An Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker with Alexa will be installed in every student residence hall room and student apartment on campus for the upcoming academic year at Saint Louis University.
In all, there will be 2,300 Echo Dots distributed across campus, each carrying the university's branding and loaded with a custom-built skill called SLU. Skills are the apps Alexa uses to deliver information, play games and perform other tasks.
In a bid to appease any privacy concerns - and unlike regular Echo devices - questions asked by students are not saved by Alexa.
The SLU skill is intended to help give students useful information - like when the library opens and what events are coming up - quicker than if they were to search online or call the help desk.
Alexa on these devices can answer over 100 university-based questions, providing information on topics like student sports fixtures, campus events, and student organizations.
The devices contain no personal information on students and are managed centrally. On privacy, the university said to students: "Because of our use of the Amazon Alexa for Business (A4B) platform, your Echo Dot is managed by central system dedicated to SLU. This system is not tied to individual accounts and does not maintain any personal information for any of our users, so all use currently is anonymous. Additionally, neither Alexa nor the Alexa for Business management system maintains recordings of any questions that are asked."
This move follows a successful pilot program run by the university in the spring, and comes soon after Northeastern University in Boston announced it too would be handing out Echo Dots to students, although on a smaller trial basis for now. Unlike at SLU, the Northeastern trial saw Alexa communicate with students on a more personal level, helping with their class and exam timetables, and even their finances.
"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 to do on company, to meet other people and to take advantage of the holistic Jesuit education that Saint Louis University offers."
The Echo Dot devices will be offered for free, and with a retail price of $50 this makes the initiative worth in the region of $115,000, although it isn't known if Amazon offered a discount on such a large order.
The SLU skill was created by n-Powered, an Alexa skill development firm, is built on the Alexa for Business platform, and hosted by Amazon Web Services.