If you're attending Saint Louis University this semester, you'll find more in your dorm room than the usual tiny furnishings. The school has unveiled plans to provide all 2,300 student residences on campus (both dorms and apartments) with Echo Dots by the time classes begin in late August. To no one's surprise, they're not just there for asking about the weather. They'll have access to an SLU Alexa skill that provides answers to "more than 100" common questions, whether it's the location of a building, event timing or library hours.
The university said it was the first such institution to put smart speakers in every residence. Other schools either placed them only in specific living spaces (say, rec areas) or only made them available on request.
These Echos don't carry an extra cost. SLU promises that it didn't hike tuition to cover the costs, either, as it took advantages of partnerships (including Amazon) and capital funding. And before you ask: SLU isn't tying access to individual accounts or collecting personal information. You won't get to use it for shopping, but you also won't have to worry that the university is gathering personal info.
Is it something of a gimmick? Maybe. There are some genuinely practical advantages, however. It'll provide students around-the-clock access to campus info without having to call a help line or dig through a website. That could reduce the load on SLU's staff and free them to answer questions that an AI helper can't (currently) solve.