There's no need for the brochures and bulky maps. Now, incoming freshman, or anyone for that matter, can just ask Frog Baby for Alexa for help with navigating campus life.

Ball State’s Information Technology (IT) services has created Frog Baby for Alexa, an interactive voice assistant designed to help assist thousands of incoming freshman and other new students. 

“Incoming students have so much on their plate, and if we can help them navigate the complexities of the university and the services offered, while making it fun and light-hearted, that will help facilitate the transition,” said Kyle Parker, senior software engineer for developing technologies.

Parker and his team of developers, designers and students wanted to come up with something new that was both an innovative and creative technology that students would typically use in their daily lives.   

“With the release of Google Home and the Amazon Echo, we saw an interesting opportunity to take a device geared toward home and personal use and make it applicable to a larger audience in public spaces, especially in higher education,” Parker said. “Frog Baby for Alexa embraces the emerging world of voice assistants to interact with and help them explore the university in a new and exciting way.”   

The new device doesn’t just feature voice output. It also a video monitor, offering on-campus visitors the ability to connect to a TV in order to display any relevant information across the screen. So if someone ask about the best place to eat on campus, Frog Baby for Alexa will show a map, marking locations with contact information and hours.   

“We wanted to provide an engaging interaction between visitors and the ‘digital concierge,’ while creating something that could be used in a number of different situations and environments,” Parker said. “The possibilities are endless really.”   

The process of developing and creating Frog Baby for Alexa goes back to the end of last year when Google Home was launched and Alexa started gaining nationwide popularity.

A couple months into the project, Amazon launched a contest called Amazon Alexa Skills Challenge on DevPost.com, a popular website designed for developers to showcase software projects. The challenge required inventors to come up with a new voice-activated Alexa skill that would make life more enjoyable, organized or convenient.    

Frog Baby for Alexa won the competition.     

"In the past, we have participated in other challenges hosted by DevPost.com and similar sites and have been really successful," Parker said. "So far, we’ve done seven challenges and have won something in all but one – money, devices and recognition. All have been related to student-focused projects and again, have provided an opportunity to showcase the experiences and offerings available at Ball State." 

Some of IT's other apps include bConnected and The Traveler. 

At this time Frog Baby for Alexa is still considered a prototype because “it is something new and different,” Parker said. The team is continuing to examine how people react to the device, content and the overall experience. 

So far, the responses have mainly been positive from the students and parents who have stopped in Woodworth Complex to see the new device.   

“Those that have stopped are curious about the technology and how it works on campus, and they have enjoyed exploring the conversation Alexa offers,” Parker said. “From a technology standpoint, it has been great for us as we’ve been able to observe areas of improvement – speech patterns and phrases people use, expectations and length of the responses from the devices, the type of information that would be useful for students unfamiliar with all of the services and options available on campus.”

Currently, Frog Baby for Alexa does not have a deployment date, but Parker doesn't want that to discourage people interested in technology and practical applications from being involved in the conversation. 

"We’d love to share our experiences, learn from others, and see how we can grow and evolve the use of these devices," he said.