By jennings brown, gizmodo.com
When students of Saint Louis University begin their fall semester this month, they’ll notice a new addition to the campus—hundreds of glowing blue hockey-puck robots.
The university has announced it will “deploy more than 2,300” of the devices throughout student living spaces, including in “every student residence hall room and student apartment on campus.”
As the Verge points out, Arizona State University put Echo Dots in student spaces last year, but SLU’s new initiative seems to be the first time a university has put an Echo Dot in all student living quarters.
The SLU Echo Dots, running on Amazon’s Alexa for Business platform, will be modified to answer 100-plus SLU-related questions about things like library hours, basketball games, campus events, and university office locations.
The university’s promotional video for the device even shows a freshman asking “how long can pizza stay out” and telling the device to “play a guided meditation” because, of course, students love old pizza and breathing exercises. As the student gets older, he asks questions about his career prospects and graduation—because the little bot disc has presumably been a constant companion through all his late-night study sessions, existential crises, and experimentations with drugs and sex.
SLU addresses some of its own questions about the Echo Dots on the university website, like, did the funding for the Echo Dots come from tuition? The answer is apparently no—the Echoes have come to the university thanks in part to a partnership with Amazon and university capital funding.
Another question: “I am concerned about my privacy with Alexa. What information does the Echo Dot in my residence hall room keep about me.” Answer: SLU is using Amazon Alexa for Business platform so the Echoes are going to be attached to a central SLU system and not individual accounts. SLU claims Alexa does not keep recordings of asked questions. The SLU system apparently does not keep personal information on users, and “all use currently is anonymous.”
Amazon did not immediately respond to a Gizmodo request for comment on SLU’s use of the devices and privacy concerns that may come with having a voice-controlled device in student living spaces.
SLU vice president and chief information officer David Hakanson believes the infestation will improve student efficiency. “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,” Hakanson said in a statement.
If a student does not want an Echo Dot in their dorm —and their roommate feels the same—the university site advises them to “unplug the device and store it in a safe location.” If they lose the Echo Dot, then they may face a charge.