Amazon Opens New Alexa Prize SimBot Challenge to Teach Virtual Robots
Amazon has begun accepting applicants for the first Alexa Prize SimBot Challenge, a new iteration of Amazon’s contests for voice app developers. The SimBot Challenge focuses on virtual robotic assistants and ways to teach them to help people in the real world. That Amazon launched the competition just days after introducing Astro, the Alexa-enabled robot, doesn’t seem coincidental, though it goes unmentioned in the Alexa Prize material.
The SimBot Challenge focuses on how AI tools can be applied to digital versions of robots. The competitors will have to come up with machine-learning models using natural language understanding to craft their AI so that the robots can complete a task and interact with humans well enough to do so. The idea is that the AI will be able to learn from humans and from its own efforts to navigate and understand the space around it so it can manipulate objects and complete its assigned tasks in both virtual and real space.
“Next-generation assistants won’t just be sitting in your kitchen or living room and responding to your questions or requests. They will be ambient and mobile, helping customers accomplish tasks in the real world through better-situated intelligence,” Alexa AI senior principal scientist Dilek Hakkani-Tür explained in a blog post. “The goal of the SimBot Challenge is to advance the science so that future generations of virtual assistants are capable of learning continuously and are imbued with a more generalized intelligence.”
Amazon complemented the competition new with the public release of the TEACh dataset. TEACh includes more than 3,000 conversations between simulated users and robots discussing methods for managing household tasks. In the dialogs, the human breaks down the separate steps of the job for the robot, paired with simulated visual data.
Unlike the Alexa SocialBot and TaskBot Challenges, there will be a chance for developers beyond university students to participate in the SimBot Challenge. Individuals can participate in the public benchmark phase of the competition. The live interactions phase will continue the university team restriction, with the teams from each school creating a bot to interact with customers and integrate multimodal sensor data successfully. Amazon will put the bots into a game playable on Amazon Echo Show smart displays for any Alexa customer. The teams chosen to compete will get a grant and free devices and AWS services and support. The winners will score $500,000, with $100,000 and $50,000 given to the second and third-place teams. Applications are open until Oct. 31.
“Our Alexa Prize Socialbot Challenge introduced a new means by which industry and academia could collaborate to advance the science behind conversational AI. Just as the Socialbot Challenge broke new ground in enabling university students to advance the state of conversational AI by leveraging real-time feedback from millions of Alexa customers, the SimBot Challenge will enable university students to advance multimodal human-robot interaction and teachable AI much faster than previously possible,” Alexa AI vice president of Natural Understanding Prem Natarajan said. “We are excited to see how the participating teams will help evolve this area of study from science fiction to science fact.”