Saint Louis University (SLU) has announced that students will have another roommate living with them when they return to classes this month. SLU will place Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers into each room and apartment that is offered for student housing. Each of the Dots will be running a custom SLU skill that is designed to answer questions that are specific to the university. The idea is to help reduce the number of calls to school helplines and keep students aware of important aspects of campus life.
That custom SLU skill, which was developed by n-Powered and is hosted on AWS, can give instant answers to more than 100 questions that new and returning students might have that are specific to the school. Those questions can be things like “What time does the library close tonight?” or “Where is the registrar’s office?” according to school officials. Alexa will also be able to give information about public speakers that will be on campus, concerts, athletic games, student events and organizations, service and mission opportunities, and numerous other aspects of student life.
Many people are concerned about the personal information that Alexa and other voice assistants and smart speakers collect, so the university has a complete FAQ that sheds light on some aspects of using the device. SLU promises that it takes privacy very seriously and all the Echo Dots in the school are managed via a central system dedicated to SLU only. This means that no student information or accounts are tied to the devices and no personal information is saved. No recordings of any asked questions are maintained according to the school.
Students may mute the mic on the Dot if they feel particularly concerned about privacy. SLU also states that the money to fund the Echo Dot purchase wasn’t raised via any tuition increases. The school notes that the speaker can currently only stream music via Bluetooth, iHeartRadio, or TuneIn.
SLU claims to be the first university in the world to put digital assistants into all student housing. It’s not clear if students will be able to install other skills onto the Echo Dot devices, presumably with them tied to one central account for the college the devices are more locked down than a personal device.