St. Louis University, a private four-year university in Missouri, unveiled a plan to install 2,300 intelligent assistant-enabled Echo Dots in residence halls and student apartments before classes begin later this month. The Alexa-enabled Echo Dots will be programmed to answer over 100 specific questions about the campus and student activities, such as the hours for the library or a list of upcoming public lectures.
The program, the first of its kind in the nation because it will include every residence on the school’s campus, is managed by Amazon’s Alexa for Business and supported by Amazon Web Services (AWS), which means students don’t have to know how to set up Alexa or the Echo Dot. Instead the devices will be operated by a central system not tied to any student’s individual account and won’t retain personal information. Additionally, the university says the Echo Dots are operated at no cost to students.
Last spring, the school conducted a pilot program, putting the devices in residence hall rooms. School administrators say students responded to the test-run with positive feedback. Arizona State University also tried something similar last year, installing 1,600 Echo Dots in engineering students’ live-work spaces during the 2017-2018 school year.
Even though the pilot program received positive reviews, the school notes that students with privacy concerns about intelligent assistants like Alexa can unplug the device and store it during the school year if they feel uncomfortable having it in their rooms.
Correction, Aug. 16, 2018: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the city of St. Louis. It is not Missouri’s capital; Jefferson City is. We regret the error.