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Amazon's new research center seeks to improve AI vision

The online retailer is partnering with the academic community and investing nearly $1.5 million to open a new facility in Germany dedicated to making AI better.

bernhard-sch-oumllkopf-copyright-wolfram-scheible

Professor Bernhard Schölkopf, a director at the Max Planck Institute and leading mind in machine learning, is now also an "Amazon Scholar."

Wolfram Scheible/Amazon

Between its online shopping algorithms, online web services and the rise of Alexa, artificial intelligence is becoming an increasingly important part of Amazon's business model. Now, the online mega-retailer is investing in the technology's future with plans for a new Amazon Research Center near the campus of the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen, Germany.

Amazon plans to staff the new facility with 100 employees in the field of machine learning, and will pour 1.25 million euros (almost $1.5 million) into new research groups. Research in areas critical to AI, including robotics, machine learning and machine vision, are already underway in the area.

Amazon has also named two of the Planck Institute's directors as "Amazon Scholars." The first, professor Bernhard Schölkopf, is an expert in machine learning, and the co-inventor of computer-aided photography. The other, professor Michael J. Black, is an en expert in the field of machine vision, and co-founder of Body Labs, a human body 3D-imaging company from New York that Amazon acquired for an undisclosed sum just weeks ago.

Max Planck Society President Martin Stratmann called Amazon a "strong partner," and says that the deal will increase the international importance of the area's research into machine learning and perception. With Amazon's entrepreneurial backing, Stratmann hopes that the area can become "a breeding ground for innovations which can later prove to be technological breakthroughs."

As part of the deal, Amazon plans to support the Planck Society with annual research awards worth roughly $500,000. 

"With the Amazon Research Center in Tübingen, Amazon is one of the largest research initiatives in Europe in the field of artificial intelligence," said Ralf Herbrich, Director of Machine Learning at Amazon. "This demonstrates our commitment to creating highly qualified research and development services for future technologies."