…with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

CNet has the story of how every student at St. Louis University, the private Catholic college just west of the city’s downtown, is getting an Alexa-powered Echo Dot in their campus orientation packets.

According to the story, “Now in its second year, the Alexa at SLU initiative is a fixture in the residence life culture. Each dorm room comes equipped with an SLU-emblazoned, second-gen Echo Dot and instructions on how to use it, what students can ask and what to do if there are technical issues … The network of 2,300 Echo Dots is powered by Amazon's Alexa for Business platform. A private SLU skill built through Amazon Web Services is enabled on each Echo Dot. That skill can answer more than 135 questions about campus events, building hours, even nearby food options.

“Students can stream music, podcasts and live radio through iHeartRadio and call any phone number, including contacts in SLU's directory of student services.”

The program was launched when school IT officials saw Alexa-powered systems at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and began to consider how the technology - intuitive for college students - might be useful in helping to communicate and even curate the campus experience.

How better to create lifetime customers than getting them hooked at a fairly young age? I can’t think of a way … especially if the Alexa devices are programmed specifically to be both relevant and resonant to the way these students live.

I’m trying to remember what we got in my dorm when I started college. I remember utilitarian furniture, an uncomfortable bed, cinder block walls, a tiny desk, and a landline phone jack. In other words, not much … but I also remember that being a pretty outstanding experience. Not to be overly simplistic about it, but I hope the students don’t always ask Alexa what the weather is; sometimes, you actually have to go out and stand in the sun or the rain and breathe the fresh air and feel the freedom that comes with being a college student, which will never come again.



• The Washington Post reports that Amazon has expanded on its use of autonomous “Amazon Scouts,” which are sort of mobile coolers on wheels that are capable of making deliveries to customers.

After having been launched in Seattle-area neighborhoods as an initial test, the Scouts now are making deliveries in Irvine, in Southern California.

According to the story, “The company said the light blue and black robots are able to safely navigate typical neighborhood obstructions such as trashcans, skateboards and lawn chairs. And yet the six-wheeled, battery-powered machines can’t climb steps and will initially be chaperoned by a human employee to monitor their progress.”


Bloomberg reports that Amazon “is in late-stage talks to acquire as much as 10% of India’s Future Retail Ltd … as the U.S. company moves to bolster its brick-and-mortar presence in one of the world’s fastest-growing retail markets … The potential deal underlines the American online giant’s ambitions to dominate the last sizable market yet to be conquered by large networks of hypermarkets and supermarkets, after losing ground in China.”

India law has prevented US companies from wholly acquiring businesses there, but Amazon has been buying stakes in a number of Indian retail companies as it seeks to keep the upper hand in its rivalry with Walmart.