Alexa Taskbot

Scottish ‘GRILLBot Wins First Alexa Prize TaskBot Challenge

Amazon has named the University of Glasgow and its GRILLBot as the winner of the first Alexa Prize TaskBot Challenge. GRILLBot stood out as the best AI for conversationally guiding users through multi-step, complex tasks among the initial ten finalists from around the world.

GRILLBot TaskBots

The TaskBot Challenge asked teams to produce a digital assistant that could help people with home repair, construction, and culinary projects. Instead of the single task and order matchup common to voice assistants, the TaskBot was supposed to be able to converse in-depth about the project by asking questions and learning from the users. Amazon picked home improvement and cooking as examples of simple requests built from multiple steps that lend themselves to multi-modal interactions, meaning visual components to go with the voice app. GRILLBot and its competitors attempted to help users plan out their projects in terms of what they need to buy and how to combine the materials or ingredients into a successful meal or piece of furniture.

“Ultimately, the goal of taskbots is one shared by the research vision from our research lab: to enable people to understand the world and make people’s lives better,” GRILLBot team leader Carlos Gemmell said. “We learned that users learn and enjoy a task more when there are rich image and video elements,” added team member Iain Mackie.

TaskBot Tests

Customers had a chance to test and rate the taskbots by saying, “Alexa, let’s work together,” which initiated any of the ten projects. GRILLBot earned an average rating of 3.6 out of 5, netting the win and $500,000 for its team. Twiz, built by Portugal’s NOVA School of Science and Technology, picked up $100,000 for second place, while Ohio State University’s TacoBot picked up the bronze and $50,000. All participants received research grants and a variety of hardware and software just for participating. The challenge is set to run for three years, with the next round beginning in September. New project concepts will be added to the initial themes, all connected to Alexa’s long-term voice commerce plans.

“This challenge was motivated by our north star that Alexa will keep inventing next-generation conversational AI experiences that address our customers’ changing needs,” said Yoelle Maarek, Alexa Shopping vice president of research and science said. “Congratulations to our top-performing teams, and to all of the teams who participated in this inaugural challenge. We were delighted with the high level of engagement from the academic community, and by the advances the teams made against the research directions established for the challenge.”

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