Amazon to open 2 Israeli R&D centers to develop Alexa Voice Shopping

Centers in Tel Aviv and Haifa will employ 100 people, further deepening the retail giant’s presence in the country

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi (L) speaks to Amazon's Werner Vogels during an Invest in Israel event aat DLD Tel Aviv, September 6, 2017. (Courtesy)
Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi (L) speaks to Amazon's Werner Vogels during an Invest in Israel event aat DLD Tel Aviv, September 6, 2017. (Courtesy)

The online shopping giant Amazon announced Monday that it will set up a research and development team in Israel to further improve its Alexa Voice Shopping system which allows shoppers to speak their order into a machine rather than typing it into a computer.

Two centers will be set up — in Tel Aviv and the northern coastal city of Haifa — employing a total of 100 workers, the business daily The Marker reported.

Amazon is currently seeking scientists, developers, engineers and production managers for the new locations.

Amazon recently employed former Microsoft Israel development director and board member Eyal Itah to head up the development of Alexa Voice Shopping, The Marker reported.

Yoelle Maarek, who formerly directed research at Yahoo, has been taken on as international deputy president for research. Part of her job will be to find additional researchers.

Assaf Ronen, Amazon’s vice president of Voice Shopping, said, “We are determined to continue developing the team with Israeli talent. Yoelle and Eyal have the talents and experience to lead the new team of researchers and engineers and to build the future of [these] products.”

Amazon has been active in Israel for several years and has recently focused on its work via Annapurna Labs, which it acquired in January 2015.

Employing some 200 workers, Annapurna Labs is based in the northern city of Yokne’am.

During a recent visit to Israel, Amazon’s technology deputy director Dr. Werner Vogels spoke of the company’s efforts to improve technology’s ability to understand the human voice.

“Up until now, we’ve conversed with the computer in a way that suits the computer. In developing Alexa, we are trying first to understand how conversation is constructed,” he said.

Google employs a voice-operated system called Google Assistant, while Apple offers a system called Siri.

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