Lancaster University has announced that it has launched a chatbot “companion” for students which allows them to ask almost any question about their university experience, from student life, and welfare, to academic studies and more.
The chatbot service, called ‘Ask L.U.’, was built on Amazon Web Services (voice) and delivers a voice interface that interacts with users.
The chatbot companion was designed and built by Lancaster University’s Information Systems Services (ISS) and enhances the existing iLancaster mobile app with a range of student-focused voice services.
The chatbot project also includes special facilities for disabled students, developed in conjunction with the University’s Disability Service.
To make the chatbot as relevant as possible to students, the University’s developers surveyed Lancaster University students to gauge which questions they were most likely to ask. From this information, they were able to compile a list of more than 300 queries that could be divided into categories such as learning & teaching and campus activities & social. All of these could then be put to Ask L.U.
The chatbot can be accessed via the iLancaster App on mobile phones and tablets, or by asking “Alexa, Ask L.U.” on any Amazon Echo device. Amazon Cognito is used to authenticate user data via the Echo providing a completely personalised experience.
Whole Suite of AWS Used
The Chatbot project uses the whole suite of AWS services, including AWS Cloudwatch, AWS Virtual Private Cloud and AWS ElasticSearch. The natural speech is provided by Amazon Lex and Amazon Alexa.
Fast and Convenient
The chatbot companion is intended to enable students to get information in a fast, easy and convenient way, and delivering information via voice activation fits in well with the packed academic and social lives of students.
Chatbots are now used by many organisations, in conjunction with AI, to help deal with common enquiries, to save costs and resources, to free-up time for human staff to work on other aspects of the business, and to enable businesses to offer 24-hour customer service.
There has been criticism of bots where transparency is lacking and where they may possibly lead users to believe that they are talking to a human. The state of California has passed laws to make AI bots ‘introduce themselves’ (i.e. identify themselves as bots) for this reason.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Many of us are now used to encountering chatbots on websites and voice-activated digital assistants, and this innovative new chatbot from Lancaster University shows how these new technologies can be put together in a value-adding and easy to access way, and in a way that is compatible with its target market. It may also enable the university to save time and money, and free up valuable resources, and offer 24/7 help to student users.
Bearing in mind that it has been made at a University, it is also a good way of showcasing the technology skills of the university, and the voice activation aspect means that it has been built with an eye on the future.
This kind of chatbot could also have applications in many other businesses, organisations, venues, events, and experiences, and could help improve and support services where there are large numbers of users whose experiences could be enhanced by being able to get on-the-spot spoken answers to popular questions.