Alexa Blogs

Alexa Blogs

Want the latest?

alexa topics

Recent Posts

Archive

January 05, 2017

Ted Karczewski

Huawei announced today at CES that its Mate 9 model will be available in the United States starting on January 6, 2017. Building on the company’s history of innovation, the Mate 9 will be the first introduced smartphone with an app featuring Amazon Alexa.

The pre-installed application will provide users with a natural, convenient way to set alarms, build to-do lists, get weather and traffic reports, and more—all they have to do is ask. For existing Mate 9 owners, the app will be available through an over-the-air update.

[Read More]

January 05, 2017

Ted Karczewski

The Ford Motor Company announced a two-phased approach to integrating Amazon Alexa into its 2017 line of vehicles.

 

 

The first gives electric Ford vehicle owners the ability to connect to their cars from the comfort of their homes through Alexa devices such as the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap. The second phase, which starts this spring, enables Ford drivers with SYNC 3 AppLink to ask Alexa to search and transfer destinations to navigation, resume audiobooks, request news, add items to Amazon shopping list, and more—all from their car.

[Read More]

January 04, 2017

Ted Karczewski

LG Electronics announced today at CES its Smart InstaView Door-in-Door refrigerator, a smart refrigerator now with Amazon Alexa.

The Smart InstaView Door-in-Door refrigerator comes equipped with a 29-inch translucent touch LCD screen. Its Knock-On feature enables users to easily check the content inside by simply knocking on the screen twice.

The 2017 model will incorporate the Alexa Voice Service, allowing users to plan an entire dinner party, grocery shop, and more just by using their voice. Users will be able to search recipes, add any ingredients they’re missing to a shopping list, place orders from Amazon.com, and even control smart home products by enabling Alexa skills.

The kitchen is often one of the busiest rooms in the house. With Alexa, Smart InstaView Door-in-Door refrigerator owners can manage their entire homes without lifting a finger.

Learn more about the Alexa integration and product availability by visiting LG’s press page

Get Started with Alexa

Alexa is always getting smarter with new capabilities and services. Learn how AVS can add rich, voice-powered experiences to your connected products.

Have questions? We’re here to help. Visit us on the AVS Forum or Alexa GitHub to speak with one of our experts.

January 04, 2017

Ted Karczewski

To demonstrate how a voice-forward interface like Amazon Alexa enables frictionless, hands-free control over everything in the home, from the lock on the front door and lights in the hallway to advanced scenes for movie nights and cozy mornings, we’ve collaborated with Intel to showcase a Smart Tiny Home with Alexa at CES.

[Read More]

January 04, 2017

Ted Karczewski

DISH announced yesterday at CES that customers will soon be able to watch hands-free, voice-controlled TV by pairing a Hopper DVR with the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot.

DISH will introduce a new Alexa skill in the first half of 2017 that allows customers to navigate, search, and quick play TV on a Hopper DVR based on channel, title, actor, and genre just by using their voice. 

[Read More]

December 23, 2016

Zoey Collier

jeopardy.jpg

Watchers of Jeopardy!, America’s favorite TV game show, just can’t get enough of the show. For nearly 35 years, Jeopardy! has tested the trivia knowledge of contestants and viewers of all ages. It presents contestants first with answers (clues), then contestants frame their guesses in the form of a question. Home audiences have become so engaged in the TV game’s play, they often shout out the answers to their televisions.

Public fascination with Jeopardy! has led to a long line of off-the-air versions. These started with board games and card games, then electronic versions for game consoles and personal computers, and more recently mobile apps. In all these formats, though, one magical component was always missing. They lacked a way to let players answer out loud (in the form of a question, of course) and have that response validated.

Up until December of last year.

One year ago, on December 30, 2015, Sony Picture Television launched a new version for Amazon Echo users, Jeopardy! J6, built with the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). On that day, Alexa became the new host of the first all-voice version of Jeopardy!

The genesis of Jeopardy! J6

Sony Television’s games division wanted a way to keep its Jeopardy! fan base growing and engaged, especially younger audiences. To do that, they created a new online version of the game, called Jeopardy! J6, or “J!6” for short.

The premise of J!6 is simple. In addition to the five clues presented for each quiz category on the show, the writers create a backup sixth clue. Most of these clues are never used on the show. With J!6, however, die-hard Jeopardy! fans can play those extra clues. And since the J!6 categories change along with those on the show, playing online feels like an authentic extension of the episode the player just watched.

Geremie Camara, head of the Games Group at Sony Pictures Television, says using high-caliber material from the show makes the J!6 experience authentic and engaging. However, many online quiz games present a multiple-choice list of possible guesses. Somehow, they never quite feel the same as the show…

Alexa gets an instant green-light

When Alexa came along, Camara said they’d found the missing piece —a way to present the studio’s high-quality material in an authentic, interactive experience.

The idea for the skill first came from an intern’s summer project. After Amazon shipped two Echo devices to Sony’s R&D group, a intern built a rapid prototype in two short weeks. Though it was full of hard-coded clues and questions, Camara said there was no doubt: they were onto something big.

“We were all blown away at how good the Echo and Alexa technology was,” says Camara, “but also at how good it felt for the brand. We worked very closely with Jeopardy!’s Supervising Producer Rocky Schmidt to ensure that the Echo experience would live up to the TV show’s high standards." 

From concept to a quality production

Though an intern did the first pass, a senior engineer built Jeopardy J!6 skill from the ground up. It is written in Java and runs on AWS Lambda, which makes it simple to manage, scalable and very lightweight.

[Read More]

December 23, 2016

Zoey Collier

customerpicks_12-22.png

Today’s guest post comes from the Alexa Skills Marketing Team.

This year, developers have created thousands of skills for Alexa, expanding Alexa’s capabilities and⁞ offering consumers novel new voice experiences. As the year draws to a close, we're pleased to share the top customer picks for Alexa skills this year. From home automation to bringing zen into your life, here's a list of the most popular, innovative, and entertaining skills that customers enabled in 2016.

Smart Home
Control a wide range of connected devices with smart home skills. Set the temperature in your living room with SmartThings skill or adjust the lighting with Wink skill. See all customer picks >

Lifestyle & Fitness
Start your day right with exercise and intention. The Focus Word skill provides an inspirational word or phrase and 7-Minute Workout skill lets you get in your exercise quickly and efficiently. See all customer picks >

Music, Movies & TV
Relax at night while listening to Rain and Ocean sounds or catch up on your favorite series, like you can with The Voice skill. See all customer picks >

Education & Reference
Learn more and gain knowledge in new areas of interest with the help of these Alexa skills. Expand your vocabulary with Daily Buzzword skill or learn all about canines with Dog Facts skill. See all customer picks >

Food & Drink
Planning dinner is a lot easier with the help of the Campbell’s Kitchen skill. Don’t forget the cocktail with the help from The Bartender skill. See all customer picks >

[Read More]

December 22, 2016

Zoey Collier

edf-bluelab-amazon-echo-1.jpg

EDF Energy is one of the UK’s largest energy companies and its largest producer of low-carbon electricity. It produces around one-fifth of the nation's electricity from its nuclear power stations, wind farms, coal and gas power stations.

Bhavesh Limani is a project manager at Blue Lab, EDF Energy’s innovation accelerator near Brighton in the UK. Launched in 2015, Blue Lab monitors emerging technologies that help shape EDF Energy’s customer experience. One of its primary focus areas is the connected home, including how customers can manage their energy accounts and energy consumption.

When Amazon Echo launched in the United States, it grabbed Blue Lab’s attention. In collaboration with EDF Energy’s R&D UK Centre, the Blue Lab team obtained two Echo units in late 2015. It then began to explore linking voice technology to energy account functionality. Blue Lab wanted to be ready whenever Amazon released Echo and Alexa in the UK.

When Amazon started shipping Echo to UK customers on 28th September, EDF Energy was one of the first UK-specific skills made available to UK customers.

From proof-of-concept to an effective VUI design

Over the last few years, EDF Energy has worked to give customers more direct access and control of their energy accounts. They first created an online sales and service portal, followed by smartphone apps for iOS and Android users.

“Our customers expect digital solutions now,” says Stuart Roberts, Head of Digital Operations at EDF Energy. “We used Alexa as an opportunity to develop a voice channel to extend the online account management experience to voice.”

As the EDF Energy project team refined their proof of concept, they identified four use cases to meet core customer needs and provide a stand-out experience:

  • check account balance
  • check when next payment is due
  • check the contract end date
  • submit a meter reading

The EDF Energy team established an initial voice user interface (VUI) framework and collaborated with Amazon to refine the VUI. Investing time up front was key to minimizing changes and risks later in development.

“I would say most of our voice interface was well-developed from our first cycle,” says Bhavesh. “The Amazon team was absolutely brilliant in helping us to evaluate the various options.”

[Read More]

December 21, 2016

Michael Palermo

In September 2016 we announced the all-new Fire HD 8 tablet, designed form the ground up for all-day entertainment. Among the many new features mentioned was support for Alexa, as quoted here:

"Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service that allows customers to play music and get information, news, sports scores, weather, and more—instantly, just press and ask. In the coming months, Fire tablets will also be able to connect to Alexa, enabling Alexa developers to extend their reach to Fire tablet users."

alexaonfiretablet.jpg

Today, customers can now access Alexa on Fire, Fire HD 8, and Fire HD 10 tablets by simply pressing down on home icon in the navigation bar and start talking. For Alexa developers, this not only extends the reach of your audience, it provides another scenario where voice-interactions can be complemented with a visual skill card to enhance the experience. When using Fire Tablets or Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, the visual cards appear immediately and can also be referenced in the Alexa app.

Skill cards contain a title, a text body, and optionally one image. These cards present information for easy consumption by customers.

[Read More]

December 20, 2016

Jeff Blankenburg

We all have our favorite places. It may be your childhood hometown, an exotic place you visited, or even your college town. Regardless of why a city is your favorite, we all have our favorite spots to visit and want to tell others about, and that’s exactly what this new skill template helps you do.

This new template uses AWS Lambda, the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), and the Alexa SDK for Node.js, in addition to the New York Times Search API for news. We provide the business logic, error handling, and help functions for your skill, you just need to provide the data and credentials.

For this example, we will create a skill for the city of Seattle, Washington. The user of this skill will be able to ask things like:

  • “Alexa, ask Seattle Guide what there is to do.”
  • “Alexa, ask Seattle Guide about the Space Needle.”
  • “Alexa, ask Seattle Guide for the news.”

You will be able to use your own city in the sample provided, so that users can learn to love your location as much as you do. This might also be a good opportunity to combine the knowledge from this template with our Calendar Reader sample, so that you can provide information about the events in your town, as well as the best places to visit.

After completing this tutorial, you’ll know how to do the following:

  • Create a city guide skill - This tutorial will walk Alexa skills developers through all the required steps involved in creating a skill that shares information about a city, and can search for news about that location.
  • Understand the basics of VUI design - Creating this skill will help you understand the basics of creating a working Voice User Interface (VUI) while using a cut/paste approach to development. You will learn by doing, and end up with a published Alexa skill. This tutorial includes instructions on how to customize the skill and submit for certification. For guidance on designing a voice experience with Alexa you can also watch this video.
  • Use JavaScript/Node.js and the Alexa Skills Kit to create a skill - You will use the template as a guide but the customization is up to you. For more background information on using the Alexa Skills Kit please watch this video.
  • Manage state in an Alexa skill - Depending on the user’s choices, we can handle intents differently.
  • Get your skill published - Once you have completed your skill, this tutorial will guide you through testing your skill and sending your skill through the certification process so it can be enabled by any Alexa user. You may even be eligible for some Alexa swag!
  • Interact with the Bing Search API.

Get started and build your first—or next—Alexa skill today.

Special Offer: Free Hoodies

All published skills will receive an Alexa dev hoodie. Quantities are limited. See Terms and Conditions.

[Read More]

December 16, 2016

Zoey Collier

Today's guest post comes from Jim Kresge from Capital One Engineering.

In March 2016, Capital One became the first company to offer its customers a way to interact with their financial accounts through Alexa devices. With the Capital One skill for Alexa, customers can access in real time all of their Capital One accounts -- from credit cards to bank accounts, to home and auto loans. The skill is highly rated on the Alexa app, with 4/5 stars. CapitalOne_TechCaseStudy_234.jpg

The Capital One team has continued to update the skill since launch, including a recent update to the skill called “How much did I spend?” With the update, Capital One customers can access their recent spending history at more than 2,000 merchants.  Customers who have enabled the skill can now ask Alexa about their spending for the past six months--by day, month, or a specific date range--through questions posed in natural language such as:  

Q:  Alexa, ask Capital One, how much did I spend last weekend?
A:  Between December 9th and December 11th, you spent a total of $90.25 on your Venture Card.

Q:  Alexa, ask Capital One, how much did I spend at Starbucks last month?
A:  Between November 1st and November 30th, you spent a total of $43.00 at Starbucks on your Quicksilver Card. 

Q:  Alexa, ask Capital One, how much did I spend at Amazon between December 1 and December 15?
A:  Between December 1st and December 15th, you spent a total of $463.00 at Amazon on your Quicksilver Card.

The building of the skill was a collaborative effort between product development, engineering and design teams at Capital One. I have the privilege of representing the great work of the entire team in this blog post to give a behind the scenes look at the building of the Capital One skill.

A Beta is Born

In summer 2015, a group of engineers at Capital One recognized the potential to develop a skill for accessing financial accounts using Amazon Echo. We got together for a hackathon, worked our way through several possibilities, and began building the skill. The Beta version included a server-side account linking mechanism that we built ourselves. We were able to use an enhanced beta version of the Capital One mobile app to provide the account linking interface and created some AWS infrastructure to support it. We then demoed the Beta at the AWS re:Invent conference in October 2015.

Evolving the Beta

Having proved out the Beta version of the skill, we became really driven and focused on building the first skill for Alexa that would enable people to interact with their financial accounts.

We began working on a production version in December, 2015, with the goal of delivering a product by March, 2016. Working in an iterative design model, we found that coding the skill for Capital One financial accounts was relatively straightforward. But, as with anything game-changing, we realized that what we were attempting involved some things no one had done before. First, we were attempting to integrate sensitive data with Alexa, which no company with a skill on Alexa had done yet. It was also the first time we had built a conversational UI. And, the Ask Alexa software was still maturing and evolving as we were building the skill, which meant that we needed to be flexible in quickly making adjustments to code.

We started with the premise that in the first iteration, Capital One credit card and bank customers can ask Alexa things like their current account balance, their recent transactions, and when their next bill is due.

Data security is always top of mind for us, as was creating an experience for customers that was friction-free and simple.

With Amazon, we worked through possible solutions within the Alexa infrastructure to build in a security layer that ensures data integrity while still providing a simple, hands-free experience. In addition to using OAuth to securely link accounts, we added a security solution that involves an in-channel spoken “personal key.”  As users set up the Capital One skill and pair their accounts using OAuth, Alexa asks the user if they would like to add a “personal key,” a 4-digit personal identification code.

In addition to wanting users to be able to control access to their account information, we wanted the language Alexa uses in her conversations with customers to be warm and humorous at times. We learned a lot through testing and are using that feedback as we fine tune tone and wording along the way.

Some Creative Technical Work

We built the Capital One skill using node.js. We also use AWS to host our skill and internal APIs to get customer account information. The basic engineering work is straightforward and the Amazon developer portal documentation makes it easy to learn. Here are a few of the creative technical solutions we added on top of the basic engineering work to help us move fast with high quality:

The Capital One utterance compiler

We created a tool that automatically generates an expansive set of utterances from just a few input parameters.  This allows us to avoid maintaining a huge list of individual utterances for our skill. For example, in our "AccountBalance" intent, we have many ways of asking for the balance on an account. To this already long list we then added account types (e.g. checking, savings, etc). After that we added product names (e.g. Venture credit card, Quicksilver credit card). Our list of utterances for that intent is now huge when you incorporate all the different ways customers can ask for their balance across account types and product names.  Our utterance compiler makes it simple to generate and maintain all these utterances.

[Read More]

December 15, 2016

Jen Gilbert

ReadWrite_logo.png

Guest Blog post by Lauren Marinaro, Director of Smart Cities and Developer Engagement, ReadWriteHack. ReadWrite, a leading tech editorial platform for IoT and the Connected World, works to connect IoT thought leaders, influencers, and innovators in meaningful ways, including hackathons.

This year, Amazon Alexa teamed up with ReadWrite for two major hackathons — the IoT for Cities Hackathon at IoT World and the Industrial IoT Hackathon at SEMICON West. Each one connected over 100 developers with the latest IoT technology to create innovative, life-changing products over the course of two days.

"The IoT for Cities Hackathon is a place where developers can innovate around technologies that are actually making a difference in people's lives. We are excited to be part of these kinds of initiatives, as developers are constantly showing us new and valuable ways to use Alexa,” said Paul Cutsinger, Head of Alexa Voice Design Education.

And Amazon Alexa APIs were used in five out of eight of the winning solutions at SEMICON West and seven out of nine of the winning solutions at IoT World, including the Grand Prize.

What is it about Amazon Alexas voice service that makes it a favorite among IoT developers?

AmazonAlexaHackPic1.jpg

As we move towards a more connected and streamlined world, we expect more seamless interactions with our devices. For instance, if the person sitting next to you drops to the ground and you need to provide emergency services, wouldnt you be able to act faster if the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on the wall was smart and could talk you through saving that persons life — all while calling the Emergency Response team for you in the background?

That’s what Team Ciklum built, winning the Grand Prize at the IoT for Cities Hackathon at IoT World. They also incorporated three other products from GE, Pitney Bowes, and Cisco to create the ultimate Smart AED. But what stood out in their demo was Amazon Alexas voice-activated, life-saving support in a situation where seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

At the Industrial IoT Hackathon at SEMICON West, Team EcoByte took the Grand Prize by creating a pollution awareness service that provides interactive environmental information to enable enhanced well-being. The main selling point: its interactive, voice-activated, and hands-free, thanks to Amazon Alexa.

In a hackathon environment, where you typically have little time to create something, the opportunity to actually demo your project can determine if you win or lose.

Developers are not only competing for the top prize, theyre competing for the attention of sponsors, influencers, and decision-makers. This is an opportunity to get your hands on the latest technology, prove your skills and ability to take complex IoT products and platforms and create something connected, useful, and marketable.

Alexa gives competitors a chance to create something quickly (check out their easy to maneuver skills here: and have something to demo, even as a beginner coder. It really helps that Amazon’s team has used the Alexa Skills Kit to build skills on their own. Great Alexa evangelists, like Noelle LaCharite, have created capabilities of their own, such as an in-home voice-activated robot bartender.

Voice command is the interface of the future. Leading developers have figured this out, and that is probably a big reason why over two-thirds of the IoT solutions created for our hackathons incorporate Amazon Alexas APIs.

To meet with Amazon Alexa Evangelists and Solutions Architects and start creating your own Smart City projects using the Alexa Skills Kit, be sure to sign up for the Smart Cities Hackathon at CES in Las Vegas, January 7th + 8th. Sign up here

[Read More]

December 13, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

Coding-Dojo.png

Today, we’re excited to announce a new, free video series on Alexa development by Coding Dojo, a pioneer in the coding bootcamp space that offers in-person and online classes. These Coding Dojo YouTube videos will help aspiring and established Python coders learn about building skills for Alexa, the voice service that powers Amazon Echo.

Here is what you can expect to learn in Coding Dojo's Alexa Skill Training series:

  • The videos will introduce Alexa-enabled devices like Echo and talk about the Alexa Skills Kit, a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples that make it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa.
  • The video instructor will take you through the process of creating an Alexa skill built in Python using an AWS Lambda function as the backend to handle the skill's requests. You will learn the steps to create a Coding Dojo skill that can tell you about the coding bootcamp and their instructors.
  • The videos will cover how to configure a skill in the Amazon developer portal, and will discuss setting up the interaction model, intent schema, and sample utterances, and testing the skill.
  • With a code walkthrough you will take a closer look at the code that’s allowing your Alexa skill and Lambda function to interact.
  • Finally, the video training will walk you through creating your own backend using Flask-Ask, a Python framework and Flask extension created by John Wheeler, an Alexa Champion. You will also learn how ngrok can allow you to test your skill locally. The series will end with an overview of AWS Elastic Beanstalk and its advantages.
“At Coding Dojo we want to give people hands-on experience building apps and programs for popular technologies in order to help them further their careers,” said Richard Wang, CEO at Coding Dojo. “The new videos will give both novice and existing developers invaluable project experience for their resumes and portfolios. With a number of our graduates already working at Amazon, we're hopeful that these types of real world projects will help more of our students get the opportunity to work on exciting new technology like Alexa.”

Watch the Alexa video series for free on YouTube today.

Learn more about Alexa with Coding Dojo

In addition to the videos, Coding Dojo announced a new in-person and online class, as well as an Alexa hackathon that will train Python developers to create skills. The Alexa skill building class is available as a module in the Python stack at Coding Dojo’s 14-week onsite and 20-week online coding bootcamp. Finally, Coding Dojo will host an Alexa skills hackathon led by Amazon Alexa employees on February 20, 2017 in San Jose. Anyone interested in participating should contact Coding Dojo's San Jose campus.

Check out the full announcement by Coding Dojo here.

December 09, 2016

Ted Karczewski

Voice is one of the most natural ways we can control and interact with the technology we use every day. From the kitchen to the beach, customers have told us that they love the ability to simply ask Alexa to stream their favorite songs, check weather and news reports, and access thousands of Alexa skills.

Today we’re excited to announce the Alexa Fund has added Vesper, developer of the world’s most advanced acoustic sensors, to the Alexa family by contributing to its Series A funding. The $15 million round was led by Boston-based venture capital firm Accomplice, and also includes investment support from Hyperlane, Miraenano Tech, and other undisclosed investors.

Vesper’s MEMS microphones use a patented piezoelectric design to prevent dust, water, solder flux vapors, and more from impacting performance, presenting a unique opportunity for manufacturers to build products for a variety of environments and use cases. Vesper’s latest product, VM1010, is the only wake-on-sound MEMS microphone on the market, introducing the possibility of always-listening devices at next-to-zero power draw.

According to Marwan Boustany, senior technology analyst, MEMS and Sensors, at IHS Markit, “MEMS microphones are growing so quickly because voice interaction is becoming ubiquitous. Microphones such as Vesper’s, which improve ruggedness and performance and support well-matched microphone arrays, may well accelerate many more use cases where voice is the standard user interface.”

As part of its commitment to invest up to $100 million in companies fueling voice technology innovation, the Alexa Fund is constantly looking for startups enabling new and exciting voice-activated capabilities for their customers. Vesper’s technology opens the door to adding Alexa to new device types, such as portable electronics where environmental resistance is an important attribute or where in-home devices require far-field applications for truly hands-free experiences.

Are you the next Alexa Fund business?

The Alexa Fund builds on Amazon’s track record of helping innovative individuals grow ideas into successful products and businesses. Amazon helps accelerate ideas by offering unique benefits to development teams, such as early access to Alexa capabilities and enhanced marketing support across channels.

Learn more about the Alexa Fund and its portfolio of companies on the Amazon Developer Portal.

December 08, 2016

Ted Karczewski

We’re excited to announce the Conexant AudioSmart™ 2-Mic Development Kit for Amazon AVS, a commercial-grade reference solution that streamlines the design and implementation of audio front end systems. This solution works with our updated Java sample client for Raspberry Pi, which also includes music certification enhancements. This kit features Conexant’s AudioSmart™ CX20921 Voice Input Processor with a dual microphone board and Sensory’s TrulyHandsfree™ wake word engine tuned to “Alexa”. 

Learn more about Conexant’s AudioSmart™ 2-Mic Development Kit for Amazon AVS

“Conexant’s AudioSmart 2-Mic Development Kit for Amazon AVS unlocks serious voice capture capabilities, allowing developers to achieve a far better AVS user experience through voice processing technologies that overcome acoustic and distance challenges,” said Steve Rabuchin, Vice President Amazon Alexa. “Utilizing Conexant’s AVS solutions will help third-party manufacturers quickly innovate with Alexa.” 

[Read More]

Want the latest?

alexa topics

Recent Posts

Archive