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March 15, 2017

David Isbitski

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Amazon today announced a new program that will make it free for tens of thousands of Alexa developers to build and host most Alexa skills using Amazon Web Services (AWS). Many Alexa skill developers currently take advantage of the AWS Free Tier, which offers one million AWS Lambda requests and up to 750 hours of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) compute time per month at no charge. However, if developers exceed the AWS Free Tier limits, they may incur AWS usage charges each month.

Now, developers with a live Alexa skill can apply to receive a $100 AWS promotional credit and can also receive an additional $100 per month in AWS promotional credits if they incur AWS usage charges for their skill – making it free for developers to build and host most Alexa skills. Our goal is to free up developers to create more robust and unique skills that can take advantage of AWS services. We can’t wait to see what you create.

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March 13, 2017

Ted Karczewski

The Ford Motor Company announced a two-phased approach to integrating Amazon Alexa into its 2017 line of vehicles at CES. The first phase makes it easy for electric Ford vehicle owners to connect to their cars from the comfort of their homes through the MyFord Mobile skill, which launched in late January 2017.

Customers with a Ford plug-in vehicle, such as the C-Max Energi, Fusion Energi, or Focus Electric, can enable the MyFord Mobile skill to issue a range of remote commands and obtain vehicle information.

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March 08, 2017

Ted Karczewski

Technology in the car keeps drivers informed and connected. Logitech, a global leader in personal computing and accessories, is using voice control and the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to help drivers stay focused on the road.

The company built ZeroTouch, a product that enables drivers to use their voice to control mobile-based applications on their Android phones or access cloud-based services via Amazon Alexa.

ZeroTouch is a combination of hardware and software that creates a hands-free voice experience in any car. The magnetic hardware car mount holds a phone in place either on the car dash or an air vent. The ZeroTouch mobile application launches via BluetoothⓇ and its voice control feature is activated with the wave of a hand.

Click the link below to read more about the development process. 

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March 07, 2017

Ted Karczewski

In 2016, tens of thousands of developers visited the Alexa GitHub to learn how to build their own Alexa-enabled prototype with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) and a Raspberry Pi. The community built some amazing projects, from magic mirrors and voice-enabled coffee machines to talking fish and alarm clocks.

If you’re new to voice user interface (VUI) design or you just want to learn more about AVS, the webinar recording below covers key concepts and examples around hardware selection, AVS development tools for commercial developers, best practices for enabling hands-free voice interaction, and how to build a robust Alexa Voice Service client.

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March 03, 2017

Michael Palermo

Today we are happy to announce lock control and query, a new feature in the Smart Home Skill API now available in the US, with support for the UK and Germany coming soon. This feature is supported with locks from August, Yale, Kwikset, and Schlage as well as hub support from SmartThings and Wink. Now any developer targeting devices with locking behavior can enable customers to issue a voice command such as, “Alexa, lock the front door.” In addition, developers can build in support for customers asking for the status of a smart locking device with a voice command such as, “Alexa, is the front door locked?” LockAPI_blog.png

Much like the recently announced thermostat query feature, the lock query feature simplifies development efforts by enabling specific voice interactive experiences straight from the Smart Home Skill API. This is accomplished under the new Alexa.ConnectedHome.Query namespace.

Developers can report errors using the same namespace. These errors are then used to guide the customer with the proper corrective actions. It’s crucial that developers return meaningful and correct errors so that customers can feel confident about the status of their locks. For example, if the smart locking device is unable to provide a stateful value because a door is open, developers should report this in their directive response as shown below.

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March 02, 2017

Zoey Collier

In 2012, brothers Maurice and Marcel Eisterhues built a smartphone app for their father. TorAlarm—German for GoalAlert—had a simple purpose: to help dad keep up with the scores for his favorite football teams. (That’s soccer for readers in the USA.) Toralarm_brothers.jpg

What started as a fun project turned into a true opportunity for the two German entrepreneurs. TorAlarm’s popularity grew steadily, until in 2014, the brothers and their father founded a company with the same name. Today, TorAlarm is among Germany’s most popular apps for tracking the scores and schedules of football matches across the country,with over a million users in Germany alone.

Maurice and Marcel knew instantly voice would be the next step in TorAlarm’s evolution when they saw the upcoming launch of Amazon Echo in Germany.

“We were both totally amazed when we first saw the Amazon Echo,” says Maurice. “We’re always interested in new technology, so we decided very quickly we wanted to be part of this launch.”

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March 02, 2017

Dean Bryen

In September of last year, we announced that Amazon Echo and Alexa were coming to the UK and Germany. Since the announcement, German customers and developers in the exclusive invite only program have been receiving their devices and German developers have brought hundreds of new skills to Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).DE-hoodie_march2017.jpg

Now that Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices are available for purchase in Germany,  developers can reach even more customers with their Alexa skills.  

As a developer, you can teach Alexa new German skills using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). ASK is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples that make it easy to create voice experiences and enable you to get started quickly. 

If you would like to create something from scratch, our templates are a great place to start. Or if you already have an English (US) or English (UK) skill, you can add German to it. Check out this post to learn how to create multi-language skills.

Get a free Alexa Developer Hoodie

Developers who publish a German Alexa skill in March can get a free Alexa hoodie.  Learn more about how to get your hoodie.

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March 02, 2017

Douglas Booms

Voice technology carries enormous promise, as many people know from their interactions with Alexa, the voice service that powers devices like Amazon Echo. Our teams here at Amazon are working hard to unlock that potential, but innovation requires a collective effort, from large companies like ours to two-person startups, and from casual hobbyists to major academic institutions.

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Today, we’re excited to announce the Alexa Fund Fellowship, a new program to support universities and researchers focused on transformative voice technologies such as text-to-speech (TTS), natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR) and conversational artificial intelligence (AI).

Alexa Fund Fellows will receive funding, access to Alexa devices, and mentoring from an Alexa Science team member to develop an undergraduate or graduate curriculum around one or more of these disciplines. The year-long program culminates in a demo day where students can showcase their work for peers, university faculty and members of the Alexa team.

We’re also pleased to announce our first group of university participants: Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Johns Hopkins University, University of Southern California (USC), and University of Waterloo. Both Carnegie Mellon and Waterloo have already chosen fellows and begun offering classes for engineering students, while courses from Johns Hopkins and USC will begin in fall 2017.

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February 27, 2017

Marion Desmazieres

Champions_John_blog.pngA few months ago we introduced Flask-Ask, a new Python framework for rapid Alexa skill development created by Alexa Champion John Wheeler. Today, due to popular demand, John shares how you can deploy your Alexa skills built with Flask-Ask to AWS Lambda, a service that lets you run code without provisioning or managing servers, which you can use to build serverless applications. Check out John’s technical tutorial below, connect with him on Twitter, and hear more about Flask-Ask in the Alexa Dev Chat podcast episode 10.

 

In our first post, Flask-Ask and ngrok were used to rapidly create a memory game skill and test it locally. This post shows how to use Flask-Ask with the Zappa framework to quickly deploy skills to AWS Lambda. As of this writing, AWS Lambda supports Python 2.7. This tutorial assumes Python 2.7 is installed on your Windows, Mac, or Linux system.

 

Zappa, a serverless Python framework, uses a combination of AWS components to emulate the WSGI environment on Lambda that Python web frameworks require. Since Flask-Ask is a Flask extension and Flask requires a WSGI environment, Zappa is the perfect fit for deploying Flask-Ask skills to AWS Lambda. To demonstrate, we'll create an Alexa skill that uses the GitHub API to return how many stars, watchers, and forks a repository has.

Let's get started!

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February 23, 2017

David Isbitski

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Today we’re happy to share that developers have published over 10,000 skills, making Alexa even better for customers. We’ve been blown away by the innovation and activity in the Alexa developer community. To put it in perspective, we’ve seen a 3x increase in the number of skills available since September 2016 alone. We’ve come a long way in the short time that the Alexa Skills Kit has been available for developers, and we’ve seen a wide range of unique skills that allow customers to do everything from reorder their favorite morning coffee, stay mindful through meditation, control smart home lighting or check their bank account balance.

In November we unveiled a new way for customers to discover Alexa skills and explore the breadth of the Alexa skills catalog. With Alexa skills on Amazon.com, customers can enable skills directly through the website and leave reviews, just like other items on Amazon. Many skills have hundreds of reviews and are rated 4-star or higher by customers. We’ve also added ways for customers to enable and find popular skills, just using their voice.

To celebrate this 10k milestone of skill selection, here are a few Alexa skill highlights:

  • Beat the Intro has the honor of being the 10,000th skill published. It’s a music game by Musicplode Media that tests your knowledge and love of music.
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February 23, 2017

Zoey Collier

Andy Huntwork has worked at Amazon for over 10 years, the last three as a principal engineer. He’s developed front-end and backend services for technologies ranging from websites to payment systems and everything in between. But when the Amazon Echo came out in 2015, he saw a new doorway open. Alexa was an exciting way to bring voice-based experiences to the world, and Andy wanted to part of it.

“So I joined the Alexa team,” Andy says, “and immediately started playing around with the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).” Only a few months after Amazon released ASK, Andy and his wife, Laura, created their first skill. The skill recited public domain works, like Abraham Lincoln’s speeches and The Jungle Book, but the Huntworks wanted to build something more interactive and engaging.

Laura recalls wondering, “What would you ask Alexa to open that’s exciting, even magical? Wouldn’t it be fun to open a magic door?”

From that simple idea grew The Magic Door, an adventure with Alexa guiding you through a growing number of original, interactive stories. Today, The Magic Door skill is a sophisticated adventure framework, hosting 10 adventure storylines, 30,000 spoken words, numerous character voices and hundreds of sounds effects.

Walking through the Magic Door

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To enter a faraway land of magical creatures, perplexing riddles and hidden prizes, just say Alexa, open The Magic Door. Suddenly, you’re off on an adventure with Alexa as your personal guide.

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February 20, 2017

Jen Gilbert

Guest post by Tom Hudson; Tech Director @thirteen23. Tom writes about new and emerging platforms and other tech-related stuff.

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When I started my job as Technical Director at thirteen23, the owner Doug Cook and I were sitting in a room chatting about projects. At some point during the meeting he said “Alexa, is it still raining outside?” Uh what!? Previous to this I had never seen or heard of an Amazon Echo. Somehow I completely missed it. Needless to say, after the meeting I went back to my computer and immediately bought one. Since then I’ve been hooked on it, writing custom skills and taking advantage of all the integrations. I wrote a 3-part series on my experience building Alexa skills, and thirteen23 has played around with custom integrations such as controls for connected speaker systems. 

In a couple of months my coworker Nikki Clark and I will be teaching a workshop at SXSW 2017 on how to design for and build an Alexa skill. If you’re in Austin this March for the SXSW Interactive Festival, you should sign up!

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February 17, 2017

Michael Palermo

Today we are happy to announce support for thermostat query, a new feature for Alexa skills developed using the Smart Home Skill API. The feature is now available in the US, with support for the UK and Germany coming soon. With thermostat query, customers can issue a voice command to an Alexa-enabled device, such as the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, and hear Alexa say the response. For example, a customer with a single thermostat could say, “Alexa, what is the temperature in the house?” and Alexa would respond with the current inside temperature. This complements thermostat commands that already allow customers to set the temperature value.

This new feature simplifies development efforts by enabling specific voice interactive experiences straight from the Smart Home Skill API. In the past, smart home skill developers had to create two skills (one for smart home, the other for custom voice interactions to allow querying data) to provide this overall experience.

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February 17, 2017

Zoey Collier

When Amazon first introduced the Echo, Nick Schwab was intrigued. He’d always loved voice commands in his car, but hNickSchwab_small.JPGe wasn’t sure he wanted to buy another cool device just yet. Then the Echo Dot came out, and once again, Nick couldn’t resist a good deal. He ordered his own Dot, dug into the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). Right away, he started working on Bargain Buddy, an Alexa skill to relieve him of a daily surf to find daily deals. 

Two days after the Bargain Buddy was certified, Nick received his Echo Dot in the mail—his first Alexa device. That’s right, he developed, tested and released his first Alexa skill, before he even had his first Echo Dot.

That was early in 2016. These days, Nick has become a force to be reckoned in the Alexa developer community.

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February 16, 2017

Marion Desmazieres

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A few months ago we shared a free video course on Alexa development by A Cloud Guru, a pioneering serverless education company in the cloud space. Today, we’re excited to announce a new advanced course on Alexa skill building instructed by Alexa Champion Oscar Merry for A Cloud Guru. As the co-founder and head of technology at Opearlo, a voice design agency, Oscar has extensive experience with the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). He has worked with the technology since November 2015, designing and building skills for clients across a number of industries and use cases. He’s also been giving back to the community and sharing his ASK knowledge by running the London Alexa Devs meetup since July 2016.

In this Advanced Alexa Skills Kit course, Oscar gets you started with the ASK SDK for Node.js and shares a practical project that any meetup organizer can implement to use Alexa as their event assistant.

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