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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 21, 2016

Noelle LaCharite

Today's guest post comes from John Wheeler, the creator of Flask-Ask. John has been programming for two decades and has written for O'Reilly and IBM developerWorks.

This post introduces Flask-Ask, a new Python micro-framework that significantly lowers the bar for developing Alexa skills. Flask-Ask is a Flask extension that makes building voice user interfaces with the Alexa Skills Kit easy and fun. We'll learn it by building a simple game that asks you to repeat three numbers backwards. Knowing Python and Flask are not required, but some experience programming will help.

If you prefer the video walkthrough of this post, check it out here.

Create the Skill

To start, you'll need Python installed. If you're on a recent version of OS X or Linux, Python comes preinstalled. On Mac, you can find installation instructions here. You may also need to install pip, which can be found here. On Windows, follow these installation instructions. Once Python and pip are installed, open a terminal, and type the below command to install Flask-Ask. Note: You might need to precede it with sudo on Unix if you get permission errors. 

[Read More]

June 17, 2016

Amit Jotwani

When Sébastien de la Bastie, Managing Director at Invoxia, walked the exposition floor at CES 2015, he knew his company had a hit on its hands. That’s when the French technology start-up previewed Triby—a new smart speaker for the kitchen.

Triby is a portable yet connected device for your smart home. Triby’s integration of AVS gives it voice control over a growing world of digital devices and services. It’s an incredible wireless music system for Spotify, FM and internet radio, and Bluetooth streaming. And it’s also a family’s home communications hub. Triby provides a connected message board, free internet calls and conference-quality, hands-free mobile calls. It also has an e-paper screen to display digital sticky notes and other information.

Paul Bernard, Director, Corporate Development and Head of the Alexa Fund, also saw the CES demo and was impressed with Invoxia’s vision for reinventing home communications with the Triby. He saw the device  as an ideal candidate for Alexa Voice Service (AVS) integration. Soon afterward, Amazon approached de la Bastie about adding new capabilities to his device.

With AVS, Triby would have access to the world of voice-enabled services offered by Amazon. “Amazon had the idea of making Alexa available on non-Amazon devices,” said de la Bastie. They spotted us because we had developed innovative technology for far-field voice capture. That’s important for any device sending acoustic data to Alexa.”

In late 2015, Amazon’s Alexa Fund made Invoxia its first AVS-related investment, showing its support for the company’s vision of bringing voice to Triby. Thus began a strong, collaborative partnership to create the first non-Amazon, Alexa-enabled device. The new Triby debuted in April 2016.

de la Bastie says he recalls the project involved three distinct phases.

[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 16, 2016

Glenn Cameron

We launched the Alexa Skills Contest on Hackster.io in April. Two months later and we’ve reached the successful close of this developer contest. With 760 contestants and 100 published Alexa skill projects, innovative developers showed us how to use voice to remotely turn on a car, track the International Space Station, and more.

The best part is that each project’s instructions and source code are available on Hackster.io. Check out all the project submissions and see how contest participants used the Alexa Skills Kit to enable voice experiences in everyday connected lives.

Winning Hackster.io Projects

First, thanks to all the participants in this contest. The high quality of submissions made selecting winners a difficult decision. Contest submissions were scored on a variety of variables, including creativity, documentation, media quality, skill publication in the Alexa app, and more. Here are the top three winners and some honorable mentions.

First Place:

Morse Coder
An Alexa skill that helps you become an expert at Morse code. Encode any name and learn from among more than 2500 codes.

Second Place:

Tickle Monster
An entertaining, easy-to-understand game that uses voice interactions to reach beyond the Echo. Bringing families and friends together for a good laugh. 

Sub War
Dodge torpedoes as you hunt submarines in this multi-player interactive game for Alexa.

Who Represents me?
Find out who represents you in Congress and Senate by searching by your zip code.

Third Place:

The Pianist
The Pianist is your personal music assistant. Use it to help tune your instrument and warm up your vocals.

Daily Cutiemals
Who doesn’t like pictures of cute animals? Daily Cutiemals will send cute animal pictures straight to your email.

Tracker for ISS
Where is ISS right now? The ISS Tracker Alexa skill will calculate its status as it orbits around the Earth at faster-than-a-bullet speed.

Costa Rica News
Costa Rica news will get you the latest news from Costa Rica, all the information comes from local trusted sources like newspapers.

Opening Bell
An Alexa skill that retrieves the current performance of publicly traded stocks using company names.

Alexa Hurricane Center
Get the the latest data on tropical storms or learn more about storms from prior years.

Don’t forget to check out all the great Alexa projects on Hackster.io. It’s a great way to learn how to build your own Alexa skills and get inspired.

Ready to build your own Alexa skill? Build an Alexa skill with Node.js.

June 16, 2016 Update: After we posted the initial list of winners yesterday, it was brought to our attention that the contest rules allowed for additional winners. This blog post has been updated to reflect the additional winners.

June 16, 2016

Emily Roberts

Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology. The Alexa Fund—named for the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo—provides up to $100 million in investments to fuel voice technology innovation from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes.

Today, Alexa Fund recipient Luma Inc. announced that its home WiFi system is available for purchase and will begin shipping to preorder customers. Luma’s routers create a mesh network that surround the home with fast and secure internet to eliminate dead zones and buffering and to safeguard connected devices. You can pre-order your Luma device today on Amazon.com for $149. Luma also plans to create fun and unique Alexa skills for Luma customers. The skill will be released in the coming weeks and will initially allow Luma customers to pause and unpause their home internet.

“It’s exciting to see Luma’s vision to bring better and faster WiFi to customers come to life with the availability of its first home system,” said Steve Rabuchin, Vice President, Amazon Alexa. “We saw great promise in Luma to push forward IOT and voice technologies when we invested in the company through the Alexa Fund. The addition of an Alexa skill will bring increased functionality and make it seamless for customers to better control their home internet through their voice.”    

Alexa Fund Companies

Luma joins 16 companies—Sutro, Invoxia, Petnet, Musaic, Rachio, Scout Alarm, Garageio, Toymail, Dragon Innovation, MARA, Mojio, TrackR, OrangeChef, Kitt.ai, and Ring—that have already received investments from the Alexa Fund. And, recipients MARA, Rachio, Mojio, Garageio, and Scout Alarm have already launched new skills for Alexa. Most recently, MARA Running Assistant released their skill for Alexa that makes it easy to interact with MARA Running Assistant, a hands-free voice-controlled assistant that will support and coach you while you exercise. Customers can ask the skill questions like “Alexa, ask MARA how many miles have I run so far this week?”

[Read More]

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 10, 2016

Amit Jotwani

Last week Pebble announced that they are integrating Alexa Voice Services (AVS) to Pebble Core, a new category of 3G-capable ultra-wearable device that lets you take music, weather, and more on your run. Unlike other Pebble devices, the Pebble Core is not a smartwatch. Instead, it’s a tiny standalone wearable device that’s designed to allow people to listen to music (via Spotify), runners to track runs, and more – all without a smartphone. With over 1,000+ Alexa skills built by developers using the Alexa Skills Kit, Pebble Core can tap into any number of capabilities. Watch the video to see it in action.

Since the Pebble Core has its own 3G connectivity, connecting to Alexa does not require a smartphone and interacting with Alexa is simple. Just use a pair of wired or Bluetooth headphones with a built-in mic and say something like, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar today?” Whether you want to get your news briefing while you’re running on the treadmill, or check the weather before going out for a run, the AVS integration with Pebble Core makes it easy to just ask.

[Read More]

June 10, 2016

Zoey Collier

Experienced Alexa developer Eric Olson (Galactoise in the Amazon developer forums) had a mission to determine whether or not you could really create a custom skill from scratch within 24 hours. Eric did it in less than 12—and did it well—on a weighted, random-number-generator skill called DiceBot that he developed using Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) and a Lambda proxy.

By day Eric is an engineer for Disney, but he and his friends at DERP Group also build things on their own for fun and profit. The dice-rolling DiceBot is their third Alexa skill, and Eric shares his experience about the process in this informative blog post. His vision was:

  • DiceBot would skew fairly evenly, instead of clustering on specific numbers.
  • The randomness would be based on subtle differences in speech patterns, so that players could roll the dice loaded or roll them fair without anyone being the wiser.

In DiceBot, you can invoke a different intent by changing the invocation phrase. For example, by prepending the word “me” to your dice-set description, you can tip DiceBot off to weight things a bit differently:

  • Fair: “Alexa, ask DiceBot to roll a 20-sided die.”
  • Weighted: “Alexa, ask DiceBot to roll me a 20-sided die.”

You can also append “for me” to the end of the dice set description to weight the rolls downward:

  • Fair: “Alexa, ask DiceBot to roll a 20-sided die.”
  • Weighted: “Alexa, ask DiceBot to roll a 20-sided die for me.”

Read more about Eric's experience building DiceBot and give it a try yourself. Simply enable the Dicebot skill in the Alexa app and say one of these:

  • “Alexa, launch DiceBot.”
  • “Alexa, tell DiceBot to roll me five dice.”
  • “Alexa, ask DiceBot to roll 3 d 20 for me.”

Share other innovative ways you’re using Alexa in your life. Tweet us @alexadevs with hashtag #AlexaDevStory.

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.

June 09, 2016

Zoey Collier

On April 5, 2016, Amazon announced the Smart Home Skill API, the public, self-service version of the Alexa Lighting API, which was introduced as a beta in August 2015. As part of the beta program, we worked with a number of companies to gather developer feedback, while extending the Alexa smart home capabilities to work with their devices.

In 2015, the Alexa team wanted to make it fast and easy for developers to create skills that connect devices directly to our lighting and thermostat capabilities so that customers can control their lights, switches, smart plugs or thermostats—without lifting a finger. So they created a beta program to work with experts in thermostats and home comfort to gather developer feedback, while extending the Alexa smart home capabilities to work with their devices. That naturally led them to ecobee, creator of a smart thermostat that uses remote sensors to optimize the temperature in specific rooms. The engineers at ecobee jumped at the chance to help Amazon define the integration and product requirements for the new feature.

Why? First, ecobee was the first to allow iOS users to control their thermostats with the Siri voice interface when they integrated Apple’s HomeKit API into their smartphone app. “But Alexa’s way different,” said Hesham Fahmy, Vice President of Technology for ecobee. “One of our biggest product benefits is ‘Comfort where it matters,’ which is especially true with our remote sensor capabilities.” To Fahmy, it made perfect sense to connect your ecobee device to Alexa and say, “Alexa, turn up the temperature” without needing to find your phone.

[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]

June 02, 2016

Noelle LaCharite

We are excited to announce four new Alexa Skills Kit built-in intents that you can leverage immediately in your own Alexa skills.

Think of the intent schema as the blueprint for what your Alexa skill will do. Built-in intents are common actions that you can choose to implement in your custom skill without providing any sample utterances. If you created an Alexa skill in the past, you may have leveraged some of the other built-in intents for your intent schema. With built-in intents, you can build a more robust skill with less sample utterances required in your interaction model. Leveraging these built-in intents is easy and allows more flexibility.

Here are four new built-in intents available now:

Intent

Common Utterances

Purpose

AMAZON.NextIntent

  • next
  • skip
  • skip forward

Let the user navigate to the next item in a list.

AMAZON.PauseIntent

  • pause

 

Let the user pause an action in progress.

AMAZON.PreviousIntent

  • go back
  • skip back
  • back up

Let the user go back to a previous item in a list.

AMAZON.ResumeIntent

  • resume
  • continue
  • keep going

Let the user resume or continue an action.

With these additional built-in intents, you can help users easily and naturally navigate your skills, from being able to pause an intent or request in progress, go back to a previously called intent or resume an existing one. Users can use natural language and phrasing to support these common interactions, allowing you to leverage the built-in intents rather than having to handle these types of requests programmatically.

Already have a skill? This may be a good time to update it with these new intents. Check out the Implementing Built-in Intents page for more information.

For a complete list of built-in intents, see Available Built-in Intents.

Code Happy,

-Noelle (@NoelleLaCharite)

 

May 27, 2016

Glenn Cameron

It started with Sam Machin’s brainchild, Alexa in the Browser. Born late last year at a hackathon, the project served as an inspiration for Echosim.io – a new online community tool for developers that simulates the look and feel of an Amazon Echo. With 3D JavaScript animations and Alexa Voice Service (AVS) integration, Echosim.io gives users the ability to experience a realistic interaction with Alexa capabilities and skills.

Echosim.io lives in your browser, so anyone, anywhere can access it and test their Alexa skills. You no longer need an Alexa-enabled device to test your skills. Developers worldwide can use Echosim.io to experience Alexa. Its simplicity makes it easy for anyone to understand what an Echo is and what it does without having to explain Alexa’s unique UX.

Try Echosim.io for yourself. Simply visit the website and log in with your Amazon account. If you want to test your Alexa skill, be sure to log in with your developer account. Click and hold the microphone button and speak a command. For example, say “Alexa, what’s the weather today?” When you let go of the button, Echosim.io processes and responds to your voice command – give it a try.

The Alexa Voice Service integration puts the power of Alexa behind the 3D Javascript animations. AVS enables you to integrate Alexa's built-in voice capabilities into your connected products. Carve your own little corner in IoT with a speaker and mic, a microcomputer, and the self-service tools at developer.amazon.com. What would you do with Alexa and a Raspberry Pi?

Haven’t built a skill yet? Get started with our step-by-step tutorials and build your first skill in under an hour.

  • Trivia Skill template - A great place to start for any first time Alexa skills developer. This tutorial steps you through the end-to-end process of building a solid trivia skill and submitting it for certification.
  • Fact Skill template - Another easy tutorial for both developers and non-developers to build an Alexa skill similar to "fact of the day" or "flash cards". 
  • How-to Skill template - This tutorial makes it easy to create a simple, direction-based skill for Alexa.

 

 

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 26, 2016

Zoey Collier

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 universal-analytics with npm, Adrian found the process of implementing Google Analytics to be very easy.

[Read More]

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