USC has received the inaugural Amazon Alexa Innovation Fellowship, one of among just 10 topflight universities to land the grant. Other recipients include the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University and Dartmouth College.
The award provides funding, Alexa devices, and training resources to help entrepreneurial-minded students integrate voice capabilities into their startups.
“We have incredibly talented students and faculty that are driving technology innovation in Southern California.” said Alice Liu, assistant director for the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Office of Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We are extremely pleased that Amazon is helping to further invest in the great work that’s being done here. This award will help our students challenge themselves to develop the next frontier in voice and create start-ups with more human-centric focus.”
The Amazon Alexa Fellowship will complement several initiatives run by the Office of Technology and Entrepreneurship, including the Maseeh Entrepreneurship Prize Competition. MEPC – an engineering business model competition at USC founded in 2010 with a $1 million endowment from entrepreneur Fariborz Maseeh, and the Atoms-Bits-Cells (ABC) Innovation Prize, an undergraduate business model competition.
The grant will support new prizes and seed monies for start-ups with voice capabilities. “All start-ups in any of Viterbi’s competitions will have an opportunity to compete for these additional prizes,” said Liu, who will serve as USC’s Amazon Alexa Innovation Fellow. The Alexa award will also underwrite customer discovery and special technical development workshops led by Amazon to help students develop the voice-integration aspects of their start-up.
In the future, Liu added, new Alexa Fund resources could potentially support a new special topics class for undergraduate and graduate computer science students on voice-activated innovations.
Additionally, Amazon recently selected USC Viterbi Ph.D. student I-Hung Hsu as an Alexa Graduate Fellow, with Nanyun “Violet” Peng of ISI serving as his fellowship advisor. Hsu, a computer scientist, works on speech and natural language research. USC is one of only two universities selected for both the Graduate Fellowship and the Innovation Fellowship.
Amazon has said that the company created the Alexa Innovation Fellowship to inspire and enable the next generation of curious minds to invent the next big thing in conversational AI.
“We are delighted that Amazon is expanding its footprint in Silicon Beach with this partnership, and that USC Viterbi continues to offer world-class student experiences with cutting-edge innovation,” said Andrea Belz, vice dean of Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Alice Liu is the perfect leader for this effort.”