University of Waterloo becomes the only Canadian school backed by Amazon in AI fellowship

Photo of Amazon Echo

Amazon will fund an artificial intelligence program for engineering students at the University of Waterloo.

The University of Waterloo is one of four North American universities — and the only Canadian university — selected to participate in the Alexa Fund Fellowship. The fellowship comes with funding for instruction and supervision of student projects in the fields of AI and the internet of things (IoT).

As part of the year-long program funded by Amazon, the e-commerce giant will supply Waterloo with Alexa-enabled devices as well as an Alexa speech scientist to help mentor researchers and students, according to a statement sent to MobileSyrup.

“It’s evolving at incredible speed,” said Fakhri Karray, director of the Centre for Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence and an electrical and computer engineering professor at the University of Waterloo.

“These are very exciting times for researchers, product developers and customers,” he continued in a statement. 

Alexa is a cloud-based digital assistant developed by Amazon that powers products like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap, among others. More than 600 students will participate in the program through three undergraduate courses and a graduate level course.

A post-doctoral fellow will reportedly assist the instructors while keeping in contact with Amazon. Furthermore, the fellow will supervise 10 projects by fourth year students and another six capstone design projects by graduating engineering students.

Professor Karray went on to say that the key objectives include teaching students how to integrate Alexa with the AI concepts they learn in class so that users can interact with their products in a more natural way.

“We are in the midst of a revolution in the field of operational artificial intelligence and this is one part of it,” said Karray.

The other schools participating in the program include Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Southern California.