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Alexa: Can You Solve This Problem?

At Saint Louis University, students living on campus can ask their Echo Dot anything from when the dining hall opens to how to apply for graduation. But as part of a recent challenge, they aren't just consuming information, they are partnering with Amazon and campus experts to actually provide it. 

SLU students talking about the Alexa innovation project.

A team from Amazon Web Services visited SLU Feb. 7 to meet with Innovation Grant recipients to help them get started and answer questions around their projects. (Photo by Garrett Canducci)

In keeping with SLU’s mission — and students' desire to improve the world around them — groups of Billikens are working with ITS and the University's Department of Innovation to create new Alexa skills that address everything from food waste to mental health.

The Innovative Technology Challenge, launched last fall, also puts students in touch with experts from Amazon during the development period who can answer questions and offer guidance.

Projects will be submitted April 29, 2019, for final approval. Successful projects will receive a cash prize and an invitation to present their skill to a broader audience.

Check out what’s under development and how undergraduate and graduate students across SLU are involved.

Virtual Health Literacy Assistant

What’s the idea? Virtual Health Literacy Assistant , a skill to improve health literacy.
Who’s behind it? Stephen Scroggins, a Ph.D. student in SLU's College for Public Health and Social Justice's behavioral science and health education program. 
What problem does it solve? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 12 percent of the American population is considered proficiently health literate and up to 77 million people have difficulty with everyday tasks such as following directions on a prescription drug label. The Virtual Health Literacy Assistant would allow users to ask questions in between health care appointments and have those questions sent directly to them on appointment days. Drawing from a medical dictionary, basic medical laboratory reference guide, medication reference guide, and other resources, the virtual assistant would also prompt users with questions they may want to ask their providers.

Language and Culture Learning Skill

What’s the idea? Language and Culture Learning Skill , a project to improve translation software options.
Who’s behind it? SLU undergraduate students Matt Gottsacker (computer science) and Graham Vogt (Spanish).
What problem does it solve? Current Alexa skills about learning languages are mostly based on vocabulary and recitation. This skill would read a news story in Spanish but pause throughout to read the translated English version, allowing users to hear Spanish words in context and improve their verbal skills. Additionally, the news stories would be pulled from Spanish-speaking countries, so users would learn about the current events and culture of that country, a perspective that is left out of traditional Alexa language skills.

SLU Echo Device

Alexa Get Your Snacks

What’s the idea? Alexa Get Your Snacks, a tool to improve health and reduce food waste. 
Who’s behind it? SLU Master of Public Health students Madhav Narayan, Daniel Eaton and Nojan Rastegar.
What problem does it solve? Not sure what’s for dinner? This project enables Alexa to learn what ingredients are in the kitchen, then search the internet for recipes. Alexa would then give a percent match to ingredients on-hand in comparison to each recipe and provide suggestions on where an ingredient can be found if it isn’t already readily available. The project aims to improve overall health while also helping to reduce food waste.


What’s the idea? Mindly, a skill to improve mental health. 
Who’s behind it? SLU public health Ph.D. students Ucheoma Nwaozuru, Thembekile Shato, Steve Scroggins, Miao Cai, Chisom Obiezu-umeh, Florida Uzoaru and Ikechukwu Eke-Okoro.
What problem does it solve? This team of public health professionals, a physician, and biostatistician proposes to improve access to mental health services by using Alexa voice-enabled commands to find nearby providers. Mindly would also feature a virtual mental health assistant that uses machine learning to provide personalized daily tips and recommendations on mental health and a chatbot that could provide tailored mental health information, suggestions or services. To ensure confidentiality, no identifying information about the user would be collected.

For questions on SLU's Alexa Voice Challenge or more information, contact Angela Schubert.

Read Past Coverage of the Challenge

Learn More About Alexa at SLU