Alexa goes to college as Saint Louis University puts an Echo in every dorm room

That’s right: Saint Louis University (SLU) is going to put an Amazon Echo Dot in every single on-campus living space, for a total of more than 2,300 of the Amazon smart speakers at the university. And to make the devices more relevant to student living, the university’s IT department has developed an SLU-specific skill to answer more than 100 common student questions about sports games, concerts, speakers on campus, student events and organizations, and opportunities to serve.

The school itself is a popular, private Catholic university with more than 13,000 enrolled students. It’s also located in the state’s most populous city and a county that serves more than one million residents.

The initiative is unprecedented in its size, coming together over the course of just three months, following a pilot of voice assistants in the spring semester that pitted the puck-shaped Echo Dots versus a competing device. Similar programs have also been tested at Arizona State University and Northeastern University, with varying levels of engagement with campus services.

“I think it’s really innovative,” said Katlyn Martin, president of SLU’s student government association. “By interacting with technology in a cool way, our students will have another resource to find things on campus, to meet other people, and to take advantage of the holistic Jesuit education that Saint Louis University offers.”

The University’s IT department has a variety of partners in the project including n-Powered, a technology company that develops the custom skills that provided the framework for the SLU Amazon skill as well as Amazon Web Services.

Students can use their Echo Dots to answer SLU-specific questions and general questions, and to play music through the iHeartRadio and TuneIn skills as well as a Bluetooth speaker for streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music. The university says it is working to expand the availability of music streaming options as well as developing a personal device wireless network on campus, anticipated to go live this fall.

Because the devices are running an Alexa for Business Platform, the custom SLU skill can be updated constantly without disrupting students’ schedules. The school has also limited what the smart speakers can access compared to other institutions like Northeastern, which has enabled its devices to access sensitive student records including grades and financial aid.

The institution was adamant in stating that the funding for the smart home technology adaptation and the cost of the devices themselves were not funded through any increase in tuition costs. (What exactly is the worth of the personal data and daily habits of more than 2,300 university students anyway?)

“The students we attract are highly driven to achieve success in and out of the classroom,” said David Hakanson, SLU’s vice president and CIO. “Every minute we can save our students from having to search for the information they need online is another minute that they can spend on what matters most: their education.”

Weirdly, SLU is not allowing any student to opt out of the program due to privacy concerns or other objections. “If you would rather not use your SLU-provided Echo Dot you can unplug the device and store it in a safe location in your room,” advises the school.

Product Review

Echo Sub hands-on review

Amazon’s Echo Sub can pair with an Echo to provide the room-filling bass that little speakers just can’t muster on their own. And at $130, all that bass won’t break the bank, either.
Smart Home

Here’s how to pre-order everything Amazon announced today

Amazon announced new devices available in its Echo, Fire TV, and AmazonBasics lineups. Most of the devices aren't available quite yet but if you head over to Amazon, you can pre-order them.
Home Theater

Amazon’s horde of new Alexa-powered audio gear includes subwoofer, new amplifier

Amazon's quest to take over the world with its Alexa voice assistant just got a bit closer to realization, as the company has unleashed an army of new audio devices. We've got the low-down on all of them here.
Smart Home

That's a lotta Alexa. Amazon drops smart subs, plugs, even a microwave

Amazon's hardware announcement likely means a whole bunch of new Amazon Alexa gadgets. From a microwave to stereo equipment, here are our guesses on which devices we'll see, which could total as many as eight.
Smart Home

Images of Google Home Hub leak ahead of company’s October hardware event

Google Assistant has the capability to work with displays. A set of leaked images suggest Google plans to take advantage of this feature with its new Home Hub, an Echo Show-type device.
Smart Home

What is Instacart? Here’s how to use the grocery delivery app

One of the most popular grocery delivery apps is Instacart, which you can use to receive your groceries in as little as an hour. A shopper near you will deliver it to your door, saving you a trip to the store. Here's how it works.
Smart Home

Google Assistant will now help Simplisafe keep homes secure

SimpliSafe has added Google Assistant voice commands to its home security system. Customers can now use Google Assistant commands to configure, arm, and check their home security system components.
Smart Home

Is Amazon tweaking its search algorithms with a new A.I.-driven shopping site?

Amazon is testing a new shopping site, Amazon Scout, which combines a visual aesthetic with customers' ability to like and dislike products, collecting more data on users' habits and preferences.
Smart Home

Holy mistaken identity! Nest Hello doorbell pegs Batman T-shirt as intruder

A Nest Hello smart doorbell's camera mistook a homeowner's Batman shirt for an intruder and locked him out of his own home. Doesn't it know the real Dark Knight wouldn't use the front door?
Deals

Cyber Monday 2018: When it takes place and where to find the best deals

Cyber Monday is still a ways off, but it's never too early to start planning ahead. With so many different deals to choose from during one of the biggest shopping holidays of the year, going in with a little know-how makes all the…
Smart Home

Amazon might open 3,000 cashier-free Amazon Go stores by 2021

According to new reporting by Bloomburg, anonymous sources within Amazon say that CEO Jeff Bezos is considering opening up to 3,000 of the company's cashier-less, experimental Amazon Go stores by 2021.
Smart Home

Voice technology is useful, in demand, and not moving fast enough

A new survey commissioned by IT analytics firm AppDynamics indicates that enterprise companies aren't adopting advances in voice technology fast enough to keep up with demand, especially from millennials.
Smart Home

Special-edition Instant Pots pay tribute to Pioneer Women with flowery designs

Food Network star Ree Drummond launched the Pioneer Woman Instant Pot in two different floral patterns only at Walmart. Drummond's special-edition multicooker is a pressure cooker, rice cooker, slow cooker, sauté pan, steamer, and warmer.
Smart Home

Amazon ups its smart home game with a new Echo Show, microwave, and clock

Amazon revealed a whole bunch of new smart home products at its annual hardware event in Seattle this week including a redesigned Echo Show, a smart microwave, a new security platform, and more.