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April 13, 2016

Paul Cutsinger

Hackster is a developer community dedicated to learning hardware and they’ve shared some pretty amazing projects using Alexa. Now, Hackster announced the Alexa Skill Contest to give developers like you a chance to connect your favorite hardware, IoT platform, and everyday life using Alexa.

Natural user interfaces, such as those based on speech, represent the next major disruption in computing. Alexa provides you with an opportunity to take advantage of the new form of interaction. Alexa, the voice service that powers Amazon Echo, provides capabilities, or skills, that enable customers to interact with devices in a more intuitive way using voice. You can build skills using the Alexa Skills Kit

We’re excited to see what you create with the Alexa Skills Kit. Submit your great skill ideas for our Alexa Skill Contest – extra points when your skill is published by May 30, 2016.

To get started, check out the details of the contest. Here are a few other resources to help you get started quickly:

I’m curious to see what you’ll build. Keep in touch, @PaulCutsinger.

April 11, 2016

David Isbitski

The Smart Home Skill API is a new addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, which enables developers to add capabilities, called skills, to Alexa. With this new API you can teach Alexa how to control your own cloud-controlled lighting and thermostat devices. For example, customers can simply say, “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights” or “Alexa, turn up the heat downstairs” and Alexa will communicate directly with your Smart Home device. Smart home skills are created in the same developer portal as existing custom skills and follow a similar process.

Creating a Smart Home Skill

To create your smart home skill, you’ll first configure your skill using a new Smart Home Skill API flow in the developer portal. Ensure you have selected the Smart Home Skill API skill type, enter a Name for your skill and then simply click Next.

Unlike custom skills, smart home skills already have an existing interaction model for you. This means you won’t have to define the intent schema and sample utterances like you would in a custom skill. Click Next to move to the Configuration tab.

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April 06, 2016

Kevin Utter

Editor’s note: This tutorial was updated with the new skill submission flow in April 2016.

Programming for the Alexa platform is a new paradigm for everyone. Creating a solid Voice User Interface (VUI), understanding the Alexa platform, how to interact with it and certifying your skill all need to be mastered in addition to actually programing your skill in Node.js, Python, Java or whatever your favorite language may be.

This post attempts to walk the first time Alexa skills developer through the steps involved in creating a solid skill that can actually be submitted for certification. Understanding the scope of what is involved while using a cut/paste approach to the programing required should enable you to grasp the parts involved and how they all fit together. Nothing is better for learning a thing than actually doing a thing – let’s get started!

We are going to take a reference skill called ‘Reindeer Games’, a trivia game popular on the Alexa platform, and  adapt it by creating a trivia game of your own to submit for certification.  The framework has all of the business logic, use-cases, error handling and help functions already implemented – you just need to plug in your own question/answers and edit a couple lines of script.

Important: Follow the instructions below which step you through setting up the Framework Trivia Game, ‘Reindeer Games’ – be sure you have this working before you move on to adapting it to your set of questions.

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April 06, 2016

Robert McCauley

We’ve been talking about how to get started with Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit page, and sample skills, such as the Color Expert, using AWS Lambda functions. This article will show you how to setup a deploy script, so that you can manage your code and modules locally, and be able to easily publish changes into AWS Lambda via the command line interface (CLI).

The AWS Lambda console provides a set of management screens for developers to create and configure custom functions, including functions that implement Alexa skills features.  Short, simple functions that require only a single block of code can be opened for editing within the Lambda console.  However, this online code editor is disabled if you have uploaded a multi-file project.  In this case you need to organize source files and any required modules in a folder on your laptop, and then zip these into a package and manually upload them to the Lambda console.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll use the AWS CLI (Command Line Interface) to help us implement DevOps style automation to avoid manually performing the steps repeatedly during an iterative development process.

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April 05, 2016

David Isbitski

Today we are introducing the Smart Home Skill API, a new addition to the Alexa Skills Kit, which enables developers to add capabilities, called skills, to Alexa. Developers can now teach Alexa how to control their cloud-controlled lighting and thermostat devices so customers can simply say, “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights” or “Alexa, turn up the heat.” You no longer need to build a voice interaction model to handle customer requests. This work is now done for you when you use the Smart Home Skill API. You create skills that connect your devices directly to our lighting and thermostat capabilities so that customers can control their lights, switches, smart plugs or thermostats—without lifting a finger.

We first introduced the Smart Home Skill API as a beta called the Alexa Lighting API in August 2015. As part of the beta program, we worked with companies including Nest, Ecobee, Sensi, Samsung SmartThings, and Wink in order to gather developer feedback, while extending Alexa’s smart home capabilities to work with their devices.

It’s easy and free for developers to use the Smart Home Skill API to connect Alexa to hubs and devices for both public and personal use. Get Started Now >

Creating Your Skill with the Smart Home Skill API

When you create a custom skill, you build the voice interaction model. When using the Smart Home Skill API, you tap into Amazon’s standardized language model so you skip the step of creating an interaction model. Alexa understands the user’s speech, converts it to a device directive and sends that directive to that skill adapter that you build in AWS Lambda.

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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. 

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April 01, 2016

David Isbitski

By Josh Skeen, software developer at Big Nerd Ranch

This is part three of the Big Nerd Ranch series. Click here for part one and part two

Now that we have tested the model for our Airport Info Alexa Skill and verified that the skill service behaves as expected, it's time to move from the local development environment to staging, where we’ll be able to test the skill in the simulator and on an Alexa-enabled device.

What's Next to Deploy an Alexa Skill

To deploy our Alexa skill to the staging environment, we first need to register the skill with the skill interface, then configure the skill interface's interaction model. We'll also need to configure an AWS Lambda instance that will run the skill service we developed locally.

The Alexa skill interface is what’s responsible for resolving utterances (words a user spoke) to intents (events our skill service receives) so that Alexa can correctly respond to what a user has asked. For example, when we ask our Airport Info skill to give status information for the airport code of Atlanta, Georgia (ATL), the skill interface determines that the AirportInfo intent matches the words that were spoken aloud, and that ATL is the airport code a user would like information about.

Here's what the journey from a user's spoken words to Alexa's response looks like:

 

In our post on implementing Alexa intents, we simulated the skill interface with alexa-app-server so that we could test our skill locally. We sent a mock event to the skill service from alexa-app-server by selecting IntentRequest with an intent value of airportInfo and an AIRPORTCODE of ATL in the Alexa Tester interface.

By comparison, in a deployed skill, the skill interface lives on Amazon's servers and works with users’ utterances that are sent from Alexa to the skill service.

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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.”

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March 31, 2016

David Isbitski

Since launch, the Alexa Skills Kit has offered you the ability to display text-based information through a Home Card in the Amazon Alexa companion app available for Fire OS, Android, iOS, and desktop web browsers. These cards are a useful way to provide users with additional information from your Alexa skill that is too verbose or too difficult to include in the voice user interface.

Now you can embed images inside of Home Cards to make your cards more engaging. You’ll add images in a new type of Home Card that we are calling Standard. You simply provide the URLs to your images in addition to the title and text you provide for Simple and LinkAccount home cards.

Creating a Standard Home Card

When you create a Home Card, you will provide textual information (in both PlainText and SSML) along with an image. Here is an example of a card that I have added to my own skill hosting in AWS Lambda using the well-known alexa-skills-kit-color-expert blueprint.

When my skill’s LaunchRequest returns it’s JSON response you can see both the SSML as well as a new image inside of the Alexa App, in this case running on my iPhone.


 

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March 29, 2016

Noelle LaCharite

Editor’s note: This tutorial was updated with the new Node.js SDK in August 2016.

This tutorial has been updated to reflect the Alexa SDK for Node.js as well as some updates to AWS Lambda and our GitHub repositories.

This fact skill template that makes it easy for developers or non-developers to create a skill similar to “Fact of the Day”, “Joke of the Day”, “Daily Reading” etc. The template leverages AWS Lambda, the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), and the ASK SDK, while providing the business logic, use cases, error handling and help functions for your skill. You just need to come up with a fact idea (like “Food Facts”), plug in your fact list and edit the sample provided (we walk you through how it’s done). It's a valuable way to quickly learn the end-to-end process for building and publishing an Alexa skill.

This tutorial will walk first-time Alexa skills developers through all the required steps involved in creating a skill using this fact skill template, called ‘SpaceGeek’. This post assumes you have some familiarity with JavaScript/Node.js (or a similar programming language) and the Alexa Skills Kit.

Using the Alexa Skills Kit, you can build an application that can receive and respond to voice requests made on the Alexa platform. In this tutorial, you’ll build a web service to handle notifications from Alexa and map this service to a Skill in the Amazon Developer Portal, making it available on your device and to all Alexa users after certification.

After completing this tutorial, you'll know how to do the following:

  • Create a fact-based skill - This tutorial will walk first-time Alexa skills developers through all the required steps involved in creating a fact based skill using a template called ‘SpaceGeek’.
  • Understand the basics of VUI design - Creating this skill will help you understand the basics of creating a working Voice User Interface (VUI) while using a cut/paste approach to development. You will learn by doing, and end up with a published Alexa skill. This tutorial includes instructions on how to customize the skill and submit for certification. For guidance on designing a voice experience with Alexa you can also watch this video.
  • Use JavaScript/Node.js and the Alexa Skills Kit to create a skill - You will use the template as a guide but the customization is up to you. For more background information on using the Alexa Skills Kit please watch this video.
  • Get your skill published - Once you have completed your skill, this tutorial will guide you through testing your skill and sending your skill through the certification process for making it available to be enabled by any Alexa user.
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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 23, 2016

David Isbitski

By Josh Skeen, software developer at Big Nerd Ranch

This is part two of the Big Nerd Ranch series. Click here for part one.

In our last post on building Alexa skills, we implemented a model that knows how to talk to the FAA. Now we’ll see how to hook it up to a new Alexa skill. We’ll be using alexa-app as a framework to build our skill, and alexa-app-server will allow us to test interacting with the skill locally.

We will be using these libraries because they grant a path to supporting a local development and testing workflow with an Alexa skill, which allows us to rapidly test and develop. (H/T matt-kruse!).

Setting up Alexa-app-server

The source code for this project is available on GitHub. To begin, pull down the alexa-app-server GitHub repo with the following command:

	git clone https://github.com/matt-kruse/alexa-app-server.git

Once you have cloned the repository, install any required dependencies by running:

	npm install

Move the `faa-info` folder you created in the previous post (or via Github here) into the alexa-app-server repository’s `./examples/apps` directory and create a new `index.js file` in the `faa-info` directory. This is where we’ll implement our skill using the alexa-app Node module we installed just above.

Within the repository, change to the examples directory and run:

	node server

You should see:

	Loading apps from: apps

	Listening on HTTP port 8080

You should now have a running local “skill server,” which gives us a way to test interaction with our skill locally as we build it.

Now we can begin building out our skill.

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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.

 

March 03, 2016

David Isbitski

Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, powers voice experiences on millions of devices, including Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. Today, Amazon brings Alexa to more devices with its two newest additions: Echo Dot and Amazon Tap. Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that enables you to add Alexa to any room. Amazon Tap is an Alexa-enabled portable speaker.

Amazon Echo Dot: Add Alexa to Any Room

Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses the same far-field voice recognition as Amazon Echo. Dot has a built-in speaker and also connects over Bluetooth or with the included audio cable to your own speaker. Echo Dot ($89.99) is available exclusively for Prime Members through Alexa Voice Shopping. To order your Echo Dot, use your Echo or Fire TV and just ask: “Alexa, order Echo Dot.”

 

Dot

Alexa—the brain behind Echo Dot—is built in the cloud, so it is always getting smarter. The more you use Dot, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences. And because Echo Dot is always connected, updates are delivered automatically. Third-party skills from developers add even more capabilities like ordering a pizza from Domino's, requesting a ride from Uber, opening your garage with Garageio, and more. Enabling skills lets your Echo Dot do even more—simply discover and enable the skills you want to use in the Alexa App.

 

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