which went on to finish in third place having overcome more than 100 entries from 22 countries. 

She said: “We're all really looking forward to Seattle and meeting with the other teams.

“It is a chance for us to reflect on the work we have already done as well as gain a valuable insight into the research carried out at Amazon.

“The competition semi-final will start in July and we have a tremendous amount of work to do between now and then. We've learnt a lot from last year and I'm hopeful we can do even better this time round.”

Earlier this year, Heriot-Watt's Team Alana was named as the UK's only entrant into the $3.5 million competition after passing a rigorous selection process. The University is now one of eight international teams vying for the coveted prize, which attracted almost 200 entries worldwide.

Team Alana is based at the University's Edinburgh Campus and is made up of seven students and four academic advisors who are developing a highly sophisticated software that can understand and respond to human conversation. 

All eight teams competing in the year's Prize each received a $250,000 research grant from Amazon as well as Alexa-enabled devices to support their development efforts.

The Alexa Prize is named after the voice command system that powers the Amazon Echo – a smart home device.