Heriot-Watt world leading in robotics and AI


Heriot-Watt has reaffirmed its position as a world leader in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) after reaching the final of the Amazon Alexa Prize for the second year running.

The university's Team Alana narrowly missed out on coveted title after finishing in  third place behind the eventual winners University of California Davis at a ceremony held in Las Vegas on Monday 26 November.

Being part of this team and competition has been a great experience and one I will never forget.

Amanda Cercas Curry, Alana team leader

Heriot-Watt was the only UK university to reach the final three having overcome stiff international competition from 200 entrants. Team Alana, comprising of six PhD students and four faculty advisors, successfully developed a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence software capable of understanding and responding to human conversation.

Alana Team Leader, Amanda Cercas Curry, a Computing Science PhD student, was in Las Vegas for the ceremony and said: “I'm very proud of the high-calibre of work carried out by this team and we can all feel extremely proud of reaching the final of this global competition for the second year in a row.

“Being part of this team and competition has been a great experience and one I will never forget.

“Developing production-ready AI systems is never easy but we leave here with valuable insight that we can use in our future careers.”

The Amazon Alexa Prize is dedicated to the advancement of conversational artificial intelligence and 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. It is named after the Alexa voice command system that powers the Amazon Echo – a smart home device. 

Over the last 18 months, thousands of Amazon Alexa customers in America have put the software through the ultimate test by conversing with all of the finalists' socialbots on a host of popular topics. They then gave their feedback based on whether the conversation flowed naturally and if the technology was up to the task.

Professor Richard A. Williams, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, praised the team's achievement saying: “I congratulate everyone involved in Team Alana in reaching the final of the Amazon Alexa Prize for the second time in as many years.

“Our involvement in such a prestigious competition only serves to demonstrate the tremendous talent we have and helps promote the name of Heriot-Watt around the world, showcasing us a global leaders in robotics and artificial intelligence."

By Craig McManamon

Communications Officer 

T: 0131 451 8099

E: c.mcmanamon@hw.ac.uk

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