- St. Louis University (SLU) will issue an Amazon Echo Dot to every student dorm room and apartment on campus by the start of classes this month, the university announced. The 2,300 voice-enabled devices on campus will come with preinstalled skills to provide answers to more than 100 questions about the college, such as "What time does the library close tonight?" and "Where is the registrar's office?"
- The Alexa digital assistant, which powers the Echo devices, will also provide information about athletic games, concerts and campus events, among other postings. David Hakanson, SLU's vice president and CIO, said the Echo Dot deployment will help students needing practical information and free up time to focus on their studies.
- SLU conducted a pilot program with Alexa-enabled devices in dorm rooms last spring and saw a positive response from students. The university's customized skill was created by n-Powered, a voice skill development firm, and is hosted on the e-commerce giant's cloud computing platform, Amazon Web Services.
SLU's adoption of Alexa could drum up major awareness for the digital assistant among the next generation of consumers, something companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google have previously accomplished with discount programs and giveaways for students. The campus-wide usage may help to pave the way for greater familiarity with the Amazon-powered tech, potentially boosting adoption among the young adults who will be entering the workforce in a few years.
To contend with potential privacy concerns by students or their parents, SLU notes that the devices are operated by a central system and are not tied to any student's individual account, meaning it won't retain personal information.
While SLU appears to be the first university to bring Alexa-enabled devices to every on-campus student, other schools have experimented with a similar strategy. The Georgia Institute of Technology, Northeastern University and Arizona State University provided some students with Echo Dots during the 2017-2018 academic year in order to research the benefits of virtual personal assistants for students.
The news comes as Amazon and Google are in a race to dominate the smart speaker market. Amazon's global share of smart speaker shipments fell to 41% in Q2 2018 from 76% in the same period last year, according to a report this week from Strategy Analytics. Google boosted its share to 28% from 16% last year. Total device shipments of smart speakers in the second quarter tripled from a year earlier to about 12 million, an explosive growth rate that has gotten attention from major tech companies.
Meanwhile, Amazon and Microsoft this week announced the integration of Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana will be available to all U.S. users, according to a blog post. The collaboration, first announced a year ago, will be limited and will not include features like streaming music, flash briefing and setting alarms, but additional skills and devices will be added to the integration over time.