Adrian Bolinger is a Bloc student and has developed three Alexa skills thus far. His most recent, Date Ninja, builds upon Alexa’s ability to convert a spoken date into a slot formatted as a date in order to make day, week, month, and year calculations on the fly.
With each skill, his need to monitor skill performance, optimize, and rollout subsequent releases has been a top priority. Adrian found a simple way to monitor the performance of his Alexa skills, to see which intents are being used and identify invocation issues with intents. He did it using the open source universal-analytics node module, with five lines of code per intent.
Using the Big Nerd Ranch series as a basis, Adrian developed Date Ninja locally with a Node.js environment using the
moment.js library. Installing
with npm, Adrian found the process of implementing Google Analytics to be very easy.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway—a perfect time to share the new Fantasy Scoreboards skill built by Macadamian, an international UX design and software development firm with offices in the U.S., Canada, Armenia, and Romania. Using the skill on NHL-connected Fantasy Scoreboards devices that are paired with an Amazon Echo or Fire TV, now Alexa can tell you the score of a specific game, what games are coming up, who played yesterday and even lets you set your favorite team. Here’s a demo of the skill in action.
As described by Chief Architect Martin Larochelle, voice mapping was an important component of making the user experience as natural as possible, given that fans refer to their teams in many different ways—e.g., “Montreal,” “Canadiens,” and “the Habs.” Macadamian identified about 150 variations for the 30 NHL teams, and configured two maps. The first contains all the possible values mapped to a unique team code—e.g., MTL for the Montreal Canadiens—and the second specifies how Alexa says the name of a team—in the case above, “Montreal Canadiens.”
Because the city of New York has two teams, Macadamian needed to create an extension that supports resolving to multiple values. As a result, if a user asks for the score for “New York,” Alexa can ask for further clarification by responding, “Do you mean the Islanders or Rangers?”
The Macadamian crew discovered that in some domain-specific cases, the Alexa sample utterances needed alternate spellings to make the voice recognition work. As an example, initially Alexa couldn’t distinguish between “the Avs” (nickname for the Colorado Avalanche) and “the Habs” (Montreal Canadiens). With Avs as a value in the custom slot, Alexa always thought the user said “Habs,” even when testing in a noise-free room with a native English speaker. What solved the problem was to spell the nickname Avs as Aves.
Martin says that, in the beginning, the detection of “Canadiens” was not as reliable as desired. Again, the solution was to add Canadians as one of the slot values (although, interestingly, Alexa always sends Canadiens as the spelling).
Read Martin’s blog post for more tips on resolving “fuzzy entry” points using the session.attributes functionality of Alexa Skill Kit (ASK) and adding special handling for misheard values with hexadecimal numbers.
If you have a Fantasy Scoreboards device and want to check out this skill, say “Alexa, ask Fantasy Scoreboards what games are playing today?”
Share other innovative ways you’re using Alexa in your life. Tweet us @alexadevs with hashtag #AlexaDevStory.
When Daniel Rassiner contemplated what he wanted his custom Alexa skill to do, he decided to build a voice experience based on a popular internet topic – enter Daily Cutiemals. With the skill enabled, anyone can ask Alexa to send them an email every day featuring an image (cute, naturally) of their requested animal species from the Imgur library.
Bloc, an education company with mentor-led programs in software engineering and design, recently enhanced several of their curriculums by adding an Alexa Project module. In this new module, Daniel and other students like him, learn how to build compelling voice experiences with the Alexa Skills Kit and thereby create Alexa skills they can add to their portfolios.
With an understanding of Alexa and an idea for his custom skill, Daniel’s first order of business was to determine whether Alexa could interact properly with the Imgur API. To do this Daniel tested using static data. The test was successful, so he delved into interaction with the AWS DynamoDB and using ES6 fetches/promises to find the appropriate picture.
Because Alexa uses JSON files to organize its communications, creating the intent schema for the skill enabled Rassiner to beef up his Java expertise. He used the Custom Slots and Sample Utterances capabilities to give users a list of animals and adjectives to choose from.
You can play Rock, Paper, Scissors on Amazon Echo right out of the box. But it took Octavio Menocal to write a more advanced Alexa skill based on Sheldon Cooper’s favorite permutation, Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock. (Watch The Big Bang Theory’s physicist explain the rules and how in the end, “as it always has, rock crushes scissors.”)
A software engineer at the Nicaraguan office of the digital advertising agency RAIN, Menocal improved on the original Echo game not only by including variables for a reptile and the Star Trek Vulcan hand salute, but also by making it a true contest between you and Alexa—scoring each round, explaining why you won or lost, and tracking totals. When she’s victorious, Alexa is not above a little schoolyard taunting, saying, “I’m the best in this game. Come back to challenge me — I’ll be waiting for you.”
Menocal created this Alexa skill just for fun, but developing innovative voice experiences is serious business at RAIN. An innovative thought leader in the realm of voice development, the agency has released pioneering custom Alexa skills for clients, among them Campbell’s Kitchen and, just in time for Mother’s Day, voice-enabled bouquet deliveries from 1-800-FLOWERS.COM.
While his official role at RAIN is that of Android developer, Menocal enjoys working with Alexa and has already created additional skills, including Currency Converter and Sage of Elements. The Echo isn’t available yet in Nicaragua, so he’s especially pleased to be at the forefront of creating excitement around voice technology in his home country. And Menocal found the learning curve easy thanks to numerous programming training resources available, including Alexa documentation, webinars, and live sessions with Amazon evangelists.
To play Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock, enable the skill in the Alexa app and say, "Alexa, open lizard Spock."
Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo. Companies can add new skills to Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit. The Alexa Fund is a $100M investment fund to fuel innovation in voice technology. Both were announced in June 2015.
After the birth of their first son, Joel Wetzel and his wife decided to start running as a way to get out of the house and get healthy. He soon grew tired of squinting at a watch screen on dark mornings or pulling his mobile phone out of his pocket to check his times or adjust settings. He saw a way to combine his passion for voice design with a love of a healthy lifestyle. Joel is the CEO and Founder of MARA, an intelligent, voice-based running assistant that provides performance data and training information during exercise, serving as a virtual running coach or personal trainer. MARA launched as a mobile app on iOS in May 2014 and Joel continues to expand MARA’s reach to new technologies.
Joel has been interested in voice interaction since childhood. He was fascinated by HAL from Space Odyssey, KITT on Knight Rider, Data on Star Trek, and the computer on the Starship Enterprise. It was all science fiction back then, but fast forward thirty years and Joel realized that it was something he could help make happen. MARA is a next generation running assistant for smart running. The name of both the app and the assistant, MARA uses cutting-edge voice recognition to proactively coach runners to reach new personal bests. As a personality, MARA provides motivation, encouragement and even competition. With the MARA app, runners can talk to her using their earbuds, ask questions about their speed, pace, location, duration or the weather, ask for music, and track run progress over time.
“At MARA, our goal is to push digital interaction beyond mere voice commands - to craft conversations, experiences, and personalities,” said Joel. “We were obviously delighted to be selected by the Alexa Fund because our goals are very similar. We want to see voice interactions become pervasive.”[Read More]