Aim is to enhance engineering students’ experience while preparing them to become leaders in voice-technology development
Amanda Nguyen, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering at Arizona State University, has had the latest wave of technology in her hands for 24 hours.
As a resident in ASU’s newest and most high-tech dorm for engineers, Nguyen chose to take part in a first-of-its-kind voice-technology program on a university campus by receiving a new Amazon Echo Dot, a hands-free, voice-controlled device that sends and receives messages, controls smart home devices, provides information and more.
In the first 24 hours of having the latest technology at her fingertips, Nguyen has been exploring what her new device can do. So far, she has used it to wake herself up, play music and do random things.
“It tells me jokes,” Nguyen said. “It barks and meows too if you ask it.”
But Nguyen, an event planner in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has bigger plans for it.
“I want to be able to incorporate it into an event I’m planning,” she said. “I’m really excited for everyone to have one.”
The ASU program, with support from the Amazon Alexa team, is designed to enhance students’ ASU experience by giving them touch-free access to information and services tailored to campus living — and prepare some of them to become leaders in voice-technology development.
As part of the effort, engineering students moving into Tooker House, a new residence hall for engineers on the Tempe campus, can choose to receive a new Amazon Echo Dot and become part of the first voice-enabled residential community on a university campus.
In addition, students like Nguyen can sign up for courses that teach new concepts focused on building voice-user interfaces with Alexa, Amazon’s digital assistant. Incoming freshmen engineering students will be able to build their own Alexa skills, or capabilities, and join the growing community of voice developers.
Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now
ASU also will introduce an ASU-specific Alexa skill to enhance the campus experience for students, faculty, staff and alumni. Anyone with an Alexa-enabled device can use the “ASU” skill to get information about the university and the campus.
“With voice-enabled devices becoming more prevalent in our connected world, it only makes sense to bring these capabilities to our campus,” said John Rome, ASU’s deputy chief information officer. “By working with Amazon to create the first voice-enabled campus, we’re furthering ASU’s position as the No. 1 university in the U.S. for innovation.”
“We are excited to work with ASU on this program, which will power their voice-enabled residence hall with Alexa and equip students with the in-demand skills they’ll need when they graduate,” said Steve Rabuchin, Amazon vice president of Alexa. “The university shares a vision with us for the future of voice, and we believe it’s paramount to engage students in a way that sparks their imaginations and inspires them to build the technology of tomorrow.”
The voice initiative includes three undergraduate engineering courses this semester that will add voice-user interface development, with a fourth course planned for this spring. Engineering students can build their own Alexa skills, both independently and in the classroom, using a collection of application program interfaces, tools, documentation and code examples
“Once they are familiar with the devices, they are going to want to further develop their own skills and begin integrating that technology — the hardware and the skills — into other projects,” said Octavio Heredia, Fulton Schools’ Global Outreach and Extended Education director. “Our focus is putting this technology into the hands of our students in a way that will build an ecosystem that supports voice technologies throughout the ASU campus.”
It furthers ASU’s evolution toward a “smart campus,” a vision for a future university setting that combines sensing, connectivity and data analytics to inform decision making, optimize operations and energy efficiency, and create a highly personalized campus experience for every student, professor, staff member and alumnus.