Amazon is now working with 18 universities to encourage research into voice technology that could help the company’s Alexa voice assistant.
The online retail giant said on Wednesday that it plans to award fellowships to graduate students and faculty members at schools like Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, Dartmouth College, and the University of California, Berkeley. The 18 universities marks a major increase from last year, when the Alexa Fellowship program debuted with four schools.
The fellowship’s goal is to foster the development of voice-recognition technologies at some of the nation’s top universities that would benefit Amazon (AMZN), which is investing heavily in Alexa amid competition from other services like Google Assistant (GOOG) and Apple’s (AAPL) Siri.
The more university faculty and students studying computer science are familiar with Amazon Alexa and its underlying technology, the more Amazon has access to potential new workers and developers who can build third-party apps on top of Alexa. Many tech companies see voice-recognition and related A.I. technologies as a major step in computing by letting people interact with computers and Internet-connected devices by speaking instead of using conventional keyboards or touch screens.
Through Amazon’s Alexa program, graduate students researching voice-recognition technology can apply to receive fellowships while university professors and faculty members involved with school entrepreneurship programs can receive grants and support from Amazon on projects related to voice technology.
Amazon said it would pay for the tuition for graduate students awarded with the fellowship and will also give them “a competitive stipend and mentoring from an Alexa scientist.”
Faculty members who participate in the Alexa fellowship program receive an unspecified amount of funding and Alexa-powered devices like Amazon’s Echo smart speakers intended to help budding student entrepreneurs create startups specializing in using voice technology.
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Last week, St. Louis University said it would install 2,300 Echo Dot speakers in the private college’s residence halls and student housing complexes. With the various Echo Dots scattered around the university, students will be able to ask the speakers basic questions like what times are certain lectures or what time is the library open.