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Showing posts tagged with Developer Spotlight

November 18, 2016

Zoey Collier

Developers have created thousands of skills for Alexa, expanding Alexa’s capabilities and offering consumers novel new voice experiences. We recently unveiled a new way for customers to browse the breadth of the Alexa skills catalog by surfacing Alexa skills on Amazon.com.

Today we are introducing a new program that allows you to nominate your favorite Alexa skills to be featured in our Community Favorites campaign. Skills that are nominated and meet the selection criteria will be featured in the Alexa app and on Amazon.com in December. This is a great way to help customers everywhere discover new, intriguing and innovative skills on their Alexa-enabled devices.

What’s your favorite Alexa skill? Take a minute to tell us your favorite Alexa skill and help others discover an engaging and innovative skill to try.

 


Get Started with Alexa Skills Kit

Are you ready to build your first (or next) Alexa skill? Build a custom skill or use one of our easy tutorials to get started quickly.

Share other innovative ways you’re using Alexa in your life. Tweet us @alexadevs with hashtag #AlexaDevStory.

 

November 16, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

Three months ago, we launched Alexa Champions, a recognition program designed to honor the most engaged developers and contributors in the community. Through their passion and knowledge for Alexa, these individuals educate and inspire other developers in the community – both online and offline.

Today we’re excited to recognize ten new Alexa Champions and to showcase their contributions to the Alexa community on our dedicated gallery. We thank them for all the knowledge they have shared with others and for the tools they have created to make it easier for developers to use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Alexa Voice Service (AVS).

Meet the new Alexa Champions

Join me in extending a warm welcome to the newest Alexa Champions:

  • Andrea Bianco is an active advocate of Alexa in the smart home arena, with dozens of in-home implementations of the Smart Home Skill API and counting. You’ll often find her sharing Alexa knowledge at home automation events, or making feature suggestions in the weekly ASK Developer Office Hours. Learn more about Andrea.
  • Darian Johnson won second place in the Best AVS with Raspberry Pi segment of Alexa’s Internet of Voice challenge on Hackster.io with his Mystic Mirror skill. He continues to contribute to the Alexa community by sharing the source code to his projects, providing feedback to other developers, and blogging about expanding the use of Alexa in his home. Learn more about Darian.
  • Hicham Tahiri got involved in Alexa skill building in 2015 and crafted a developer toolbox offering a visual conversation design tool with automatic code generation, a community-generated intents library and a voice simulator. He shares his knowledge of voice interfaces, ASK and AVS with the Alexa meetup group he manages in Paris. Learn more about Hicham.
  • Joel Evans is the founder of the Boston Echo / Alexa Developers meetup. He regularly creates skills for demonstrations at meetups, presentations, and client meetings for his company, Mobiquity that has developed many skills, both as proof of concepts to share with clients or as published skills in the Alexa catalog for global brands. Learn more about Joel.
  • Leor Grebler enables developers to quickly create Alexa voice interactions with the Ubi Portal, a voice prototyping tool, and to test them with the Ubi App for Android powered by the Alexa Voice Service. He shares his knowledge of voice interfaces, ASK, and AVS in daily Medium blog posts and with the Ubiquitous Voice Society Toronto Meetup group he manages. Learn more about Leor.
  • Mandy Chan is a serial skill builder who won multiple hackathons with Alexa projects. She gives back to the ASK community by publishing open source projects such as the SSML-Builder npm package and the Alexa-Hackathon-Quick-Starter on GitHub. She also volunteers for the NYC Amazon Alexa Meetup. Learn more about Mandy.
  • Oscar Merry has worked with the Alexa technology since November 2015, designing and implementing prototypes for clients across a number of industries and use cases with his voice design agency, Opearlo. He’s been running the London Alexa Devs meetup since July 2016. Learn more about Oscar.
  • Ryan Kroonenburg created the “Alexa development for absolute beginners” courses for A Cloud Guru which allows beginner developers and non-developers to learn how to build skills. He regularly shares his passion for Alexa at events like ServerlessConf and the Alexa Devs Dublin meetup. Learn more about Ryan.
  • Terren Peterson built multiple Alexa skills, including Hurricane Center which one third place in the first Amazon Alexa Skill Contest on Hackster.io. He integrated AVS with a Raspberry Pi to create a voice activated pitching machine that won first place in the Best ASK with Raspberry Pi segment of Alexa’s Internet of Voice challenge on Hackster.io. Learn more about Terren.
  • Tilmann Böhme started the Amazon Alexa Meetup in Berlin to bring people interested in voice interfaces together and to contribute to building a strong Alexa community in Germany. He is regularly invited to give presentations about Alexa and voice interfaces. Learn more about Tilmann.

Get involved

There are many ways you can share educational and inspiring content about AVS and ASK with the Alexa community through your own blog or newsletter, open-source development tools, tutorials, videos or podcasts and social media. You can also organize local meetup groups for like-minded Alexa enthusiasts and developers.

[Read More]

November 16, 2016

Zoey Collier

Magic mirror, on the wall—who is the fairest one of all?

Probably the most memorable line from Disney’s 1937 classic, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it may soon become a household phrase again. Modern-day magic mirrors are taking a number of forms, from toys to high tech devices offering useful information to their masters. Now, Darian Johnson has taken that concept an enormous step farther.

Darian, a technology architect with Accenture, has worked in software solution design for 17 years. Today he helps clients move their on-premise IT infrastructure into the cloud. With a recent focus solely on Amazon Web Services (AWS), it’s only natural other Amazon technologies like Alexa would pique his interest.

One night, Darian was pondering what he might build for Hackster’s 2016 Internet of Voice Challenge. He was surfing the web, when he happened on an early concept of a Magic Mirror and realized he could do even better than that. He did. In August 2016, Darian’s new Mystic Mirror won a prize in the Best Alexa Voice Service with Raspberry Pi category.

A smarter mirror with the Alexa Voice Service

Darian says his morning routine consists of running between bedroom and bathroom, trying to get ready for work. He doesn’t have an Amazon Echo in either, but he does, however, have mirrors there. That’s another reason why an Alexa Voice Service (AVS)-enabled mirror made sense.

He set his budget at a mere $100. That covered a Raspberry Pi (RPi), a two-way mirror, a refurbished monitor and speaker, some wood planks and a few other assorted items. He determined that his device would:

  • Give the mirror-gazer access to all the skills available through Alexa
  • Provide unique visual capabilities in the mirror face via a custom Alexa skill
  • Display information only for a finite amount of time before it fades away (to make it mystical—and because Darian is light-sensitive when he sleeps)

You can build your own Mystic Mirror using the details on the Hackster site. But it was his software and Alexa that brought it to life.

Darian decided to voice-enable his Raspberry Pi, microphone and speaker with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS). That meant the Mystic Mirror’s master would have access to the built-in power of Alexa and over 4,000 third-party skills, developed using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). With just a word, they could control smart home devices, ask for a Lyft ride, play music from Amazon Prime accounts and much more. Best of all, since Alexa is getting smarter all the time, the mirror’s capabilities would constantly evolve, too.

[Read More]

November 11, 2016

Zoey Collier

Eric Olson and David Phillips, co-founders of 3PO-Labs, are both “champs” when it comes to building and testing Alexa skills. The two met while working together at a Seattle company in 2015. Finding they had common interests, they soon combined forces to “start building awesome things”—including Alexa skills and tools.

Eric, an official Alexa Champion, is primarily responsible for the Bot family of skills. These include CompliBot and InsultiBot (both co-written with David), as well as DiceBot and AstroBot. David created and maintains the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) Responder. The two do most everything as a team, though, and together built the underlying framework for all their Alexa skills.

This fall, they’re unveiling prototyping and testing tools that will enable developers to build high-quality Alexa skills faster than ever.

In the beginning, there was ASK Responder

Eric and David first got involved with Alexa when Eric proposed an Amazon Echo project for a company hackathon. The two dove into online documentation and started experimenting—and having fun. “After the hackathon, we just kind of kept going,” Eric said. “We weren’t planning to get serious about it.”

But over the past year, they grew more involved with the Alexa community. They ended up creating tools that could benefit the whole community. “We wrote these tools to solve problems we ran into ourselves. We ended up sharing them with other people and they became popular,” David said.

The first of these, the Alexa Skills Kit Responder, grew from David’s attempt to speed the process of testing different card response formats. Testing a response until it was just right meant you had to repeatedly modify and re-deploy code each time you changed the response. Instead, this new tool lets developers test mock skill responses without writing or deploying a single line of code. Follow the documentation to set up an Alexa skill to interface with ASK Responder, then upload any response you’d like. The ASK Responder will return it when invoked.

And that’s just the beginning. The ASK Responder’s usefulness is about to explode.

A quantum leap for prototyping

David created Responder for testing mock responses. But the two soon discovered a home automation group using the tool in an unexpected way.

Instead of a skill called “Responder,” they’ll create a skill named My Home Temp, for example. They’ll map an intent like “What is the temperature?” and have their smart home device upload a response to the ASK Responder with the temperature of the house. When the user says “Alexa, ask My Home Temp what is the temperature?” Alexa plays the uploaded response through the Echo. This creates the seamless illusion of a fully operating skill.

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November 03, 2016

Zoey Collier

Dave Grossman, chief creative officer at Earplay, says his wife is early-to-bed and early-to-rise. That’s not surprising when you have to keep up with an active two-year-old. After everyone else is off to bed, Grossman stays up to clean the kitchen and put the house in order. Such chores require your eyes and hands, they don’t engage the mind.

“You can’t watch a movie or read a book while doing these things,” says Grossman. “I needed something more while doing repetitious tasks like scrubbing dishes and folding clothes.”

He first turned to audio books and Podcasts to fill the void. Today, though, he’s found the voice interactivity of Alexa is a perfect fit. That’s also why he’s excited to be part of Earplay. With the new Earplay Alexa skill, you can enjoy Grossman’s latest masterpieces: Earplays. Earplays are interactive audio stories you interact with your voice. And they all feature voice acting and sound effects like those in an old-time radio drama.

The creation and creators of Earplay

Jonathon Myers, today Earplay’s CEO, co-founded Reactive Studio in 2013 with CTO Bruno Batarelo. The company pioneered the first interactive radio drama, complete with full cast recording, sound effects and music.

Myers started prototyping in a rather non-digital way. Armed with a bunch of plot options on note cards, he asked testers to respond to his prompts by voice. Myers played out scenes like a small, intimate live theater, rearranging the note cards per the users’ responses. When it was time to design the code, Myers says he’d already worked out many of the pitfalls inherent to branching story plots.

They took a digital prototype (dubbed Cygnus) to the 2013 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Attendees of the conference gave the idea a hearty thumbs-up, and the real work began, which led to a successful Kickstarter campaign and a subsequent release while showcasing at 2013 PAX Prime in Seattle.

Grossman later joined the team as head story creator, after a decade at Telltale Games. Grossman had designed interactive story experiences for years, including the enduring classic The Secret of Monkey Island at Lucas Arts. Most gamers credit him with creating the first video game to feature voice acting.

Together they re-branded the company as Earplay in 2015. “We were working in a brand new medium, interactive audio entertainment. We called our product Earplay, because you're playing out stories with your voice,” Myers says.

The team first produced stories—including Codename Cygnus—as separate standalone iOS and Android apps. They then decided to build a new singular user experience. That lets users access all their stories— past, present and future—within a single app.

When Alexa came along, she changed everything.

The making of an Alexa interactive storyteller

The rapid adoption of the Amazon Echo and growth of the Alexa skills library excited the Earplay team. The company shifted its direction from mobile-first to a home entertainment-first focus. “It was almost as though Amazon designed the hardware specifically for what we were doing.”

Though not a developer, Myers started tinkering with Alexa using the Java SDK. He dug into online documentation and examples and created a working prototype over a single weekend. The skill had just a few audio prompts and responses from existing Earplay content, but it worked. He credits the rapid development, testing and deployment to the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and AWS Lambda.

Over several weeks, Myers developed the Earplay menu system to suit the Alexa voice-control experience. By then, the code had diverged quite a bit from what they used on other services. “When I showed it to Bruno, it was like ‘Oh Lord, this looks ugly!’” As CTO, Bruno Batarelo is in charge of Earplay’s platform architecture.

An intense six-week period followed. Batarelo helped Myers port the Earplay mechanics and data structures so the new skill could handle the Earplay demo stories. On August 26, they launched Earplay, version 1.0.

[Read More]

October 31, 2016

Zoey Collier

With thousands of skills, Alexa is in the Halloween spirit and we’ve round up a few spooky skills for you to try. See what others are building, get inspired, and build your own Alexa skill.

Magic Door

Magic Door added a brand new story that has a Halloween-theme. Complete with a spooky mansion and lots of scary sound effects, you’re bound to enjoy the adventure. Ask Alexa to enable Magic Door skill and start your Halloween adventure.

Ghost Detector

Are you worried about some restless spirits? Use Ghost Detector to detect nearby ghosts and attempt to catch them. The ghosts are randomly generated with almost 3000 possible combinations and you can catch one ghost per day to get Ghost Bux. Ask Alexa to enable Ghost Detector skill so you can catch your ghost for the day.

Horror Movie Taglines

Horror movie buffs can put themselves to the test with the Horror Movie Taglines skill. Taglines are the words or phrases used on posters, ads, and other marketing materials for horror movies. Alexa keeps score while you guess over 100 horror movie taglines. Put your thinking hat on and ask Alexa to enable Horror Movie Taglines skill.

Spooky Air Horns

Let this noise maker join your Halloween party this year. These spooky air horn sounds are the perfect background music for Halloween night. Listen for yourself by enabling Spooky Air Horns skill.

Haunted House

Scary, spooky haunted houses define Halloween and this interactive story is no different. The Haunted House skill lets you experience a stormy Halloween night and lets you pick your journey by presenting several options. The choice is yours. Start your adventure by enabling Haunted House skill.

Dress up your Amazon Echo

This Halloween, you can follow Bryant’s tutorial and learn how to turn your Amazon Echo into a ghost with two technologies: the Photon and Alexa. With an MP3 and NeoPixel lights, you’ll be ready for Halloween. Dress up your own Echo with this tutorial.

Alexa is ready for Halloween. Just ask, “Alexa, trick or treat?”


Get Started with Alexa Skills Kit

Are you ready to build your first (or next) Alexa skill? Build a custom skill or use one of our easy tutorials to get started quickly.

Share other innovative ways you’re using Alexa in your life. Tweet us @alexadevs with hashtag #AlexaDevStory.

October 28, 2016

Jen Gilbert

Today’s guest post is from Joel Evans from Mobiquity, a professional services firm trusted by hundreds of leading brands to create compelling digital engagements for customers across all channels. Joel writes about how Mobiquity built a portable voice controlled drone for under $500 using Amazon Alexa.

As Mobiquity’s innovation evangelist, I regularly give presentations and tech sessions for clients and at tradeshows on emerging technology and how to integrate it into a company’s offerings. I usually show off live demos and videos of emerging tech during these presentations, and one video, in particular, features a flying drone controlled via Alexa. Obviously, a flying object commanded by voice is an attention getter, so this led me to thinking that maybe I could do a live demo of the drone actually flying.

While there have been a number of articles that detail how to build your own voice-controlled drone, the challenge remains the same: how do you make it mobile since most solutions require you to be tethered to a home network.

I posed the challenge of building a portable voice-controlled drone to our resident drone expert and head of architecture, Dom Profico. Dom has been playing with drones since they were called Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) and has a knack for making things talk to each other, even when they aren’t designed to do so.

Dom accepted my challenge and even upped the ante. He was convinced he could build the portable drone and accomplish the task for under $500. To make the magic happen, he chose to use a Raspberry Pi 2 as the main device, a Bebop Drone, and an Amazon Echo Dot.

[Read More]

October 12, 2016

Zoey Collier

Brian Donohue, New Jersey-born software engineer and former CEO of Instapaper, wasn't an immediate Alexa fan. In fact, his first reaction to the 2014 announcement of the Amazon Echo was "That's cool, but why would I buy one?"

All that changed over the course of one whirlwind weekend in March 2016. Almost overnight, Brian went from almost indifferent to being one of the most active developers in the Alexa community. Today he’s recognized as an Alexa Champion and a master organizer of Alexa meetups.

We sat down with Brian to find out how Alexa changed his entire view of voice technology... and why he wanted to share his excitement with other Alexa developers.

An overnight Alexa convert

Brian has led Instapaper for the last two and a half years. Its former owner, Betaworks, always encouraged employees—including Brian—to check and innovate with new technology. Brian has built apps for Google Glass and other devices, just because the company had them lying around the office.

When the company bought an Echo device in March, Brian had to take another look. He took it home one Friday night and decided to try building a skill using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). He selected something simple, inspirational and personal to him. The skill—which later became Nonsmoker—keeps track of when you stopped smoking and tells you how long it's been since your final cigarette.

The first version took Brian half a day to create. It was full of hardcoded values, but it was empowering. Then, in playing with this and other Alexa skills, Brian recognized something exciting. A fundamental technology shift was staring right at him. When he returned the Echo to the office on Monday, he was hooked.

“Interacting with Alexa around my apartment showed me the real value proposition of voice technology,” says Brian. “I realized it’s magical. I think it’s the first time in my life that I’d interacted with technology without using my hands.”

Bringing NYC Alexa users together

Brian wanted immediate and more active involvement in Alexa development. The following day he was searching meetup.com for Alexa user gatherings in New York City. He found none, so Brian did what always came naturally. He did it himself.

His goal was to find 20 or so interested people before going to the effort of creating a meetup. The demand was far greater than he expected. By the third week of March, he was hosting 70 people at the first-ever NYC Amazon Alexa Meetup, right in the Betaworks conference room.

After a short presentation about Echo, Tap and Dot, Brian did the rest of the program solo. He created a step-by-step tutorial with slides, a presentation and code snippets, all to explain how to create a simple Alexa skill. He walked attendees through the program, then let them test and demo their skills on his own Echo, in front of the class.

“A lot of them weren’t developers, but they could cut and paste code,” says Brian. “About half completed the skill, and some even customized the output a bit.” Brian helped one add a random number generator, so her skill could simulate rolling a pair of dice.

[Read More]

October 11, 2016

Zoey Collier

In 2012, a “Down Under” team from Melbourne, Australia recognized LED lighting had finally reached a tipping point. LED technology was the most efficient way to create light, and affordable enough to pique consumers’ interest in bringing colored lighting to the home. And LIFX was born.

John Cameron, vice president, says LIFX launched as a successful Kickstarter campaign. From its crowd-funded beginnings, it has grown into a leading producer and seller of smart LED light bulbs. With headquarters in Melbourne and Silicon Valley, its bulbs brighten households in 80 countries around the globe.

Cameron says LIFX makes the world’s brightest, most efficient and versatile Wi-Fi LED light bulbs. The bulbs fit standard light sockets, are dimmable and can emit 1,000 shades of white light. The color model adds 16 million colors to accommodate a customer’s every mood.

From smartphone apps to brilliant voice control

Until 2015, LIFX customers controlled their smart bulbs using smartphones apps. Customers could turn them on or off by name, dim or brighten them, and select the color of light. They could also group the devices to control an entire room of lights at once. Advanced features let customers create schedules, custom color themes, even romantic flickering candle effects.

Without the phone, though, customers had no control.

Like Amazon, the LIFX team knew the future of customer interfaces lay in voice control. “We’re always looking for ways to let customers control [their lights] without hauling out their phone,” said Cameron. “When Alexa came along, it took everybody by storm.”

“That drove us to join Amazon's beta program for the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)” says Daniel Hall, LIFX’s lead cloud engineer. Hall says the ASK documentation and APIs were easy to understand, making it possible for them to implement the first version of the LIFX skill in just two weeks. By the end of March 2015, LIFX had certified the skill and was ready to publish. The skill let customers control their lights just by saying “Alexa, tell ‘Life-ex’ to…

Since the LIFX skill launch, ASK has added custom slots, a simpler and more accurate way of conveying customer-defined names for bulbs and groups of bulbs. Hall says that custom slots is something that LIFX would be interested in implementing in the future.

[Read More]

October 03, 2016

Zoey Collier

In the latest headlines from KIRO7:

[stirring theme music begins] Hello from KIRO7 in Seattle. I’m Michelle Millman…

And I’m John Knicely. Here are the top stories we’re following on this Friday.

A car erupted in flames around 5:30 this morning on northbound I-5. This was just south of downtown and caused a major traffic backup, but you can get around it by…

This might sound like a local daybreak newscast blaring from the TV in the kitchen or the bedroom, as you rush around trying to get ready for work – but it isn’t.

It’s actually a Alexa Flash Briefing skill. Flash Briefing streams today’s top news stories to your Alexa-enabled device on demand. To hear the most current news stories from whatever sources you choose, just say “Alexa, play my flash briefing” or “Alexa, what’s the news?

The particular Flash Briefing skill in question, though, is rather unique. With all its realism and personality, you might be fooled into thinking it’s an actual news desk, complete with bantering anchors, perky weather forecast, and the day’s top local headlines.

That’s because it is—and that’s what sets KIRO7 apart from the rest.

How Flash Briefing works

Using the Alexa app, you can select different skills for your Flash Briefing from a number of different news sources. These include big-named outlets like NPR, CNN, NBC, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, and more. These all give you snapshots of global news. Now more and more local stations are creating their own Flash Briefing skills for Alexa.

The Flash Briefing Skill API, a new addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, which enables developers to add feeds to Alexa’s Flash Briefing,  delivers pre-recorded audio and text-to-speech (TTS) updates to customers. When using the Flash Briefing Skill API, you no longer need to build a voice interaction model to handle customer requests. You configure your compatible RSS feed and build skills that connect directly to Flash Briefing so that customers can simply ask “Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing” to hear your content.

Setting a higher bar for listener engagement

If you’ve activated Flash Briefing before, you know that several content providers leverage Alexa to read text in her normal voice. That’s because most skills in Flash Briefing repurpose content that is already available in an RSS-style feed. They plug the same text into the feed for Alexa to ingest.

Jake Milstein, news director for KIRO7, said KIRO7 was one of the first local news channels to create a Flash Briefing. While Alexa has a wonderful reading voice, the KIRO7 team wanted to do something a bit more personal for its listeners. Working with the Alexa team, they discovered they could upload MP3 files as an alternative to text. Instead of reading from canned text files, Alexa would play the audio files.

Milstein said using real people’s voices was an obvious choice, because “We have such great personalities here at KIRO7.” The station tested various formats, but eventually settled on using two of its morning news anchors. Christine Borrmann, KIRO7 Producer, says, “We tinkered with the format until Michelle and John just started talking about the news in a very conversational way. Then we added a little music in the background. It felt right.”

KIRO7 started out with a single daily feed but now has three. The morning anchors, Michelle Millman and John Knicely, record the first ‘cast around 4 a.m. and the second shortly after their live broadcast at 8 a.m. Other news anchors record the third feed in late afternoon, so it captures the evening news topics. Each ‘cast’ is roughly two minutes long and ends by encouraging listeners to consume more KIRO7 content through the app on Amazon FireTV.

Alexa, the news never sounded so good

The whole KIRO7 team is proud to be the first local news station to produce a studio-quality audio experience in a Flash Briefing and the KIRO7 skill launched alongside several established networks with national scale.

Early feedback on Facebook showed KIRO7 listeners loved the skill and wanted even more. Now that Flash Briefings are skills, though, the KIRO7 team can start collecting its own reviews and star-ratings.

Milstein says it is important that KIRO7 stay at the forefront of delivering Seattle-area news the way people want to get their news. “Having our content broadcast on Alexa-enabled devices and available on Amazon Fire TV is something we're really proud of. For sure, as Amazon develops more exciting ways to deliver the news, we'll be there.”

 


Get Started with Alexa Skills Kit

Are you ready to build your first (or next) Alexa skill? Build a custom skill or use one of our easy tutorials to get started quickly.

Share other innovative ways you’re using Alexa in your life. Tweet us @alexadevs with hashtag #AlexaDevStory.

September 28, 2016

Zoey Collier

Need a ride? Lyft is an on-demand transportation platform that lets you book a ride in minutes. It’s as easy as opening up the Lyft app, tapping a button and a driver arrives to get you where you need to go. Now, they’ve made it even easier. Simply say, “Alexa, ask Lyft to get me a ride to work.”

A culture of hackathons and rapid innovations

Roy Williams, the Lyft engineer who built the Alexa skill, said it started with a company hackathon.

Lyft has a long culture of hackathons. Each quarter, the San Francisco company invites employees to experiment with new ideas. The story goes that Lyft itself was born at such a hackathon, with someone’s idea for an “instant” ride service.

“It took about three weeks to go from the original prototype to a finished app,” Williams said. Lyft has been going strong ever since.

Alexa: Yet another innovation for Lyft

That wasn’t the last innovation to spring from a Lyft hackathon.

Williams said he purchased an Amazon Echo during the 2015 Black Friday sale. He immediately knew he wanted create an Alexa skill to let Echo users order a “lyft.” Williams dove into the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) documentation, and he started building his prototype at the January hackathon. It was a hit.

Beyond the prototype, Williams estimates the project took three weeks of solid engineering time. The team spent one week working on the core functionality, including adding some workflow to their own API. It spent another week working through edge cases and complex decision trees, so the skill would never leave a user confused or at a dead-end. Finally, they spent another week on testing and analytics, before releasing it for an internal beta with 30 users.

Williams says ASK is very comprehensive, and because it is JSON-based, it makes testing easy. He admits having to add some edge testing to account for cases like asking Lyft for “a banana to work.” (Bananas are a favorite test fruit during certification.) In the end, he knew Lyft had a high-quality skill with near-one hundred percent test coverage.

Amazon published the final Lyft skill in July.

Why Alexa?

Megan Robershotte is a member of Lyft’s partner marketing team. She explained the Alexa skill fit well with the company’s primary goal: to get people to take their first ride with Lyft.

[Read More]

September 21, 2016

Ted Karczewski

In early 2014, Jonathan Frankel started renovating a house in Philadelphia. With three kids and multiple floors, he wanted an intercom system, but was frustrated with the persistence of old technology. He found that home intercoms hadn’t changed much in the last 30 years; they were still expensive and difficult to install. What’s more, intercom systems had failed to keep up with today’s modern families who are spread across geographies and constantly on the move.

Frankel, now CEO of Nucleus, wanted to bring families closer together. He wanted to build a device that could bridge generations and let his mom video chat with his children with a simple touch. He wanted to visit with his family over dinner, even while away on business. Whenever, whoever, and wherever they may be, he wanted to talk to them—room-to-room, home-to-home, or mobile-to-home.

Now his vision has come to life. Nucleus, the first smart home intercom with video calling, and with the voice capabilities of Alexa, is delighting customers with easy access to music, news, weather, to-do lists, and even smart home controls.

An innovative product made even better with voice

Amazon created the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to make it easier for developers to add voice-powered experiences to their products and services. That proved advantageous for Nucleus.

According to Isaac Levy, chief technology officer at Nucleus, hands-free interaction was part of the Nucleus vision from the beginning. They prototyped early Nucleus units with various voice recognition solutions, including open source. When they heard about the commercial availability of AVS, they knew their search was over.

“We knew right away that AVS would be a great fit, and we wanted to incorporate it into our product,” Levy said. “It’s one thing to have basic voice recognition. But being able to unlock everything Alexa can do—weather, sports, flash briefings, all those custom skills…it’s like waking up a genie in our device. AVS helped Nucleus create an even more compelling customer experience.”

Levy says AVS allowed his team to develop a more full-featured Nucleus with capabilities the company hadn’t developed on its own. For example, natural language understanding (NLU) is built into the Alexa service, providing developers with an intelligent and intuitive voice interface that’s always getting smarter. This saved Nucleus many years of development work.

[Read More]

September 16, 2016

Zoey Collier

When Belkin International launched its WeMo line of connected devices in 2012, it wasn’t its first foray into consumer electronics. Belkin has been around for 30 years, transforming its business from cabling to connectivity, wireless networking, and eventually into home automation.

According to CJ Pipkin, Belkin’s national account manager for WeMo, the farther the company delved into wireless networking, the more it realized people wanted to remote-control devices of all kinds around the home. So Belkin transformed its Zensi energy-monitoring devices into what become WeMo—a line of smart, remote-controlled and remotely-monitored switches.

“We built a smart ecosystem of connected devices as early as anyone in the industry,” Pipkin says.

Belkin makes a variety of devices, but high-quality switches dominate its WeMo home automation lineup:

  • WeMo switch – smart outlet you control from anywhere (Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G)
  • WeMo Insight switch (control and monitor power usage from anywhere)
  • WeMo light switch that replaces a standard light switch

But since Amazon Echo and Alexa came on the scene, it’s completely changed Belkin’s way of thinking. They realized one household user—the techiest one—had previously dominated WeMo usage. With Alexa, though, anyone can operate a connected device with ease.

Tom Hudson, software product manager for WeMo, says smartphones were a natural way to control home devices at first, especially lighting. They are handy for configuring set-it-and-forget-it automations to respond to specific events. For more immediate actions, though, voice actuation is so much better. “It’s a lot easier to just say, ‘Turn that light on’ than it is to pull out your phone, find and load up the app, then locate and tap the right command.”

[Read More]

April 28, 2016

Amit Jotwani

Last year, we introduced a Developer Preview of Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to hobbyists and device makers to help them integrate Alexa into their connected devices and apps, and then a few weeks back, we released an implementation of an Alexa enabled Raspberry Pi on GitHub. We couldn’t be happier with the response we received from the developer community.

Meet Triby – a new connected family-friendly kitchen device that magnetically sticks to the fridge and can play music, make calls, display messages, and is voice activated.

Built by Invoxia, Triby is one of the first ‘Alexa-enabled’ devices built with AVS, which means that you can do almost everything with Alexa on Triby that you can do with Alexa on Echo. 

You address Alexa through Triby using the “Alexa” wake word, just as you would on Echo. Simply say “Alexa, play Adele” and Triby can play Adele from Prime Music, “Alexa add milk to my list” and Triby will add it to your shopping list, or “Alexa, turn off the kitchen lights” and Triby becomes a way to access and control the smart home.

“Voice recognition capabilities transform the way we interact with music, content and services. Amazon made it available to the world with its first range of Alexa-enabled devices. Now with a diversified Alexa-enabled device offering, more people can enjoy the Alexa experience. We are excited to be at the forefront of many third party devices to integrate the Alexa Voice Service with Triby. It has great communication features, the ability to hear you from across the room while being portable and an always-on display. We can't wait to equip millions of kitchens with it!" says Sebastien de le Bastie, Invoxia’s Managing Director.

Learn More about Alexa on Triby.

If you are a device maker, service provider or application developer interested adding rich and intuitive experiences to your products – AVS is the right choice for you! Get Started

Ready to Get Started?

For more information on Alexa-enabled devices and getting started with Alexa, check out the following resources:

Alexa-Enabled Devices
Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Tap
Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Fire TV Stick

Alexa Developer Resources
Alexa Voice Service (AVS)
Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)
The Alexa Fund
AVS Developer Forums
Alexa on a Raspberry Pi (GitHub)

Have Questions? We are here to help! Visit us on the AVS Forum to discuss specific questions with one of our experts.

- @amit

April 15, 2016

Zoey Collier

Like many industries today, the financial services sector is looking to become more customer-centric—to provide faster, easier, and more secure ways for consumers and businesses to buy goods and services online.

UK-based Lloyds Banking Group is no different. Committed to becoming a world-class, customer-centric digital bank, Lloyds is actively exploring biometrics, including voice recognition. According to Marc Lien, Director of Innovation and Digital Development, the use of speech is exciting not only because it’s convenient, but also because it can empower the 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK.

As Lien says, “Some of our customers cannot enjoy the full benefits of online banking. Understanding how we can break down accessibility barriers is another way in which we are working towards becoming the best bank for customers.”

To that end, Lloyds has created a proof of concept for Alexa, writing test cases for logging in, requesting account balances as well as account details, and asking for help from Lloyds. Watch this video to see the skill in action.

The skill isn’t live, because Alexa-enabled devices and Alexa Skills Kit are not yet available in the UK. But, as Lien explains, “By being at the forefront of exploring technologies we can keep pace with the evolving expectations of our customers. This also means that we can future-proof our products and services by considering how technologies may develop.”

To learn more about how they are developing test of concept for Alexa, read their blog. Look for more to come from Lloyds.

Are you ready to build your own Alexa skill but not sure where to start? Try our trivia and fact skill templates to get started quickly.

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