Blog: Lancaster Launch LU: a glimpse of a chatbot with a little more something
Lancaster University launch their campus companion on Alexa
In a room full of press, members of Amazon Web Services, leaders from Lancaster University and the wider community, the energetic and enthusiastic Head of IT Partnering and Innovation team, Chris Dixon, gave an impressive and lively demonstration of what is hoped to be the new Digital Companion on campus, appropriately named L.U.
Developed on the AWS platform, this new project shows the wide variety of areas a voice assistant can help students with. L.U. answered questions on deadlines, timetabling and even the weather on campus and showed none of the frustrating traits voice assistants are noted for. Some students that had been part of the test group gave some interesting insights into how beneficial the skill is proving to be. The most impact seemed to have been especially to students with disabilities. Students with dyslexia and visual impairment can find out all sorts of useful information such as, what lectures they have that day, where they are and if they have any deadlines that week.
Having this sort of information within such easy reach seems to have made a real difference to some student’s day to day life. Such uses of voice first technology shows how more natural forms of interface can bring real benefits. The enthusiasm of the students shown on film was clearly not only for the benefit of the audience but was palpable. It was also clear from users that they appreciated the sense of humour of the bot too.
The group that developed L.U. is made up of full and part-time staff, some of whom are previous students of the University and some that are current students. The staff also come from a variety of subjects from Computer Science to Linguistics. The team were clearly proud of this diverse range of skills and talents and clearly believe in the power of an integrated team working together. The proof of the pudding is in the speed with which the team brought L.U. to life.
The launch of L.U. was a striking occasion in many ways, not just for the development of a digital assistant for on campus. The relationship between the University and AWS has obvious benefits, but what really came across in the launch was how a diverse team working closely together can be so beneficial to the user. The variety of skills and different levels of experience, in addition to having potential users on the team, has clearly brought benefits in terms of development times, only a few months, but also on the impact the end product has on users.
It will be interesting to see how this project develops and the direction in general that campus chatbots take.
The launch demonstrated clearly the positive impact digital assistants can have, especially for those who encounter more difficulties than others.