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June 27, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

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]

June 25, 2016

Zoey Collier

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.

Current implementation

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.

Intent

Purpose

Sample Utterances

LocationOfPersonIntent

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.

  • Where is {Person}
  • Where is {Person} right now
  • Where is {Person} at the moment

AvailableRoomsOnFloorIntent

Uses the “what spaces are free/utilized” endpoint and speaks back the names of those free Places.

  • What rooms are free on the {Floor} floor
  • What rooms are open on the {Floor} floor
  • What rooms are empty on the {Floor} floor

Future development

The Beco team envisions expanding Alexa integration to include these capabilities:

[Read More]

June 22, 2016

Glenn Cameron

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:

Best use of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and Raspberry Pi
Best use of the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) and Raspberry Pi

[Read More]

June 16, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

When I was first introduced to Zach Feldman, Chief Academic Officer and Co-Founder of The New York Code + Design Academy, I knew I was talking with an Alexa connoisseur. Before Amazon publicly released the Alexa Skills Kit, Zach was talking about how to add capabilities to Alexa. Couple this with publishing alexa-home, a popular project on GitHub to use Amazon Echo to control home automation software, before we even released the Smart Home Skill API. Zach has always shown a keen interest in the voice space. Fast forward a year later, it made complete sense to bring Zach’s knowledge of Alexa development to The New York Code + Design Academy.

Today, I’m excited to announce a collaboration between The New York Code + Design Academy (NYCDA) and Amazon Alexa. NYCDA has been training developers – at all levels – with hands-on, intensive workshops in web and mobile app development for the past three years.

This summer, NYCDA students will be able to attend the first in-person training on building Alexa skills with Ruby and Sinatra as the language and framework of choice. Students will begin by gaining an understanding of the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). From there, they’ll move on to building an Alexa skill together as a class with both a simple skill and one that accesses an external API. They’ll be able to test their voice user experiences with Amazon Tap speakers, Alexa-enabled devices provided by the school. The course will wrap up with an independent final project and will walk students through the process of certification and publication of their first Alexa skill. Classes will run from August 9, 2016 through September 27, 2016. To enroll, students can apply here.

Wait, there’s more. Zach will be hosting a free lecture on the Alexa skill infrastructure and what goes into building your first skill on June 21, 2016 at 6:30 p.m ET at NYCDA’s headquarters in New York City. If you’re in the area don’t miss this opportunity to meet him, learn more about Alexa skill development, and ask questions about NYCDA’s 8-week Alexa course. Save your spot.

“Amazon Alexa is one of the most compelling new software and hardware integrations I've seen in a while! I can't wait to bring the power of Alexa to our students and the Ruby development community.” - Zach Feldman, Chief Academic Officer and Co-Founder of The New York Code + Design Academy

Learn more about the Alexa course from NYCDA here.

-Marion

June 14, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

Today, we are excited to team up with hack.guides() to bring you a Tutorial Contest. Hack.guides() is a community of developers focused on creating tutorials to help educate and share technical knowledge. This contest is the perfect opportunity to share your knowledge, help other developers, contribute articles to an open-source project, and win a prize along the way. Hack.guides() tutorials bring the developer community together to create and curate collaborative content. With the GitHub API backend, hack.guides() tutorials can be forked, improved, and merged by simply using a pull request.

Technical tutorials are a fantastic medium for developers to share their experience and best practices on a variety of technologies. Our guest bloggers have written a variety of tutorials on topics including how to use AWS IoT and Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to voice control connected devices and how to easily publish changes into AWS Lambda via the command line interface. We also shared some community tutorials from Alexa developers on how to implement Google Analytics to monitor skill performance and storing variables with persistence to create innovative skills.

[Read More]

June 03, 2016

Zoey Collier

Recently an entrepreneur approached software and design firm Macadamian with a unique product concept: an interactive NHL scoreboard. That WiFi-connected, voice-controlled gadget is enough to make any hockey fan drool. And while it was the company’s first foray into the world of Echo and Alexa, it was certainly not the last.

Now Macadamian has launched an Alexa skill to bring “hands-free” to an action performed 6 billion times each day in the U.S. alone: sending a text message. What could have more mass-market appeal? Yet the company says it created the skill to showcase its expertise, not to gain millions of users.

They call their skill Scryb (pronounced “scribe”). To use it, enable Scryb in the Alexa App, and simply say “Alexa, Scryb your-message-here.”

Ed Sarfeld, UX architect at Macadamian, explains the twofold reason behind the name. "As UX designers, we wanted to make the skill simple and natural to use. The word ‘scribe’ means to write, so it's easy to remember. We changed the spelling because of existing trademarks and wordmarks. But this is voice, and it’s still pronounced ‘scribe’.”

Further, “scribe” is also the skill's main verb, and there’s no need to repeat it.  Scryb needs only a single, simple statement: “Alexa, tell Scryb I’m on my way.” Less to remember means it’s simpler for the user.

By design, users have few other commands to worry about. One lets you set or change the recipient – Scryb stores only one number at a time. If that seems odd, it’s not: remember there’s no screen of contacts on a smartphone to tap on here. And having a single, primary recipient is right in line with the expected uses for the skill:

  • To a parent: “I’m home from school” or “I’m going over to Sally’s”
  • To a caregiver: “I need my medicines refilled” or “I’ve fallen and need help”
  • To a partner or spouse: “Making dinner but we’re out of milk. Can you stop?”
[Read More]

May 27, 2016

Zoey Collier

The Alexa Skills Kit is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples that make it fast and easy for developers to add skills to Alexa. Justin Kovac, developer of 7-Minute Workout and Technical Program Manager for Alexa Skills Kit shares his experience and tips for diving head-first into building your own skills.

Prior to his current role, Justin was a Developer Advocate for multiple services across Amazon where his core responsibility was to serve as a voice of the developer community. This includes gathering community feedback to help guide initiatives and providing technical guidance to anyone seeking help via Amazon's Developer Forums and Contact Us support channels. "When I began supporting Alexa, I needed to get my bearings quickly," Justin remembers. “How can you advocate on behalf of a new developer community if you haven’t been in their shoes?”

To get started, Justin attended a hackathon – the perfect opportunity to learn the whole process, from concept to certification.

"The 7-Minute Workout skill is extremely simple in concept," Justin believes. "After some brainstorming, I remembered an iOS app I used based on a New York Times article. It worked, but it felt awkward to have my phone on the table or floor while looking for the next exercise in the routine." That's when Justin began creating a proof of concept of his skill using Node.js and AWS Lambda, an Amazon Web Service where you can run code for virtually any type of application or backend service with zero administration.

“To me, the most important benefit of 7-Minute Workout was getting hands-on knowledge of how to develop an Alexa skill, end to end. Knowing that, I was able to better support the developers who are just joining our community.”

Below Justin discusses the top seven lessons he learned while developing the 7-Minute Workout.

1.  Understand Voice User Interface (VUI) Concepts First

One of the things that the experience at the hackathon made very clear to me was the need to start with the voice experience, not the code. While skills are developed using the same tools and resources as you would use when creating an app, designing for voice feels distinctively different which makes it essential to understand VUI concepts first. The idea of triggering an action, like you traditionally would by the press of a button in an app, is now a variable of hundreds of potential values based on the customer’s request. So a customer could potentially say, “start a new workout” or “begin a workout” or “let’s exercise.” This guide is a great starting point to help you better understand Alexa Skills Kit, VUI, and how to keep users on the "happy path" when interacting with your skill via voice.

2.  Check out the Alexa Skills Kit's Included Samples

With no prior experience building an Alexa skill, I needed the ability to dive right in. What I quickly realized was that there was no need to reinvent the wheel. Amazon’s included samples provide a great variety of functional building blocks to kick start your skill, including DynamoDB integration, multi-stage conversations, RESTful request to third-party APIs and more. Personally, I used 'Wiseguy' as a starting point for the 7-Minute Workout skill because of its simplicity and intent structure. For each sample, read the overview of features and don't forget to follow the README.md files for step-by-step instructions.

[Read More]

May 12, 2016

Zoey Collier

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.

The Alexa Skills Kit provides several samples of custom skills written in Node.js (JavaScript) and Java. You can deploy and test these samples as AWS Lambda functions on AWS Lambda (a service offering by Amazon Web Services). Daniel used the Amazon Score Keeper sample provided as a basis for reading and writing to a database using AWS DynamoDB, which is very easy to access from a Lambda function.

[Read More]

May 10, 2016

Zoey Collier

When David Markley got his Echo Dot, he was curious about how he could take Alexa on the road. Markley leads the app compatibility team for the Amazon Appstore and, as he puts it, “tinkers with voice game development on the side”.

Markley says the set up in his car was simple. He turned on the personal hotspot on his iPhone, plugged the Echo Dot into a USB adapter, and the Echo Dot booted into setup mode. He then used a different device, a tablet, to complete the setup by connecting the Echo Dot's WiFi to his iPhone’s personal hotspot. The Bluetooth wouldn’t connect in his car, so Markley used the audio line-in instead. His car has a good quality sound system, so he hasn’t had issues with noise interference.

“After she boots, I typically get my morning news update and then either listen to an Audible book or play music on my way to work. It’s great to be able to add things to my shopping list as they come to mind during the drive.”

Now, he simply makes sure the personal hotspot on his iPhone is enabled and the Echo Dot boots when the car starts, reconnects, and says “hello”. Markley loves having his Echo Dot in his car – watch it in action.

[Read More]

April 29, 2016

Emily Roberts

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.

Investing in the Future with Voice

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]

April 04, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

Editor’s Note: Due to popular demand, we have extended the promotion period for the Envato Tuts+ offer for one month. Your skill will be eligible for this exciting promotion if you get it certified by May 31st, 2016. See terms and conditions

Today, I’m excited to announce a limited-offer with Envato Tuts+ for the Alexa developer community. Envato Tuts+ is an e-learning platform that teaches creative and technical skills by providing free how-to tutorials, video courses and e-books to millions worldwide.  

To thank you for adding new skills to Alexa, we are offering three free months of Envato Tuts+ monthly subscription to the first 500 developers who get an Alexa skill certified and fill out this form by May 31, 2016.

How to Build an Alexa Skill with No Development Experience

If you’re just getting started with the Alexa Skills Kit, Envato Tuts+ has published a new step-by-step tutorial that will make it easy and fast to build a trivia quiz for Amazon Echo or any Alexa-enabled device. No experience with Alexa development tools required. This template can be used by non-programmers as well as beginners and intermediate developers. You just need to come up with a trivia idea, plug in your questions, and edit a few lines of script. It is a valuable way to quickly learn the end-to-end process of building and publishing an Alexa skill. 

[Read More]

April 01, 2016

Zoey Collier

Fidelity Investments wanted to find a way to provide Echo users with real-time insights into market trends. By building a voice experience with Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), Fidelity is able to reach people in a different way – using voice. Now, with the Fidelity skill, anyone with an Alexa-enabled device can get a market update or a quote for publicly listed companies by simply enabling the skill and then saying “Alexa, Ask Fidelity how [Company Name] is doing.”

Building Voice Innovation

Fidelity’s Mobile team began tinkering with Alexa and Echo in late 2015. Intrigued by the new technology and curious about how to leverage Alexa to assist Fidelity customers, they worked with Amazon to reach an ambitious launch timeline with only five weeks left before the holidays. Working through possible voice experience scenarios, Fidelity decided to focus on their core business of finance and build a skill which they could enhance over time. Additionally, they wanted the skill to be helpful to most people. Naturally, providing financial updates seemed like the best fit.

Shanthan Kesharaju, Director of Software Engineering at Fidelity, and his team took the lead and built the skill. He took an agile approach to launch the skill in time for the holidays and leveraged cloud watch features and the analytics dashboard to measure hit rates and intent usage. Shanthan says, “The technical documentation, new feature announcements, and tutorials enable anybody with decent java skills to build a skill for Alexa pretty quickly. Also, the events, such as hackathons, are great and very helpful. Overall, it’s a first step into cloud for developers who have not played with cloud, and it’s a great resume builder.”

[Read More]

March 25, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

Today, I’m excited to announce a collaboration between Bloc and Amazon Alexa. Bloc has been providing online coding bootcamps and mentor-led courses in design, web, and mobile development since 2011. With Bloc’s industry-vetted curriculum, students can gain knowledge of modern, practical programming skills and build portfolios of real projects to prepare them for their careers as developers and designers. Now Bloc students can learn about voice design and apply their knowledge by creating new Alexa skills.

Bloc’s new Alexa Project module is now integrated into the following curriculums:

[Read More]

March 22, 2016

Amit Jotwani

We are excited to announce an important update to the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) that will enable you to enhance the user experience on your Alexa-enabled products.

Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is an intelligent and scalable cloud service that adds voice-enabled experiences to any connected product – all you need is a microphone and speaker. Users can simply talk to their Alexa-enabled products to play music, answer questions, get news/local information, control smart home products, and more. And with the free Amazon Alexa app, users can easily control and manage their products from anywhere!

Last year, we launched a developer preview of AVS to introduce you to the benefits of voice-powered experiences. With this update, we are making architectural improvements that include updated APIs and message structures, Amazon Alexa App (iOS and Android) support and the ability to send server-initiated messages.

[Read More]

March 21, 2016

Marion Desmazieres

 

With a community of more than 100,000 developers, makers, and entrepreneurs, Hackster.io enables users to showcase their portfolio, gather feedback on projects, and learn more about internet-connected hardware. Now, users can add Amazon Echo, Alexa Voice Service, and Alexa Skills Kit tags to their projects to be featured on the Amazon Alexa page on Hackster. We are inspired by the community members who have started to share what they built with Alexa from a voice-controlled drone to a dancing robot, and even a stormtrooper blaster. Hackster allows you to share full tutorials with a list of components, schematics, and code so anyone can replicate these projects at home.

I've always been a fan of open source communities. Hackster.io not only allows me to share my projects, but I also get feedback from other hackers with aligned interests. When I showcased Magic Mirror on Hackster I received private messages from members asking about the code and questions about setting up their own. I was happy to help and share knowledge.” - Arlo Carreon, creator of Magic Mirror on Hackster and Amazon employee

Build voice experiences, share your expertise, and connect with the Alexa community by joining the Hackster platform. Follow Alexa to stay tuned to new projects built by the community and powered by Alexa.

We are excited to see what you build next.

-Marion

Get Started Today

Check out these Alexa developer resources:

Special Offer We're offering free Alexa dev t-shirts for all developers who publish their skill and complete our form by March 31, 2016. Quantities are limited. See terms and conditions. Remember, you can get a skill up and running quickly using our Trivia Skill Template.

 

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