Today we’re happy to announce the new alexa-sdk for Node.js to help you build skills faster and with less complexity. Creating an Alexa skill using the Alexa Skills Kit, Node.js and AWS Lambda has become one of the most popular ways we see skills created today. The event-driven, non-blocking I/O model of Node.js is well suited for an Alexa skill and Node.js is one of the largest ecosystems of open source libraries in the world. Plus, with AWS Lambda is free for the first one million calls per month, which can support skill hosting for most developers. And you don’t need to manage any SSL certificates when using AWS Lambda (since the Alexa Skills Kit is a trusted trigger).
While setting up an Alexa skill using AWS Lambda, Node.js and the Alexa Skills Kit has been a simple process, the actual amount of code you have had to write has not. We have seen a large amount of time spent in Alexa skills on handling session attributes, skill state persistence, response building and behavior modeling. With that in mind the Alexa team set out to build an Alexa Skills Kit SDK specifically for Node.js that will help you avoid common hang-ups and focus on your skill’s logic instead of boiler plate code.
With the new alexa-sdk, our goal is to help you build skills faster while allowing you to avoid unneeded complexity. Today, we are launching the SDK with the following capabilities:
Today, we’re excited to announce a new Alexa skills course available on Pluralsight, a global leader in online learning for technology professionals. The new course is focused on building custom Alexa skills in C# and ASP.NET Web API. In this four-module course, “Developing Alexa Skills for Amazon Echo”, Alexa developer and Pluralsight author Walter Quesada teaches the foundations of developing voice experiences for Amazon Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices. First, you'll learn the differences between Echo and Alexa, as well as the differences between the Alexa Voice Service and the Alexa Skills Kit. Next, you will quickly evaluate the 'Hello World' node.js sample code provided by Amazon. Finally, you will learn the certification process and requirements, publication stages, and how to create new versions of live skills. By the end of this course, you'll be better prepared to build and publish Alexa skills, or capabilities, for Alexa, the voice service that powers Echo.
Watch the video series for free today.
“I’m excited for developers in the Pluralsight community to watch this first ever course on developing Alexa skills in C# and .NET. I can’t wait to see what you build. Let me know in the Pluralsight discussion forums.” – Walter Quesada, Pluralsight author
If you need more information about Alexa before getting started, Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist for Alexa and Echo, has got you covered. In this exclusive webinar created for Pluralsight, Dave will walk you through the world of Alexa Skills Kit and how you can create your own voice-driven experience. The webinar starts by diving into the basics of Alexa, the SDKs, and resources to get started. Next, you’ll learn how to build an Alexa skill quickly by walking through code and interaction models.
Watch this webinar to learn more about the Alexa Skills Kit today.
Check out these Alexa developer resources:
Craig Johnson, president of Emerson’s Residential Solutions business, claims it was inevitable. “Thermostats are no longer just passive HVAC controllers hanging on your wall. The convergence of wireless and mobile technologies allowed us to develop a thermostat that allows better temperature control, programmability and scheduling, as well as remote access.”
Even before Amazon’s Smart Home Skill API was publicly released, Johnson was excited about smart home. Prior to Smart Home, Emerson had a fully functional mobile app and internet portal our customers could use to control their Sensi thermostat remotely. But integration of Alexa is a natural extension of that remote access and remote functionality.”
In February 2016, Johnson’s software development manager, Joe Mahari, jumped on board the Smart Home beta program. In just four weeks’ time—and by the time Amazon officially launched the Smart Home Skill API—Mahari’s team had built and tested its Sensi Smart Home skill and passed certification.
The Smart Home Skill API converts a voice command, such as “Alexa, increase my first floor by 2 degrees,” to directives (JSON messages). The directive includes:
It then sends the directive to the methods implemented in the Sensi skill.
According to Mahari, Emerson implemented three main directives. Examples of these are:
The Emerson team agrees the skill and API were well packaged and supported, end-to-end. “Amazon defined the use case very crisply,” said Johnson. “We received a deck of scenarios to achieve, plus integrated logging, systems’ checks and documentation. These were essential to our success.”
Mahari says it was invaluable that the Amazon team connected with them daily. “For example, we had some concerns about how to increase or decrease the temperature during auto-schedules. But working directly with the Alexa team, we figured out how to make it work.”
So, if working with Amazon’s support and the API itself went so smoothly, what were some challenges the Emerson team faced over the four-week project?[Read More]
Last month we released the first two videos in the Alexa video series created by developer education company Big Nerd Ranch. You can find parts 1 and 2 on the official YouTube Alexa Developers channel. Today we are excited to reveal the next two videos in the Big Nerd Ranch series on how to develop Alexa skills locally with Node.js.
In part 3 of 6, “Sessions and Voice User Interfaces”, we will learn about user sessions. This feature allows an Alexa skill to break more complicated data requirements into a series of steps spanning multiple requests to the skill service. We’ll also learn about Amazon’s voice user interface requirements. Following these requirements is important for getting a skill certified for public availability in the Alexa app. Lastly, we’ll introduce home cards. Cards are a graphical user interface element that can be sent from a skill to the Alexa app.
In part 4 of 6, “Persistence”, we will discuss how to link an Alexa skill with a database so that it can save an unfinished user interaction for later use in another session. Having the ability to persist data between Alexa sessions opens the door for far more versatile and sophisticated skills. We will see how to use Amazon DynamoDB to easily read and write data from an AWS Lambda function skill. We will use a library called Dynasty to interact with Amazon DynamoDB and handle asynchronous results more easily and elegantly.
Stay tuned for the last two videos from Big Nerd Ranch later this month.
Check out these Alexa developer resources:
A year ago we launched the Alexa Skills Kit to allow developers to build new voice capabilities, called skills, for Alexa. Since then, we’ve seen many Alexa developers start independent meetup groups in their local communities. The purpose of these groups are to network with other Alexa enthusiasts, share Alexa skill development knowledge, and build great voice user experiences.
We’ve curated a list of upcoming community-run Alexa meetups and local groups you can join. Thank you to the community leaders who volunteer their time to organize these local events and continue to contribute to the vibrant Alexa developer community.
Find an event near you, sign up, and meet fellow Alexa developers in your city:
So far, we’ve heard about more than ten Alexa-focused meetup groups run by the community. Did you create an Alexa meetup group that is not listed below? Let us know by tweeting @AlexaDevs.[Read More]
Shark Week, television's most anticipated week of shark-filled television, kicked off this year on Sunday, June 26. A celebration of all things shark-related, this year's week delivers more hours of all-new, visually-stunning, and informative shark-filled specials than ever before.
Since the Discovery Channel audience is tech-savvy and forward-thinking, Discovery wanted to expand Shark Week's reach. To do this, Discovery decided to test the water with a Shark Week skill.
Given this was Discovery's first Alexa skill, they wanted to familiarize the team with Alexa skill development. Adam Zuckerman, Director of Ventures & Innovation at Discovery Channel, says, “The requirements for the Alexa skill were three-fold: 1) build an Alexa skill that the Discovery audience would find useful and informative 2) add a time-relevant component for Shark Week 3) remain relevant after Shark Week.”
With these requirements in mind, they built an Alexa skill with a real-time countdown timer and a voice activated “Sharkopedia” fact engine. The skill was a collaboration between Adam Zuckerman and Stephen Garlick, Lead Development and Operations Engineer at Discovery Channel.
See the skill in action by first enabling the skill via the Alexa app or simply saying, “Alexa, enable Shark Week skill.” Then say, “Alexa, ask Shark Week for a fact.”
Stay tuned for part two to learn how Discovery built and tested their Alexa skill and their tips for other Alexa developers.
Share other innovative ways you’re using Alexa in your life. Tweet us @alexadevs with hashtag #AlexaDevStory.
Earlier this year we announced that Amazon was teaming up with developer education company Big Nerd Ranch to deliver immersive, free training for the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). The training shows you how to develop Alexa skills locally with Node.js, from setting up your development environment to submitting a skill for certification and more complex ASK features like account linking and persistence. You can find a recap of all the blog posts published for the training series here.
Today we are excited to release the first two videos in the Big Nerd Ranch video series. These videos kick off the official Alexa Developers channel on YouTube.
In the first video, “Hello, Alexa!”, we’ll introduce the Alexa Skills Kit and teach you how to create Alexa skills, or capabilities, for Alexa. We will build and deploy a basic skill. This skill will be called the “Greeter” skill, and will say hello to users when they invoke the skill using the words that we specify.
In the second video, “Slots and Slot Types”, we will see several new features of the skill interaction model that let us build more sophisticated skills. We will expand on what we learned with the Greeter skill by building a more feature-rich skill called “Airport Info”. Airport Info will make requests to the Federal Aviation Administration’s JSON backed web service, and inform users if there is any delay at an airport that they specify.
Stay tuned for more videos from Big Nerd Ranch in July.
Check out these Alexa developer resources:
Today, we are launching a bi-weekly podcast focused exclusively on the Alexa developer community and the Amazon teams building Alexa technology. Each episode will be 20-30 minutes long and air twice a month. We’ll discuss various aspects of Alexa, including the Alexa Skills Kit, Alexa Voice Service, natural language understanding, voice recognition, and first hand experiences directly from developers like you.
To kick it off, our first episode is a chat between myself and Charlie Kindel, director of Alexa Smart Home at Amazon. Charlie and I go into the details behind the launch of the Smart Home Skill API and some of the decisions the team had to make along the way. I also had the opportunity to learn about Charlie’s experience in smart home and his thoughts on how he sees it evolving over time.
Check out the first episode.
Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, powers voice experiences on millions of devices, including Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Amazon Fire TV devices, and devices like Triby that use the Alexa Voice Service. One year ago, Amazon opened up Alexa to developers, enabling you to build Alexa skills with the Alexa Skills Kit and integrate Alexa into your own products with the Alexa Voice Service. Today, tens of thousands of developers are building skills for Alexa, and there are over 1,400 skills for Alexa – including Lyft and Honeywell, which were added today.
A New Experience for Discovering Skills
Today, we announced new ways for customers to discover and use your Alexa skills, including a new voice-enablement feature and a completely redesigned Alexa app. Customers can now quickly search, discover and use your skills. Starting today, customers can browse Alexa skills by categories such as “Smart Home” and “Lifestyle” in the Alexa app, apply additional search filters, and access their previously enabled skills via the “Your Skills” section.
Today, I’m excited to announce a collaboration between Geekwise Academy and Amazon Alexa. Geekwise Academy is an accelerated training program for current and aspiring technologists in Fresno, California. Geekwise Academy gives students in this area an opportunity to fulfill their dreams by way of providing the latest in technical training.
Since opening their doors in June 2013, Geekwise Academy has educated more than 3,500 students in the areas of robotics, video game design, web design, and application development. Starting July 25, Geekwise Academy students will be able to attend the first Amazon Alexa Skills Course in Fresno, California. During the four-week in-person training, students will learn about the Alexa Skills Kit to develop new voice user experiences called "skills" for Alexa. Alexa is the voice service that powers the popular Amazon Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Tap. Students will gain expertise in voice design and work on their own voice user interactions with the goal to get their Alexa skills live in the Alexa App upon certification.
The training program will cover various topics including setting up a development environment, building the interaction model of a skill, testing and debugging, using AWS Lambda for hosting source code, handling queries to third-party APIs, and connecting to custom hardware. A little bird (Geekwise Academy’s nerdy owl mascot) tells us there will be an exciting robotics project included in the Alexa curriculum!
The course will be held at Geekwise Academy within the Bitwise South Stadium technology hub in Downtown Fresno – home to over 100 technology companies. Sessions will run three hours per day, five days a week, for four weeks.
Sign up to save your spot.[Read More]
Imagine a group of you gather for an impromptu meeting, and Alexa not only tells you what conference rooms are available but also schedules the room of your choice. That’s the vision behind an Alexa skill in development at Beco (check out the proof-of-concept demo), and it demonstrates the enormous potential for Alexa to deliver new experiences, efficiencies, and value in the workplace.
The Beco skill is a location-aware office assistant that combines the natural ease of a voice user interface with the building intelligence of Beco. It’s a mobile platform that uses existing light fixtures to power low-cost iBeacons, a mobile SDK, and cloud services that enable enterprise systems. For clients across sectors, Beco provides indoor positioning, location analytics, and the ability to search for people and places in real time. Learn more about Beco (pronounced “Bee-Co”—and stands for “Be Connected”) here.
The Beco-Alexa skill communicates with a NodeJS application deployed on AWS Lambda. Given a query from Alexa, the NodeJS application maps a person’s name to an email address using a lookup table. Beco provides extensive People vs. Place vs. Time query functionality via a real-time Occupancy API. This RESTful web service allows introspection of a variety of hyper location data.
The skill requires the use of custom-slots in its intents, because people typically give numbers as ordinals (“the 16th floor”) rather than cardinals (“floor 16”). Following are the intents available now and some of their corresponding sample utterances.
Uses the “find by email address” endpoint to find the “Place” where the mobile device of the person-to-be-found is currently located, then speaks the name of the Place.
Uses the “what spaces are free/utilized” endpoint and speaks back the names of those free Places.
The Beco team envisions expanding Alexa integration to include these capabilities:[Read More]
We are excited to introduce a new way to help you quickly build useful and meaningful skills for Alexa. The new flash cards skill template makes it easy for developers and non-developers to create a skill similar to ‘Chemistry Flash Cards’, ‘Language Flash Cards’, ‘Exam Prep’, etc. This template leverages AWS Lambda and the Alexa Skills Kit, and provides built-in business logic, uses cases, error handling, and help functions for your new skill. You just need to come up with a flash card idea (like ‘Anatomy Flash Cards’), plug in your flash cards content and edit the sample provided. Don’t worry! We’ll walk you through how it’s done.
Using the Alexa Skills Kit, you can build an application that can receive and respond to voice requests made to Alexa. In this tutorial, you’ll build a web service to handle notifications from Alexa and map this service to a skill in the Amazon Developer Portal, making it available on your Echo, Alexa-enabled device, or Echosim.io for testing and to all Alexa users after publication.
When finished, you'll know how to:
• Create a flash card based skill - This tutorial will walk first-time Alexa developers through all the required steps involved in creating a flash card based skill.
• Design a Voice User Interface - 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.
• Get your skill published - Once you’ve completed your skill, this tutorial will guide you through testing your skill and sending your skill through the publication process to make it available for any Alexa user to enable.
You will also need an AWS account and an Amazon Developer account. To get a refresher on how to do this, or if you are new to skill development, you can visit our training page to review our past tutorials. This tutorial is built on the trivia template.[Read More]
Today, we are happy to announce the Internet of Voice (IoV) Challenge on Hackster.io, a developer community dedicated to learning hardware.
We’ve partnered with Hackster.io and Raspberry Pi to challenge DIY artisans of the world to build compelling IoT voice experiences using Raspberry Pi and Amazon Alexa. Makers have already started inventing new IoV products. We’ve seen people open and close their blinds and fully control RGB lights with Alexa. Now, we are excited to see what you can invent. Learn more about the contest and hear from Eben Upton, co-founder of Raspberry Pi.
The contest will be split into two categories:Read More]
This post introduces Flask-Ask, a new Python micro-framework that significantly lowers the bar for developing Alexa skills. Flask-Ask is a Flask extension that makes building voice user interfaces with the Alexa Skills Kit easy and fun. We'll learn it by building a simple game that asks you to repeat three numbers backwards. Knowing Python and Flask are not required, but some experience programming will help.
If you prefer the video walkthrough of this post, check it out here.
To start, you'll need Python installed. If you're on a recent version of OS X or Linux, Python comes preinstalled. On Mac, you can find installation instructions here. You may also need to install pip, which can be found here. On Windows, follow these installation instructions. Once Python and pip are installed, open a terminal, and type the below command to install Flask-Ask. Note: You might need to precede it with sudo on Unix if you get permission errors.[Read More]
When Sébastien de la Bastie, Managing Director at Invoxia, walked the exposition floor at CES 2015, he knew his company had a hit on its hands. That’s when the French technology start-up previewed Triby—a new smart speaker for the kitchen.
Triby is a portable yet connected device for your smart home. Triby’s integration of AVS gives it voice control over a growing world of digital devices and services. It’s an incredible wireless music system for Spotify, FM and internet radio, and Bluetooth streaming. And it’s also a family’s home communications hub. Triby provides a connected message board, free internet calls and conference-quality, hands-free mobile calls. It also has an e-paper screen to display digital sticky notes and other information.
Paul Bernard, Director, Corporate Development and Head of the Alexa Fund, also saw the CES demo and was impressed with Invoxia’s vision for reinventing home communications with the Triby. He saw the device as an ideal candidate for Alexa Voice Service (AVS) integration. Soon afterward, Amazon approached de la Bastie about adding new capabilities to his device.
With AVS, Triby would have access to the world of voice-enabled services offered by Amazon. “Amazon had the idea of making Alexa available on non-Amazon devices,” said de la Bastie. They spotted us because we had developed innovative technology for far-field voice capture. That’s important for any device sending acoustic data to Alexa.”
In late 2015, Amazon’s Alexa Fund made Invoxia its first AVS-related investment, showing its support for the company’s vision of bringing voice to Triby. Thus began a strong, collaborative partnership to create the first non-Amazon, Alexa-enabled device. The new Triby debuted in April 2016.
de la Bastie says he recalls the project involved three distinct phases.[Read More]