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No need to call dad: Northeastern students can use Alexa to answer school-related questions

Sorry, helicopter parents, but your fledgling college student could be cutting you loose.

Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant, Alexa, can take it from here.

Plans are underway to let Northeastern University students this fall get immediate answers to pressing questions about their enrollment status and reminders about important school tasks — all through a customized application loaded onto an Amazon Echo Dot.

Known as the “Husky Helper,” the program — or “Alexa Skill” — is meant to help students cut back on spending time scouring the university’s website or calling around to various departments to find out about campus events, their class schedules, and whether they have any outstanding payments. Instead, they can concentrate on more crucial aspects of college life, like their coursework, school officials said.

The concept is the brainchild of Somen Saha and Joel Evans, co-chief executives of n-Powered, a company that was incubated at Northeastern before spinning off and later teaming up with the school to launch the program. “Imagine calling the university student center and the representative has to open multiple systems to answer certain questions about health insurance or financial aid. Since there’s not one single place for all of that information, it becomes a pretty tedious job for both the student and the representative,” said Saha, who was formerly the senior director of IT at Northeastern. “We wanted to tie all that data in the systems into one cohesive, 360-degree view of the student.”

That’s where Husky Helper comes into play.

“Now that we’ve created this data where everything is in one place,” he said, “they can just speak it and get it in less than 5 seconds.”

The voice-activated application is personalized to the individual student and no one else. It was first tested as a pilot last spring by 64 students at the school. Participants used it to get answers to questions they’d otherwise have to chase down manually. In a video released by n-Powered that features students who took the Husky Helper system for a test drive, one user said the technology provided information about “basically everything you need to know as a Northeastern student.”


Read More at Boston Globe: https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/06/22/need-call-dad-northeastern-students-can-use-alexa-answer-school-related-questions/0Kln3ze3uOYvy7o7LzjBCP/story.html

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