Skip to main content

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.

Welcome to SLU, Alexa.

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Clayton Moore
Clayton Moore’s interest in technology is deeply rooted in the work of writers like Warren Ellis, Cory Doctorow and Neal…
Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg helps Amazon launch Echo Dot concepts
amazon launches new fashion forward echo dot concepts midnight kiss 3

Have you looked at your smart home devices and thought, "Gee, I wish some of these were more stylish?" Now you have the chance to add a bit of flair to your smart home thanks to a collaboration between Amazon and the famous fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. This is done through the Build It program, a way for customers to pre-order limited-edition versions of popular accessories. In this case, the device on the table is the Echo Dot.
How Build It works
Build It gives customers a say in what devices are manufactured next. Customers choose from different concepts by pre-ordering the ones they want, often at a special promotional price. After its launch, the concept has a set pre-order goal that must be reached within 30 days. If it meets this goal, Amazon will build it, and those that pre-ordered will be the first to receive the product. If the concept doesn't reach its goal, it won't be produced. Either way, customers aren't charged for the device until it actually ships.

This system means that customers can vote with their preorders without wasting money on a device that may never be built. It's Amazon's version of crowdsourcing style.
Diane von Furstenberg concepts

Read more
7 things you didn’t know Alexa could do on an Amazon Echo smart speaker
Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) with Clock on table.

There's no doubt that an Alexa-powered smart speaker is useful. After all, the ability to control your smart home, play games, and choose music with your voice is phenomenal -- but did you know there are a lot of abilities that go overlooked?

Alexa is jam-packed with features that don't get as much time in the limelight. Some will keep you entertained, while others can help you give back to the world around you.
Alexa can make charity donations
If there's one thing the past year has made abundantly clear, it's the importance of looking out for one another. Alexa can simplify that by making charity donations for you -- just say, "Alexa, I want to make a donation."

Read more
How to set up a Routine on your Alexa device
Amazon Echo on a table.

Imagine that by just saying, "Alexa, start my morning," your bedside Echo Dot can tune into your preferred Spotify playlist, raise your automated smart blinds to let the sunshine in, and set your home's thermostat to that perfect winter morning 75 degrees. It's all thanks to one of Alexa's most useful features called Routines. If you've never used Routines before and would like to learn how, here's a helpful guide to get you started.

First, what are Routines?
The concept behind Routines is that you can customize Alexa, allowing you to utter a single phrase and she will complete an entire series of actions you pre-determine in the Alexa app. For example, if you say the phrase, "Alexa, good night," the virtual assistant might turn off all the lights, lock the doors, and shut off the furnace, depending on your preferences.

Read more