It was seven years ago – but Steve Tingiris, founder of Dabble Lab, recalls the moment he saw his first Amazon Echo device in 2014.
“Voice assistants weren’t new, but this was the first time I had the opportunity to interact with one on a device without a screen or keyboard,” says Tingiris. “I thought that was really cool and began exploring what was possible with Alexa.”
Tingiris is a software engineer turned entrepreneur. Prior to Dabble Lab, Tingiris had founded the marketing automation platform Enthusem in addition to helping establish Tampa Bay Wave, a startups accelerator. As an entrepreneur, Tingiris is motivated by innovation – he is also committed to building mechanisms that allow others to innovate.
Dabble Lab stays true to the spirit of enablement by developing conversational AI and automation technologies that free up employees to focus on higher-value tasks. Tingiris also wanted to help developers to harness the potential of voice technology by creating Alexa skills. Skills are like apps for Alexa that let customers use their voices to perform everyday tasks like checking the news, listening to music, and playing games. Building skills from scratch ordinarily requires technical expertise, but by using templates from Dabble Lab, it’s simple to build skills for business or personal use—even without knowing how to code.
In 2015, when Amazon launched the Alexa developer console, a collection of tools, APIs, reference solutions, and documentation to make it easier to build for Alexa, Tingiris began learning how to build Alexa skills. He also started creating YouTube tutorials for building various skills. Soon, interested viewers were asking for code examples, and Tingiris got the idea to put together templates that anyone could use to build an Alexa skill. “I found that there were many different types of people who were interested in building skills—not just people who were technical and knew how to code,” says Tingiris. “I wanted to create a way for people who were not experienced in writing code to simply click and deploy a template.”
When the templates started to become popular, Dabble Lab made them available on its website, and in the Alexa developer console, which provides a streamlined experience to help users create, manage, and publish skills. Each template contains the combination of backend code and code for the voice user interface that is required to build an Alexa skill. Because the templates are open source, users can customize them for their needs, if desired. “Using our templates, it’s simple to expand what Alexa can already do out of the box,” says Tingiris.
Dabble Lab’s most popular template to date is Alexa Audio Streaming, which can be used to build a skill that plays an audio stream using the AudioPlayer interface, an Alexa interface that provides directives and requests for streaming audio and monitoring playback progression. Alexa Audio Streaming makes it simple to add voice experiences to online radio stations or streaming websites and has been downloaded tens of thousands of times.
Another popular template is Alexa Appointment Scheduler, which can be used to build a skill that supports users in setting an appointment with the skill owner.
“The Alexa Appointment Scheduler template is a great starting point if you have a business, such as a dentist’s office, that needs a simple way to help customers schedule time with you,” says Tingiris. And to help teams manage projects more efficiently, Dabble Lab created Alexa Standup Meeting, a skill that can be used to collect information, such as project updates. “For example, if you’re working with a remote team, you can use the skill to get everybody to report back on their progress,” says Tingiris.
Alexa Skills Kit In Skill Purchases, you can now sell digital goods to your users in the form of One Time Purchases, Subscriptions & Consumables. This template will allow you to make money from your Alexa Skills.
To date, Dabble Lab has created over 50 templates, has provided hundreds of tutorials on its YouTube channel, and has grown a community of contributors who create and share their own tutorials. Tingiris continues to dabble with Alexa skills and is currently working on a skill called Improv Partner, which can be used to practice improv comedy with Alexa. “Alexa evolves, with new features and things that you can do as a developer,” says Tingiris. “As a result, people’s interest is growing.”
Dabble Lab has started to create more Alexa skills for commercial and government clients, who are beginning to see the value of offering voice experiences alongside more traditional engagement channels. For example, the company recently worked with a city government in California to create a skill that residents can use to get answers to common questions such as “When does the street sweeper come?”
Tingiris is excited about the future of voice assistants and believes that devices such as Alexa will continue to evolve and make lives easier—for example, by performing product research on behalf of users and assessing which options offer the best value. By encouraging more individuals and businesses to imagine new use cases for Alexa skills and start building them, Dabble Lab is helping to advance voice technology in everyday life. “I am looking forward to future versions of voice assistants that will be able to do anything and everything for us, acting more and more like human assistants,” says Tingiris.