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December 16, 2016

Zoey Collier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beta is Born

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

Evolving the Beta

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Creative Technical Work

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

The Capital One utterance compiler

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

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December 15, 2016

Jen Gilbert

ReadWrite_logo.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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December 08, 2016

Ted Karczewski

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

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

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

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December 01, 2016

Ted Karczewski

The home is rapidly evolving thanks to the proliferation of connected devices and advancements in voice recognition technology. Together, new smart home products and voice control services are giving customers greater control over their homes.

Amazon and Intel see a tremendous opportunity to bring the benefits of a personal voice experience to millions of new consumers and are collaborating to encourage developers and device manufacturers to extend natural voice interaction to more products via Amazon Alexa.

The collaboration will enable partners to build new devices with Alexa using an Intel-based smart speaker form factor reference design coming in Q1 2017, as well as make it easier to create skills that work with the Intel-based Smart Home Hub.

Enabling Product Development with Intel and Amazon Alexa

Intel is working with Amazon to deliver smart speaker form factor reference designs (FFRD) with Alexa that make it easier for device manufacturers to build products with high-performance, far-field voice interaction. The first FFRD will be available starting in Q1 2017 and will offer device makers:

  • Accelerated development of Alexa voice-enabled smart speakers on Intel architecture.
  • Voice as the primary interface, allowing Alexa skills developers to build capabilities that reach even more end users.
  • Requisite speakers and microphone arrays expected from smart speakers, as well as the home radios that support the standards needed for PAN connectivity in the home, including Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth, and is extensible enough to add video capabilities and environment sensors for an all-in-one customer experience.
  • An SDK that enables developers to add voice and video capabilities to connected products.

The FFRD combines Intel’s platform technology advancements with Amazon’s ever-smarter Alexa Voice Service to accelerate innovation among device manufacturers and the developers building new skills for all Alexa-enabled products. 

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December 01, 2016

Ted Karczewski

We are excited to announce a new addition to the Alexa family—JAM Voice.

JAM Voice is a portable speaker system with Alexa that serves as a complete hub for music and information. It’s a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-connected speaker that features touch-activated integration with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), giving customers the ability to push a button and just ask Alexa to play music, check the weather, get the news, or even order a pizza.

Whether entertaining a group of friends or relaxing after work, the JAM Voice system can play music from one or many rooms in the house. You can pair multiple speakers when connected to Wi-Fi, streaming music from Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn just by asking Alexa. The Alexa integration also makes it easy for customers to access thousands of third-party skills, built using the Alexa Skills Kit, including smart home controls through Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink.

Buy JAM Voice on Amazon.com now.

Getting Started with AVS

Alexa is always getting smarter with new capabilities and services through machine learning. Your product also gains access to new capabilities with Alexa through API updates, feature launches, and custom skills. Learn how AVS can add rich voice-powered experiences to your connected products, and read how some of our partners below have integrated with Alexa already:

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

AVS is coming soon to the UK and Germany. Read the full announcement here.

 

November 21, 2016

Ted Karczewski

We’re excited to introduce “Powered by Linkplay,” a turn-key audio solution that comes with an Alexa Voice Service (AVS) integration. With “Powered by Linkplay,” OEMs now have a quick and cost-effective way to launch Wi-Fi speaker products with Amazon Alexa.

The built-in Alexa experience allows customers to ask Alexa for weather reports, traffic updates, Flash Briefings, and to play their favorite music. Linkplay also gives manufacturers the ability to offer end users access to a range of streaming music providers, including Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Spotify, TIDAL, Napster, and more. Best of all, “Powered by Linkplay” makes it easy to pair multiple speakers together to play music throughout the home.

OEMs that use the Linkplay audio solution to power their speaker products also gain access to thousands of Alexa skills, new features and capabilities through regular AVS API updates, and smart home controls with partners such as Philips Hue, Belkin Wemo, SmartThings, Insteon, and Wink.

Here are a few products that use the new “Powered by Linkplay” solution:

Contact Linkplay by email if you're interested in building a product with the "Powered by Linkplay" solution.

Getting Started with AVS

Not a speaker manufacturer? Alexa is always getting smarter with new capabilities and services. Learn how AVS can add rich voice-powered experiences to your connected products, and read how some of our partners below have integrated with Alexa already:

New to voice user interface design? See how the technology works by building your own Amazon Alexa prototype for Raspberry Pi.

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

AVS is coming soon to the UK and Germany. Read the full announcement here.

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 17, 2016

Bertrand Vacherot

We are happy to announce the Amazon Alexa Hack the Dorm Contest for university students. This is our first challenge in collaboration with MindSumo, a company that focuses on giving students first-hand experience with industry projects.

As voice technology becomes ubiquitous around us, new and current developers are quickly learning about voice user interfaces (VUI). As a student, you are well positioned to create intuitive ways for people to interact with technology and can make a big impact on the interfaces of tomorrow. This contest is your chance to show customers on millions of Alexa-enabled devices what you can build using the Alexa Skills Kit.

To win, you will build a new voice-activated Alexa skill for your university dorm. The winners will create a new skill that makes life easier and better in a university dorm. From improving accessibility features, to creating integrations with your entertainment system, or even making homework more efficient, all domains and interests will be considered. Entries will be judged on their usefulness and creativity among a few other criteria. The best part; no hardware is necessary to do this. If you do not have an Alexa-enabled device, you can test your skill with Alexa right in your browser and begin building your skill right away. See the full contest rules here.

Here is what you can win:

  • First place: $1,000 and an Amazon Echo.
  • Second place: $300 and an Amazon Tap.
  • Third place: $300 and an All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation).
  • The first 10 submissions to publish their skills and submit a contest entry here and who are not selected as first, second or third place winners will receive an Amazon Tap.
  • Everyone who publishes a skill is eligible for a limited edition Alexa Developer hoodie.

The contest begins today and will close on December 31st at 11:59:59 PM PST. Winners will be announced on or around January 31st, 2017.

Get started here. We can’t wait to see what you build.

Restrictions may apply, see the contest rules on MindSumo’s page.

About the Alexa Skills Kit

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) enables developers to easily build capabilities, called skills, for Alexa. ASK includes self-service APIs, documentation, templates, and code samples to get developers on a rapid road to publishing their Alexa skills.

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.

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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.

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