Affixing Amazon Echo into College Campuses

In order to automate the process of student inquiry, Saint Louis University is set to install Amazon Echo Dot in all of its 2,300 residences across campus. By doing so, it will become the first university in the United States to integrate AI into daily campus life.

Affixing Amazon Echo into College Campuses
Amazon’ Alexa to assist university students in circumnavigating campus life

College is the perfect platform for individuals to transform into the person they aspire to become. It’s no wonder, that college years’ are deemed as the most important and toughest era of an individual’s life. So, what measures have universities taken to ensure its students are able to maximize their time while juggling several courses and extracurriculars simultaneously? One such private institution, Saint Louis University (SLU), has sought the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help automate processes that usually consumes a chunk of time out of a student’s daily routine.

Located in St. Louis, Missouri, the university has planned to embrace the benefits of Amazon’s Alexa in the smooth running of its day-to-day activities. It has planned to install Amazon Echo Dot in each of the 2,300 residences on campus, including forms and apartments, by the beginning of 2018 fall session. The Alexa enabled device will have access to an SLU Alexa Skill database and will utilize its AI capabilities to help students by answering their college-related queries. So, if students have a question regarding the location of a building, the timing of a local event, or even the operational hours of the library – they can simply ask Alexa through the Echo Dot devices to find out the answer. In doing so, SLU is set to become the first university in the United States to install AI based smart speakers in every residence.

So, if you are an SLU student, and you are worried that Echo Dot will record information about all the parties you host at the behest of your authorities – worry not. SLU authorities have stated that the devices will not gather personal information, and instead focus on providing round the clock access to information pertaining to campus. This means that a student cannot use the personalized Echo Dot devices to conduct online shopping, but can use it to navigate the shortest route to a classroom. According to SLU, several students, especially fresher’s, call the student helpline or spend a lot of time digging through the website to look for information. Echo Dot will help them receive the information instantaneously, reducing the amount of load from the shoulders of the helpline staff, enabling them to focus on answering questions that the AI helper can’t.

In order to purchase the vast number of devices, SLU didn’t revert to hiking the tuition costs. Instead, it relied on capital funds and a partnership with Amazon to set up more than 2,000 devices in each residence. The University has also planned to add more personalized skills to the Echo Dot devices in 2019, such as providing information about classes and grades.

Prior to SLU’s initiative, other universities have also opted to grant Echo Dot in common living spaces. In 2017, Arizona State University (ASU) started a program that provided such devices to a special housing area for engineering students. In addition to using the system to get the latest information on university programs and events, ASU students were also presented with the chance to sign up for classes that taught them how to come up with new uses for Alexa devices.

In the end, SLU hopes to set the precedent of incorporating AI assistants in the functioning of a university. SLU’s vice president and chief information officer, David Hakanson, says, “Every minute we can save our students from having to search for the information they need online is another minute that they can spend focused on what matters most: their education.”