Amazon Echos dot Northeastern’s Boston campus to provide a Husky Helper for students


Stress is bad. Efficiency is good. But then you know this already if, for example, you’re new to Northeastern, making your way through the crowd at Curry Student Center, and you go to pull out your Husky Card to buy a snack in between classes. But then you realize the card is lost.

So you find yourself asking, to nobody in particular: “What do I do now?”

Then you remember the most efficient way to begin your question.

“Alexa, ask Husky Helper…what do I do if I lost my Husky Card?”

And the answer arrives. For real.

Northeastern has installed more than 60 Echo Dot devices across its Boston campus to enable students to ask Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa about anything that’s publicly available.

These help stations are unique to the university. The technology that enables the devices to answer questions related to Northeastern was developed at the university by a small team that is now a spinoff company called n-Powered. N-Powered built a custom program called Husky Helper, which can provide answers to 250 frequently asked questions.

Can Alexa simplify student life? This study sought to find out.

All you need to do is start your question with “Alexa, ask Husky Helper…” The Echo Dots are mounted on walls in residence halls, classroom and administrative buildings, the Marino Center, and the Curry Student Center. The devices are roughly the size of drink coasters, and each is marked with an oversized red Northeastern N.

They have been placed in convenient public spots, but you don’t have to go searching for them. Later this fall, undergraduates will be able to use Husky Helper on their smartphones to ask personalized questions like, “When is my next class?” or “How many Laundry Bucks do I have?”

This latest phase in the evolving use of the Amazon platform is the result of a highly successful pilot study in which 60 Northeastern students tried out units equipped with Husky Helper for the 2017-18 academic year.

The devices serve as a one-stop shop for students who need information about information technology, housing, student affairs, financial aid, dining, athletics, the library, career services, student records, and Northeastern police.

Madeleine Estabrook, senior vice provost for student affairs at Northeastern, said Husky Helper was designed to help reduce students’ cognitive load so they can focus more on things that expand their learning and creativity.

Estabrook said the university will continue to develop projects to identify how voice-activated technology could benefit students in academic coaching, quizzing, and preparation for tests, among other things.

“We’re excited about how voice-activated assistance will evolve over time and that Northeastern will be a place to develop the next innovations and inventions from this technology,” Estabrook said.  

The university has created a website with more information about the program. Students can use #HuskyHelper on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to share their experiences and feedback.