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Team’s talking robot aims for $1.5m prize

An Edinburgh team is competing for a $1.5m prize as part of a global contest to develop sophisticated voice-control technology.

Student researchers have secured $100,000 from e-commerce giant Amazon to help create a state-of-the-art social robot that can talk to people.

The Edinburgh team – called Edina – is one of 12 groups awarded funding from Amazon to compete in the company’s inaugural Alexa Prize Challenge.

The competition received more than 100 applications from 22 countries.

Intelligent robot

Teams have been tasked with improving the company’s voice-enabled artificial intelligence system – known as Alexa – which can converse on popular culture and news.

The ultimate goal of the competition is to develop technology that enables Alexa to hold a 20-minute conversation with a person.

As well as funding, the Edina team has been provided with four Alexa-enabled devices and access to free technical support from Amazon.

Prize winners

The team with the best-performing social robot will receive $500,000 in prize money. An additional $1m will be awarded if the system can converse coherently for a full 20 minutes.

Competition winners will be announced in November 2017.

We are excited to represent Edinburgh in this challenging competition and to go up against some of the world's top research groups in artificial intelligence. This is a hugely motivating opportunity for us. There is much to learn and a chance to push the state of the art.

Federico FancelluTeam Lead, Edina