Amazon Research Awards Honor Outstanding Academic Projects in Artificial Intelligence

Broad range of applications demonstrates the diversity of research for AI technology solutions

49 scientific groups from 28 institutions will be awarded with a total of 3.7 million US-Dollars

The Amazon Research Awards (ARA) are granted in 11 categories to foster innovation and collaboration with major research institutions

SEATTLE--()--(NASDAQ: AMZN) – Amazon today announced the winners of the Amazon Research Awards (ARA) in 2017, a program designed to support independent external research in areas relevant for Amazon customers. The funded research is in the fields of computer science and related topics including machine learning, computer vision, robotics, and natural language processing. In the third year of ARA, more than 800 research groups, universities and scientific institutions from North America and Europe took part in the open call for proposals in fall 2017. Out of all these applicants, 49 projects will be supported with the Amazon Research Awards with up to $80,000 per project.

“With the Amazon Research Awards, we aim to deepen the existing ties of Amazon Research teams across the world to research institutions and to fund research themes that will define the future of artificial intelligence,” said Ralf Herbrich, Director of Machine Learning at Amazon. “We are proud of the large number of highly qualified applications, which demonstrate the breadth and depth of the AI research field. With Amazon Research Awards, we want scientists to further their research in foundational areas that enable innovations for our customers and make these results available on an open source basis. We are especially proud of the fact that the applicants represent a very wide range of schools, from smaller schools like Rice, to large institutions like the University of Washington and Inria.”

These are some of the projects that are funded this year:

  • Computer Vision: Cordelia Schmid, Research Director at Inria, the French National Institute for computer science and applied mathematics, and her team conduct research in computer vision, and more particularly the automatic interpretation of digital images and videos. The funded project will construct the first realistic dataset for 3D pose evaluation of humans in action. To do so, the Inria researchers will capture 3D models of humans in real-life situations while performing actions and manipulating objects using a multi-camera platform. They will then render these models in synthetic scenes simulating a moving camera. The resulting data are more realistic as they capture real hair and clothing deformations, while showing real motion blur, truncations by the image boundaries and occlusions by manipulated objects and elements of the scene.
  • Machine Learning: Thorsten Joachims, Professor in the Department of Computer Science and in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and his team will develop new machine learning algorithms that can learn from partial information, such as user feedback in log data. Logged user interactions are one of the most ubiquitous forms of data available, as they can be recorded from a variety of systems like search engines or recommender systems at little cost. The interaction logs of such systems (e.g., a personalized newspaper) typically contain a record of the input to the system (e.g., features describing the user), the action taken by the system (e.g., presented ranking of news articles) and the feedback (e.g., clicks on the articles). When a user clicks on a search result, it often does not mean that the result is good on some absolute level, just that it is better than the higher ranked results. The proposal eliminates the need to randomize while collecting the feedback, making the learning systems more applicable to cases like search, advertising, or recommendations that may use deterministic logging.
  • Robotics: With the ARA grant, the team of Sven Koenig, professor in computer science at the University of Southern California, will study how a high number of robots find their paths efficiently and effectively in highly filled spaces for warehouse automation. The robots must be able to make good decisions in complex situations that involve a substantial degree of uncertainty, yet find solutions in a timely manner despite a large number of potential contingencies. Congested spaces exist in Amazon fulfillment centers, for example, in front of the picking stations since every robot has to cross this region, whether it delivers a shelf to a picking station or returns it to the warehouse. USC’s research intends to provide a strong foundation for building resilient algorithms for such robot systems to end collision-free paths for all robots from their respective start vertices to their respective goal vertices.

The other ARA categories are General AI, Knowledge Management and Data Quality, Machine Translation, Personalization, Search and Information Retrieval, Security, Privacy and Abuse Prevention, and Speech.

“On behalf of my team, I’d like to thank Amazon for granting us the ARA already for the second time,” said Cordelia Schmid, Research Director at Inria, the French National Institute for computer science and applied mathematics. “The grant will fund work on real-world challenges we are researching on at Inria. I value these interactions with companies like Amazon because they provide feedback from the industry and help assess the applicability of our research and information on industry problems.”

The output of the funded projects will be made publicly available both in the form of academic publications and open source code contributions. ARA also facilitates training for students and temporary research positions for faculty. These include graduate student and post-doc internships offered by the industry partner, and visiting researcher arrangements when the scientist temporarily leaves their home university to work as an industry researcher.

The full list of winners with details on their projects is available on the ARA website:

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