The University of Texas at Austin and Amazon are launching a science and engineering research partnership to enhance understanding in a variety of areas, including video streaming, search and information retrieval and robotics.

The UT Austin-Amazon Science Hub is the sixth such alliance between the tech company and a leading university. It aims to advance research that prompts new discoveries and addresses significant challenges while creating solutions that benefit society. This will be achieved by fostering collaboration among faculty members and students along with the development of a diverse and sustainable pipeline of research talent.

“We are striving to establish even more collaborations with leading companies and organizations in order to bring together more talented people, produce higher-impact research, and help our students reach their greatest ambitions. The launch of the new hub with Amazon is the latest success story in this effort,” said UT Austin President Jay Hartzell. “I am eager to see the discoveries that our researchers and students will create from this collaboration, and how those discoveries will change the world.”  

The hub will be hosted in UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering but engage researchers in a variety of disciplines.

As part of the collaboration, Amazon will provide funding for research projects, doctoral graduate student fellowships, and community-building events designed to diversify and increase cross-disciplinary innovation.

Al Bovik, UT Austin TX engineering professor

“Amazon is thrilled to establish a university hub at UT Austin,” said BA Winston, vice president of technology at Prime Video. “For years, our top scientists have been a resource to UT Austin graduate students, collaborating on topics such as developing objective machine learning models to predict perceptual video quality that drive smart compression and multimodal AI models that help ensure highest quality media playback experience at scale.”

The hub builds on an existing partnership between the two organizations via the Amazon Scholars program. Researchers from the Cockrell School, College of Natural Sciences, McCombs School of Business and College of Liberal Arts work with Amazon through the program.

“This Science Hub will strengthen the partnership between UT Austin and Amazon by leveraging our collective strengths and creating opportunities for our faculty and students and leaders at Amazon to work together to accelerate progress in the areas of computer vision, machine learning, AI and robotics,” said Roger Bonnecaze, dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering.

Research into visual neuroscience, streaming and social media is one of the reasons that UT was attractive to establish the new hub. Al Bovik, director of the new science hub and a professor in the Chandra Family Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, helped guarantee the quality and reliability of streaming video and social media worldwide with his research that earned him two Emmy Awards.

“There is no greater opportunity for graduate students than being able to engage directly with engineering and computer science teams working on practical data science problems that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide,” said Bovik. “This partnership with Amazon will make fantastic research opportunities available to UT Austin graduate students, who are among the best and brightest in the world.”

Joining him in leadership of the hub is an advisory board that includes personnel from UT Austin and Amazon:

  • Sujay Sanghavi, Chandra Family Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering. He is the associate director of the Science Hub and director of the NSF-funded TRIPODS Institute on the Foundations of Data Science, which brings together faculty from multiple disciplines to advance understanding of machine learning.
  • Matt Lease, School of Information. Lease is the founder and leader of UT Austin's Good Systems program, an eight-year, university-wide challenge to design responsible AI technologies.
  • Adam Klivans, Computer Science Department at the College of Natural Sciences. He leads the new National Science Foundation AI Institute for Foundations of Machine Learning and the UT Austin Machine Learning Lab. 
  • Adam Fineberg, senior principal engineer, Consumer Robotics at Amazon.
  • Vishy Vishwanathan, senior principal of research science, Search at Amazon.
  • Yongjun Wu, senior principal of software development engineering, Prime Video at Amazon.

“UT Austin has built an impressive program in robotics with exceptional faculty and students,” said Ken Washington, vice president of Amazon Consumer Robotics. “The new hub will allow us to collaborate even more closely with them in robotics and related disciplines, so I’m very optimistic about our growing partnership.”

Amazon had previous ties to Texas Engineering via the Amazon Scholars program. Sanghavi is both a principal research scientist and Scholar with Amazon Search. And Jon Tamir, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering was a recipient of an Amazon Research Award.