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September 04, 2015

David Isbitski

I recently sat down with fellow evangelist Jeff Barr and we chatted about all things Alexa. We covered the Amazon Echo, the new Alexa Skills Kit and creating new skills with the AWS Lambda compute service. If you’ve been looking to get started with Alexa this podcast episode only runs about 23 minutes and is a great place to begin.

You can listen or download the episode right here.


You can subscribe to the AWS Podcast using the following links:

Subscribe via RSS
Subscribe via iTunes
Subscribe via Stitcher
Follow @AWSPodcast on Twitter

You may also want to check out these additional Alexa developer resources:

An Introduction to the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)
Free Video Training - An Introduction to Amazon Echo and the Alexa Skills Kit
Creating an Amazon Echo Adventure Game with the Alexa Skills Kit
Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)
Alexa Voice Service (AVS)
Alexa Fund


-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

August 27, 2015

Corey Badcock

Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology. Since introducing Amazon Echo, we’ve heard from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who want to innovate with voice. The Alexa Fund--named for Alexa, the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo--provides up to $100 million in investments to fuel voice technology innovation.

Amazon today announced two new recipients of the Alexa Fund, Musaic and Rachio. Musaic and Rachio are the latest additions to the growing portfolio of Alexa Fund recipients, and join the seven previously funded companies announced in June, including: Orange Chef, Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, Dragon Innovation, MARA, and Mojio. 

[Read More]

August 21, 2015

Rohan Mutagi

* Important * - On 5-Apr, we announced the Smart Home Skill API, the public, self-service version of the Alexa Lighting API, which was introduced as a beta in August 2015. As part of the beta program, we worked with companies including Nest, Ecobee, Sensi, Samsung SmartThings, and Wink in order to gather developer feedback, while extending Alexa’s smart home capabilities to work with their devices. If you’d like to build a smart home skill, learn more about the Smart Home Skill API here.

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice.  

We have been receiving a lot of requests for an easy way to extend Alexa’s built-in lighting skill to control more lighting and switch devices, and today we’re excited to announce the launch of the Alexa Lighting API. This new API allows commercial developers, hobbyists, and connected home enthusiasts who can code in Java or JavaScript to teach Alexa how to control their cloud-controlled devices in just a few hours. No experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required—Alexa does all the work to hear, understand, and process the spoken requests.

[Read More]

August 17, 2015

Corey Badcock

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice.

We announced the availability of the Alexa Skills Kit a little over a month ago, and we’ve been impressed with some of the skills developers are teaching Alexa. We wanted to give you an early look at a few of these third-party Alexa skills that are starting to come out of the pipeline.

[Read More]

August 07, 2015

David Isbitski

 
What is it?
 
A free event that will provide an introduction to using Amazon Web Services with the Alexa Skills Kit to build voice driven experiences on Amazon Echo and other devices. The day will also include an open hackathon providing you time to get your hands on building a new Alexa Skill.
[Read More]

July 31, 2015

David Isbitski

The free Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the same service that powers Amazon Echo, is now available in developer preview to hobbyists and hardware makers who want to integrate Alexa into their connected devices. AVS enables your customers to speak to Alexa through the microphone on your device and Alexa will respond through the device’s speakers. With the developer preview, you get access to a collection of self-service tools, documentation, and APIs and code samples to enhance your device and delight your customers with new voice experiences. Alexa includes access to information, music, audiobooks, news, weather, traffic and more, including any custom skills you create using the Alexa Skills Kit to differentiate your device. Learn more about the developer preview.

[Read More]

July 20, 2015

Corey Badcock

Join us on Monday August 10, 2015 at the Hilton Union Square in San Francisco for a full day of learning and activities. Our Developer Evangelists will share tips and best practices on how to build, optimize and monetize your apps and games. The developer day is complimentary and doesn't require Casual Connect event badge access.

[Read More]

July 16, 2015

David Isbitski

To help jumpstart your Alexa Skills Kit development we have created a knowledge base of answers to top questions posted in our Alexa Skills Kit forums. If you are just starting out, this list is a great place to get quick answers to common questions around building Alexa skills you may have.

[Read More]

July 10, 2015

David Markley

While working with the Alexa platform over the last few months, it occurred to me that some of my favorite text games could be made more accessible to today’s game players through voice control. There has been a resurgence of text based, narrative gaming; and access by voice takes the experience to a whole new level of interaction. Successful video games have solid characters and background stories that are driven by conflict. Text based games rely even more heavily on their story. And the voice interaction enabled by Alexa provides for an extremely intimate dialogue between the gamer and the game.

Watch the Alexa adventure game on YouTube here.

Voice User Interface

Dialogue is the User Experience for voice based games and so it is where you will spend most of your time when designing the game interactions. While the speech-to-text capabilities of the Alexa platform are impressive, it is important to simplify the customer controls so the game can not mistake the gamer’s instructions. As part of developing an Alexa skill, you define the syntax and provide sample utterances. Syntax defines the available customer intents and the sample utterances help the Alexa platform map speech to those intents.

Making Choices

Suppose you want to interact with the gamer through simple choices. You can present the gamer with a set of multiple choices and enable them to select one of them. This is the simplest form of control and leaves very little chance of getting the gamer’s selection wrong. Let’s say that you’ve written your voice response to be:

Alexa: “You are standing on a dusty road with a large, vibrant lake to one side and a dark forest to the other.

Would you like to:

1.       Walk north along the road?

2.       Walk south along the road?

3.       Dive into the lake?

4.       Enter the forest?”

Gamer: “Choose 1”

The most straightforward user experience enables the gamer to simply say “1,” “2,” “3,” or “4” and have game play progress based on that choice. To define this Voice User Interface (VUI) with Alexa, I create a choice intent and sample utterances such as:

{

      "intent": "ChoiceIntent",

      "slots": [

                {

                    "name": "ChoiceValue",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                } ]

    }

And some sample utterances to map to that schema:

ChoiceIntent   {a|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {b|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {c|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {d|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {one|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {two|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {to|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {too|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {three|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {four|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {next|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   {continue|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   choose {a|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   select {b|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   option {c|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   try {d|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   choose {e|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   select {one|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   option {two|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   try {three|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   choose {four|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   select {first one|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   try {last one|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   choose {first|ChoiceValue}

ChoiceIntent   select {last|ChoiceValue}

Direction Commands

A more advanced interface would enable the gamer to give commands like “Go North,” “Enter the Forest,” or other simple commands. And a more open-ended style of play would only give the gamer the situation and not the option. The last style is much more in line with many text-based games:

Alexa: “You are standing on a dusty road with a large, vibrant lake on one side and a dark forest to the other.”

Gamer: “Jump in the lake.”

Alexa: “You drown. Would you like to be revived and try again?”

Clearly the game needs to understand where the gamer’s directional command will take them and handle an invalid choice appropriately or in some entertaining manner. In this case, I really don’t want the lake to be an option, so if you go into it you are sure to drown. For the other options, the game will take the gamer to the next scene and change the state of the game.

To handle direction commands within my games, I have defined the direction intent with this simple schema:

{

      "intent": "DirectionIntent",

      "slots": [

                {

                    "name": "DirectionVerb",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                },

                {

                    "name": "Direction",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                },

                {

                    "name": "Destination",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                } ]

    }

The sample utterances are key to defining what the Alexa platform will identify as a directional intent from the gamer. These are some of the ones I use:

DirectionIntent   {north|Direction}

DirectionIntent   {south|Direction}

DirectionIntent   {east|Direction}

DirectionIntent   {west|Direction}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} {east|Direction}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} {home|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} to the {west|Direction}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} {northeast|Direction} to {house|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {move|DirectionVerb} {southeast|Direction} to {castle|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {head|DirectionVerb} {northwest|Direction} to {mountain|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {travel|DirectionVerb} {southwest|Direction} to {stronghold|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} {down|Direction} to the {river|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {move|DirectionVerb} {up|Direction} to the {riverbank|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {head|DirectionVerb} {sideways|Direction} to the {ocean|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {travel|DirectionVerb} {left|Direction} to the {lake|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} {right|Direction} toward {cave|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {move|DirectionVerb} {around|Direction} toward {spider|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {head|DirectionVerb} {quickly|Direction} toward {chair|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {travel|DirectionVerb} {slowly|Direction} toward {table|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} {directly|Direction} toward the {desk|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {move|DirectionVerb} {north|Direction} toward the {terminal|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {head|DirectionVerb} {south|Direction} toward the {computer|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {jump|DirectionVerb} {up|Direction} toward the {beer|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {crawl|DirectionVerb} to {house|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {slither|DirectionVerb} to {park|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {wander|DirectionVerb} to {door|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {saunter|DirectionVerb} to {box|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {sprint|DirectionVerb} to the {chest|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {race|DirectionVerb} to the {portal|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {dance|DirectionVerb} to the {tree|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {travel|DirectionVerb} to the {rock|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} toward {monster|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {move|DirectionVerb} toward {vampire|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {head|DirectionVerb} toward {balrog|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {travel|DirectionVerb} toward {orc|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {go|DirectionVerb} toward the {elf|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {move|DirectionVerb} toward the {dwarf|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {head|DirectionVerb} toward the {wraith|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {travel|DirectionVerb} toward the {sun|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {dive|DirectionVerb} into the {lake|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {jump|DirectionVerb} in the {pond|Destination}

DirectionIntent   {enter|DirectionVerb} the {forest|Destination}

Combat Commands

So far the gamer can move around in the game, and that can be enough if we’re taking them through a multiple ending story where they are limited to specific storylines. If they want to interact with other characters or perhaps fight monsters, they will need to be able to give commands that tell the game what they want to fight (combat target), what they want to use (combat weapon), and how they want to use it (combat verb). This is how I have developed the schema for my combat intent:

{

      "intent": "CombatIntent",

      "slots": [

                {

                    "name": "CombatVerb",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                },

                {

                    "name": "CombatTarget",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                },

                {

                    "name": "CombatWeapon",

                    "type": "LITERAL"

                } ]

    }

And the sample utterances for any set of combat I may want to support in my game:

CombatIntent   {hit|CombatVerb} {monster|CombatTarget} with {sword|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {stab|CombatVerb} {dragon|CombatTarget} with the {knife|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {poke|CombatVerb} {balrog|CombatTarget} with a {stick|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {insult|CombatVerb} the {mugger|CombatTarget} with {rocks|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {slap|CombatVerb} the {orc|CombatTarget} with the {arrow|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {flick|CombatVerb} the {fairy|CombatTarget} with a {stare|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {kick|CombatVerb} {dwarf|CombatTarget}

CombatIntent   {slaughter|CombatVerb} {pig|CombatTarget}

CombatIntent   {strike|CombatVerb} the {vampire|CombatTarget}

CombatIntent   {smack|CombatVerb} the {dog|CombatTarget} with a {donut|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {taunt|CombatVerb} the {cat|CombatTarget} with a {shoe|CombatWeapon}

CombatIntent   {annoy|CombatVerb} the {bear|CombatTarget} with a {branch|CombatWeapon}

Game Text Recognition Heuristics

The important thing to your game is that the correct intent is identified and that each slot has a value that it can recognize and respond to. The more sample utterances you provide, the better the recognition quality becomes through the Alexa platform. Until the quality reaches a certain level, game play can become quite frustrating for the gamer. Make sure to test the utterances you are most likely to expect from the gamer and do what you can to accept words that are close enough.

If the gamer says, “Hit the ogre with rocks,” it is possible that Alexa hears “Hit the ogre with rock.” The very subtle difference between “rocks” and “rock” should be handled by your game.

You may need to employ more advanced forms of recognition heuristics within your game in order to account for these variances in the speech to text mapping from Alexa. The Alexa platform is also continually improving its audio recognition heuristics and improves over time as more complex speech is presented to it. In just a few weeks of using some of my basic games, I have found that recognition has improved significantly.

New Game Developer Opportunities

With the launch of the Alexa Skills Kit you have a unique opportunity to create new Alexa gaming skills customers can teach their Alexa enabled devices, like the Amazon Echo. By submitting your Alexa skill today you will be ready when we launch the first new capabilities built using ASK later this year. We can’t wait to see what you create!

To get more details on how to get started, check out this Introduction to Amazon Echo and the Alexa Skills Kit by Dave Isbitski.

You may also want to check out these additional Alexa developer resources:


++David (@PlusDavid)

Want the latest app and game news delivered to your inbox? Stay in the loop on the latest industry best practices, Amazon promotions, and new launches by subscribing to our weekly blog summary here.

 

July 08, 2015

David Isbitski

We recently launched the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. Alexa is the same cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. With a few lines of code, you can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, you can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. No experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required—Amazon does all the work to hear, understand, and process the customer’s spoken request so you don’t have to.

It’s Easy to Get Started

To get started with the Alexa Skills Kit, we recommend you review the following materials in order:

  1. Read the Getting Started Guide, which details how users interact with your Alexa skill and how to conduct a conversation with your customers.
  2. Review AWS Lambda Documentation
  3. Check out the Voice Design Handbook for best practices on voice user interface design.
  4. Review the Alexa Skills Interface Reference to learn more about the syntax of the requests that will be sent to your service.
  5. Check out the reference skills to see sample code.
  6. Learn how to test your new skill with an Amazon Echo.
  7. Sign up for a free account and register your skill on the developer portal.
     

Watch the Video
 


You should also check out this free 38 minute video that will introduce you to the capabilities of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) using an Amazon Echo device and walk you through building your own skills for Alexa. We use AWS Lambda as an example hosted cloud service – you can follow along at no cost using the AWS free tier. After watching the video you will have an understanding of the Alexa Skills Kit and be able to publish an Alexa skill that can be enabled on an Amazon Echo device.

You can watch the video here and download the slides here.
 

How Customers Will Interact with Your Alexa Skill

Customers interact with the Alexa skills you develop by asking a question or stating a command in natural language. The user says a supported phrase such as “ask,” an invocation name that identifies the capability that the user wants to use, and then a specific request or question:

User: “Alexa, ask Greeter to say hello world.”

The above example breaks down like this:

  • “Alexa” is the wake word for the Amazon Echo. This starts the user’s conversation with Alexa.
  • “Ask…to” is one of the supported phrases for requesting a particular ability. There are several phrases that end users can say, such as “ask..to,” “ask…for,” “tell…to,” and many other variations listed in Supported Phrases to Begin a Conversation.
  • “Greeter” is the invocation name that identifies the capability the user wants. The name should be chosen to fit well into “ask”, “tell” or the other supported phrases, and does not need to stand alone as a phrase. Alexa uses this to determine where to send the user’s request.

·         “Say hello” is the specific request, question, or command mapped to a particular intent for the service.

In this context, an intent represents a high-level action that fulfills a user’s spoken request. Intents can optionally have arguments called slots that collect additional information needed to fulfill the user’s request. Intents are specific to Alexa and do not share the same structure as Android intents.

Defining the phrases users speak to make requests and the corresponding intents mapped to those phrases is part of defining the voice interface for an Alexa skill. For details, see Defining the Voice Interface.

The service that implements the particular skill constructs an appropriate response to the intent and sends it back. This reply can include both text that Alexa converts to speech and information to display in a graphical card in the Amazon Echo App, which is available for Fire OS, Android, iOS, and through web browsers. Alexa converts the provided text to speech and reads it back to the user. If you include information for a card, Alexa also sends the card to the user’s Echo App.

The following diagram illustrates the flow of a user's command:

How do I create an Alexa Skill?

To give Alexa new capabilities, you need the following:

  • An account on the developer portal. You use the developer portal to create a configuration for the new ability that includes the information the Alexa service needs to route requests to your service.
  • The ability to develop and deploy a cloud-based service to an Internet-accessible endpoint. The service processes user intents and returns replies to the user. For details, see Deciding How to Host Your Cloud-based Service.
  • A development environment appropriate for the language you plan to use. You can author a Lambda function in Node.js or Java. You can author a web service in any language appropriate for web services.
     

Configuring Your Alexa Skill Through the Developer Portal

Registering a new skill or ability on the Amazon Developer Portal creates a configuration containing the information that the Alexa service needs to do the following:

  • Route requests to the web service or AWS Lambda function that implements the skill. AWS Lambda is a service offering by Amazon Web Services.
  • Display information about the new capability in the Amazon Echo App.

Note - You must register a skill before you can test it with an Echo device.

Customers will never interact with your Cloud-based service directly, instead all of their requests will go to the Amazon Alexa Service which in turn will create http post requests your service handles using a predefined contract you have set up.  

This contract is set up in the developer portal and you will need to define interactions for your Alexa skill through Intent Schemas

•       Each intent consists of two fields. The intent field gives the name of the intent. The slots field lists the slots associated with that intent.
•       Slots can also include types such as LITERAL, NUMBER, DATE, etc.

Here is an example of what an Intent Schema can look like:

The mappings between the intents you define and the spoken utterances that invoke those intents are provided in a tab-separated text document of sample utterances.

•       Each possible phrase is assigned to one of the defined intents.
•       GetHoroscope what is the horoscope for {pisces|Sign}
•       GetHoroscope what will the horoscope for {leo|Sign} be {next tuesday|Date}

Here is an example of a sample utterance:

The Alexa Service will use these configurations to know how to call your cloud-based service endpoint and to understand how your customer will be talking to an Alexa-enabled device like Echo.

Note – The more sample utterances you include the better Alexa will be able to understand your customers.  Make sure you include as many utterances as you can with different samples of data.
 

Setting up Your Cloud Based Service

Now that you have configured the Alexa skill in the developer portal you will next need to ensure your cloud based service is capable of the following:

·         Uses HTTP over SSL/TLS on port 443
·         Must be Internet-accessible
·         Presents a trusted certificate matching domain name

Once you have set up the configuration for your Alexa skill in the Developer portal your cloud-based service endpoint will be called by the Amazon Alexa Service.  This will happen in the following manner:

·         You will need to handle POST requests to your service over port 443 and parse the JSON
·         You will need to check the session variable to see if the user started a new session or if request is from existing one
·         Requests always Include a type, requestId and timestamp
·         requestId maps directly to  LaunchRequest, IntentRequest and SessionEndedRequest

Here is an example of what a request HTTP header will look like:

Here an example of the request body sent to your service in JSON format:

*Note – AWS Lambda now includes a code template that will automatically handle all of these requests for you and does not require the creation of an SSL certificate. For more information on creating an Alexa AWS Lambda compute function click here.
 

Developer Samples Included in the Alexa Skills Kit

We have included both Java-based Web Service examples and Node JS Javascript examples as part of the Alexa Skills Kit. In addition to these samples, we provide a complete walk through on how to create your own service to handle Alexa requests as a Web Service using Java and how to create a compute function in AWS Lambda to service Alexa requests.

The Java Web Based Service example provides a Hello World example.

The Node JS Lambda samples provide an array of scenarios including database access and storing session attributes.  Here is a complete list of the samples available to download. 

Concept

Description

Samples

Session state

When a user asks Alexa to perform an action that is mapped to a particular skill, this opens a new session. All requests from this user are directed to your service until the session closes. Each request sent to your service includes a flag you can use to determine whether a session is new or existing, and you can use session attributes to save data with your response during the session.

These samples illustrate managing this session.

  • Wise Guy

Multi-stage conversation

A service can manage a conversation with different stages in which you keep track of the stage the user is in.

  • Wise Guy

Web lookup

Getting information from various web sites such as Wikipedia and formatting it a voice-friendly way is a useful capability for Alexa, as illustrated with History Buff.

  • History Buff
  • Savvy Consumer
  • Tide Pooler

Using a database to persist data between sessions

The new ability you add to Alexa may need to persist data between sessions so that users can resume where they left off later. Score Keeper illustrates reading and writing to a database using AWS DynamoDB, which is very easy to access from a Lambda function.

  • Score Keeper

Pagination

If your service returns a large list of data, reading all that back to the user may not be very user friendly. When writing for the ear (not the eye), it is better to give users smaller chunks of information and let them control how much data they want. You can do this by implementing pagination – read back X items in a list, keep track of where you are in the list, and prompt the user if they want more.

  • History Buff
  • Savvy Consumer

NUMBER Slots

The NUMBER slot type converts numeric words into digits that you can then manipulate as numbers.

  • Score Keeper

DATE Slots

The DATE slot type converts phrases representing absolute and relative dates into date formats.

  • History Buff
  • Tide Pooler

LITERAL slots

The LITERAL slot type passes the slot data to the intent with no conversion. These slots are useful for some free-form data, but work best with short phrases, such as names.

  • Minecraft Helper
  • Score Keeper
  • Wise Guy

If you configure your app as a Lambda function, the Alexa service executes your function when a user makes a request. Your function then returns the response. Using a Lambda function for your app eliminates some of the complexity around setting up and managing your own endpoint:

  • You do not need to administer or manage any of the compute resources for your app.
  • You do not need an SSL certificate.
  • You do not need to verify that requests are coming from the Amazon Alexa service yourself. Access to execute your function is controlled by permissions within AWS instead.

You can download the AWS Lambda Node JS samples here and the Java AWS Beanstalk samples here.

New Developer Opportunities

With the launch of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) you have a unique opportunity to create new Alexa skills that customers can teach their Alexa-enabled devices, like the Amazon Echo. By submitting your Alexa skill today you will be ready when we launch the first new capabilities built using ASK later this year. We can’t wait to see what you create!

You may also want to check out these additional Alexa developer resources:

Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)
Alexa Developer Forums
Getting Started with the Alexa Skills Kit
Alexa Skills Kit Voice Design Handbook
Create a developer account on the Amazon Appstore
Free Video Training - An Introduction to Amazon Echo and the Alexa Skills Kit


-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

 

Want the latest app and game news delivered to your inbox? Stay in the loop on the latest industry best practices, Amazon promotions, and new launches by subscribing to our weekly blog summary here.

July 03, 2015

David Isbitski

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. With a few lines of code, you can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, you can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. No experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required—Amazon does all the work to hear, understand, and process the customer’s spoken request so you don’t have to.

This free 38 minute video will introduce you to the capabilities of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) using an Amazon Echo device and walk through building your own Skills for Alexa. AWS Lambda will be used as an example hosted cloud service and can be followed along using the AWS free tier at no cost to you. After watching the video you will have an understanding of the Alexa Skills Kit and be able to publish an Alexa Skill that can be enabled on an Amazon Echo device.

You can watch the video here and download the slides here.

New Developer Opportunities

With the launch of the Alexa Skills Kit you have a unique opportunity to create new Alexa skills customers can teach their Alexa enabled devices, like the Amazon Echo. By submitting your Alexa skill today you will be ready when we launch the first new capabilities built using ASK later this year. We can’t wait to see what you create!

You may also want to check out these additional Alexa developer resources:


-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

Want the latest app and game news delivered to your inbox? Stay in the loop on the latest industry best practices, Amazon promotions, and new launches by subscribing to our weekly blog summary here.

June 26, 2015

Peter Heinrich

This was a great week for Amazon announcements benefiting developers. Our really big news, the public release of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), was reported by VentureBeat, TechCrunch, Gizmodo, and many others. ProgrammableWeb covered the launch of the Fire OS 5 developer preview, which provides early access to new OS features and updates. In other news, TechNewsWorld contemplated streaming games, Amazon, and nothing less than the future of electronic entertainment while PocketGamer.biz shared our summer plans for the beach. Our $50 app promotion, which ends July 1, also generated a lot of buzz (see PCWorld, AndroidPolice, AndroidAuthority, for example). DroidGamers reported on an update to Kingdom Rush Origins, and AndroidHeadlines featured Amazon’s Cloud Drive app as one of the top new Android apps of the week.

Amazon launches an SDK for developers to build on its Alexa voice-activated assistant

Amazon has launched a new software developer kit for Alexa, the cloud-based “brains” behind its voice-activated Amazon Echo device. The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) offers application program interfaces and other tools for developers to build new capabilities for Alexa. Additionally, Amazon has also opened its Alexa Voice Service to third-party hardware creators, meaning Alexa is effectively a free agent that’s unbridled from its Amazon confines. Continue reading…

Amazon Opens Developer Preview for Fire OS 5

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-peter (@peterdotgames)

 

June 25, 2015

David Isbitski

Today, we announced that the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the same service that powers Amazon Echo, is coming soon to third party hardware makers who want to integrate Alexa into their connected devices. Your customers can simply speak to Alexa through the microphone on your device and Alexa will respond through the device’s speakers. This gives your customers access to Alexa’s skills and capabilities, including both built-in skills and those created by you or other developers using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). Examples of Alexa skills include the ability to answer general knowledge questions, provide weather forecasts, query Wikipedia and much more.

Take Advantage of the Alexa Voice Service

Use AVS to extend your hardware’s capabilities and interact with your customers in new ways. Benefits of AVS include:

  • Create Frictionless Interfaces for Your Customers. Allow your customers to control your device in more intuitive ways with a natural language voice interface. By integrating AVS with your device, your customer no longer needs to get out their phone, find an app, and use their thumbs to invoke a command. All they have to do is ask via the microphone on your device.
  • Scale Quickly in the Cloud. AVS is cloud based and scales as your needs scale. You don’t need to worry about provisioning hardware and managing infrastructure to power your voice experience.
  • Integrate Easily. No experience with voice recognition or Natural Language Understanding (NLU) is required. Using AVS, add Alexa to your device in just a few hours. Leave understanding human speech to us and focus on your differentiated value add to customers.
  • Build for Free. Using AVS to power speech experiences on your devices is completely free.

Want to add Alexa to your device or service? Sign up and we will email you when AVS becomes available.  

The Alexa Fund

Amazon is investing up to $100 million to support developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who are creating unique and innovative experiences designed around the human voice. Learn more here

Want Amazon Developer blogs delivered to your inbox? Stay in the loop on the latest industry best practices, Amazon promotions, and new launches by subscribing to our weekly blog summary here.

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

 

June 25, 2015

David Isbitski

Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology. Since introducing Amazon Echo, we’ve heard from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes who want to innovate with voice. The Alexa Fund--named for Alexa, the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo--provides up to $100 million in investments to fuel voice technology innovation. Whether that’s creating new Alexa capabilities with the Alexa Skills Kit, building devices that use Alexa for new and novel voice experiences using the Alexa Voice Service, or something else entirely, if you have a visionary idea, we’d love to talk to you.

What Types of Companies will the Alexa Fund Support?

The Alexa Fund is open to anyone with an innovative idea for how voice technology can improve customers’ lives — from early-stage pre-revenue companies that are just starting out to established brands. We’re launching the Fund with seed investments in seven companies:

We’re launching the Fund with seed investments in seven companies:

 

Orange Chef is a start-up that has created a new product for the kitchen called “Countertop,” a mobile app that connects to an ecosystem of cooking tools such as blenders and slow cookers to measure and track ingredients placed into those devices—all powered by Orange Chef’s cloud service nutrition database. Orange Chef sees an opportunity to use voice instead of a phone app in recognition of the fact that cooking can be messy and is often a two-handed operation. For example, customers can use Echo or another Alexa-enabled device while using a blender to ask “Alexa, how many calories are in this smoothie?” or, with a slow cooker, a customer can ask “Alexa, how much more barbeque sauce do I need to add to the pulled pork?”

 

Scout Alarm is a do-it-yourself home security system provider and connected security device maker. The Scout system includes a hub, entry sensors, motion detectors, and a smartphone companion app. Now, Scout is using the Alexa Skills Kit to enable customers to tell Echo or another Alexa-enabled device “Alexa, arm Sleep Mode” before going to bed or ask “Alexa, what were the last five events?” from the comfort of the couch. With Alexa and Scout, there's no need to fumble for a control panel or app to quickly turn off the alarm—just ask Alexa.

 

Garageio provides a system to control and to monitor the status of a garage door from anywhere. Garageio’s product—the Blackbox—is designed to be simple to install and fits onto existing garage door openers. The Blackbox then connects the garage door via the home’s Wi-Fi network, and an associated smartphone app gives users control of the garage door from anywhere. Using the Alexa Skills Kit, Garageio is adding capabilities to Alexa that help a customer quickly find out if their garage door is open or if the alarm is set. For example, before falling asleep many homeowners think through whether the doors are all locked, the windows are all shut, and the garage door is closed—if they can’t remember, they have to get out of bed and go check all the doors manually. Now, all it takes is a quick question to Echo or another Alexa-enabled device: “Alexa, ask Garageio, is the garage door open?” If the answer is “yes,” just say “Alexa, tell Garageio to close the garage door.”

 

Toymail is creating a new category of connected toys that enable parents and children to communicate without the need for the child to be using a smartphone or tablet device. Parents can talk to a child through a toy called the Mailman that has a speaker, a microphone, and an Internet connection. They simply use the Toymail mobile app to leave voice messages that are delivered to their child on the Mailman. Now, with the Alexa Skills Kit, Toymail is enabling a grandparent to say, “Alexa, send a Toymail for Ben…I love you and remind your mom I’m bringing dinner over at 5 pm tonight. I can’t wait to see you guys.” In addition, Toymail is using the Alexa Voice Service to add Alexa capabilities to the Mailman—just press a button on the Mailman to say “Alexa, read a story” for the family to enjoy a bedtime audiobook together via the toy’s speakers.

 

Dragon Innovation provides a suite of products and services that help hardware start-ups and device makers go from “garage to factory” to make their ideas a reality with a framework that guides them through all stages of production—from prototype through sales. As part of the Alexa Fund, Dragon is establishing expertise in using Alexa Voice Services and the Alexa Skills Kit for new products, and is committed to thinking “voice-first” when working with their customers on new products. Dragon is working with clients to add Alexa capabilities to their devices quickly and easily.

 

MARA is an intelligent, voice-based running assistant that provides performance data and training information during exercise, serving as a virtual running coach or personal trainer. MARA is using the Alexa Voice Service and the Alexa Skills Kit to give users easy access to information about their workouts. For example, ask Echo or any Alexa-enabled device “Alexa, how many miles have I run so far this week?” or “What has my average pace been this week?”

 

Mojio is a leading provider of connected car solutions. The company’s device connects to a vehicle’s OBD-II port and extracts driving performance, on-board systems status, and other diagnostic data. Mojio uses the Alexa Skills Kit to enable customers to use Echo or other Alexa-enabled devices to ask “Alexa, do I need to get gas on the way to work today?” before leaving home or “Alexa, where is my daughter driving the car this evening?”, giving them the peace of mind that the car is healthy and the kids are safe. 

Why Work With the Alexa Fund?

Beyond financial support, the Alexa Fund builds on Amazon’s track record of helping innovative individuals grow ideas into successful products and businesses. With established business and technology expertise, Amazon can help take your ideas from initial concept to the marketplace by offering tools such as early access to SDK capabilities, hands-on development support for hardware or software, enhanced marketing support on Amazon.com, placement at Amazon showcase events, membership in AWS Activate, and more. Tell us about your idea.

It’s Easy to Get Started

You may also want to check out these additional Alexa developer resources:

Order Echo - Amazon.com Page
Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)
Alexa Voice Service (AVS)
Alexa Fund
Alexa Developer Forums
Getting Started with the Alexa Skills Kit
Alexa Skills Kit Voice Design Handbook
Create a developer account on the Amazon Appstore

Want Amazon Developer blogs delivered to your inbox? Stay in the loop on the latest industry best practices, Amazon promotions, and new launches by subscribing to our weekly blog summary here.

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

 

June 25, 2015

David Isbitski

Today, we are announcing the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. With a few lines of code, you can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, you can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. No experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required—Amazon does all the work to hear, understand, and process the customer’s spoken request so you don’t have to.

Quickly Build New Skills with the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)

Now you have the opportunity to easily extend your existing service or create something completely new. Without the need for customers to use their hands or eyes, they only have to “ask” and it’s at their command. Now is the time for you to get started.

  • Get in Early. Natural user interfaces, such as those based on speech, represent the next major disruption in computing. Alexa provides you with an opportunity to take advantage of this new form of interaction.
  • Delight Your Customers. Give your audience a completely new way to interact with your service. Without the need for customers to use their hands or eyes, they only have to “ask” and it’s at their command.
  • Get Up and Running in Just a Few Hours. If you have an existing cloud-based service, you can easily use that to start. If not, AWS Lambda is a compute service that makes it really easy to build a cloud-based service that responds quickly to a voice request. 
  • Build for Free. ASK is free to use. AWS Lambda is also free for the first 1MM calls per month.

Examples of skills you can create with the Alexa Skills Kit include:

  • A hobbyist developer can enable Alexa to access his or her child’s school lunch menu—then, each morning simply ask, “Alexa, ask Ballard Elementary School what’s for lunch today” and decide whether to pack a lunch for the child.
  • A device maker with an Internet-connected sprinkler system can integrate its sprinklers with Alexa, so a customer can say, “Alexa, ask my sprinkler to water my lawn for 15 minutes.”
  • A surf report provider can create a new skill for Alexa that lets customers ask for the latest conditions at their favorite break by saying “Alexa, ask Surf Status for my local forecast.”
  • The maker of a smart vacuum cleaner can create a skill for Alexa that lets customers control their vacuum by saying “Alexa, tell the vacuum to start cleaning the living room.”
  • A fitness service can enable Alexa to access a user’s workout history, so a customer can say “Alexa, ask My Fitness how many miles I have run this week.”
  • A baseball fantasy league can make a new skill for Alexa, so managers can simply say, “Alexa, ask Fantasy Baseball to change my lineup and start Felix Hernandez today.”

Developers Have Already Started Creating Alexa Skills

StubHub, an online marketplace for sports, concert, theater, and other live entertainment event tickets is using Alexa to enable customers to purchase tickets and more using voice. “At StubHub, we are constantly thinking of ways to make the live event experience easier and more fun,” said Parag Vaish, Head of Mobile at StubHub. “By bringing StubHub’s great experience to Alexa, we’re able to reach more fans by allowing our customers to use their voice to engage with our content to do things like ask, ‘Alexa, ask StubHub what events are happening this weekend near me?’ or ‘Alexa, ask StubHub to send event suggestions to me for tomorrow.’”

Pebblebee, a hardware company making customized Bluetooth trackers and sensors, is using ASK to enable customers to track items and check sensors using voice. “We've learned over the past few years that it’s not always intuitive to use a visual app with so many features. Using voice commands simplifies the complexity for customers,” said Daniel Daoura, Co-Founder and CEO of Pebblebee. “We’re thrilled to use the Alexa Skills Kit to integrate Alexa with Pebblebee’s sensor information, so a customer can simply ask, ‘Alexa, find my keys,’ or ‘Alexa, how warm is the baby’s room?’ or ‘Alexa, is my dog nearby?’” 

Glympse, a mobile service that provides a fast, free, and simple way to share your location in real time with the people you trust from a GPS-enabled mobile phone, is using ASK to enable customers to request location details via voice. “We are always looking for innovative solutions to expand our ecosystem, and Alexa’s cutting edge voice technology was a natural fit,” said Steve Miller, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Glympse. “Location information—the question of ‘where are you?’ or ‘when will you arrive?’—is pervasive in daily life. We are excited to use the Alexa Skills Kit to make it even easier for people to request location details by saying ‘where is Bob?’ or ‘when will Jack get here?”

It’s Easy to Get Started

To get started with the Alexa Skills Kit, we recommend you review the following materials in order:

  1. Read the Getting Started Guide, which details how users interact with your Alexa skill and how to conduct a conversation with your customers.
  2. Read the AWS Lambda documentation.
  3. Check out the Voice Design Handbook for best practices on voice user interface design.
  4. Review the Alexa Skills Interface Reference to learn more about the syntax of the requests that will be sent to your service.
  5. Check out the reference skills to see sample code.
  6. Learn how to test your new skill with an Amazon Echo.
  7. Sign up for a free account and register your skill on the developer portal.

Want Amazon Developer blogs delivered to your inbox? Stay in the loop on the latest industry best practices, Amazon promotions, and new launches by subscribing to our weekly blog summary here.

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

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