Over the past few weeks I have been introducing myself to the world of Amazon Alexa development using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) as part of Bloc’s Software Engineering program I am currently enrolled in.
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. Examples of skills include the ability to play music, answer general questions, set an alarm or timer, and more.
Alexa is the voice, and more importantly the brain behind Amazon’s extremely popular Echo, Dot, and Tap voice-controlled devices that are finding their way into our homes at a rate faster than Amazon can produce them. At the time of this post I do not own any of these devices, but that didn’t affect the excitement I’ve felt while developing my first two skills which I’ll talk about shortly.
Getting started with Alexa development was quick and easy thanks to all of the amazing resources Amazon and other developers have made available to those interested in contributing to and being part of this young, fast-growing ecosystem. Here are a few of those resources:
- Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) - this is Amazon’s official website for Alexa development
- Introduction to Voice Design with Amazon’s Alexa - a free Udemy.com course created by Amazon
- ASK Developer Weekly - a free, weekly email newsletter covering everything Alexa that is curated by Mark Carpenter, my mentor at Bloc.
Think you have to be an experienced developer to take on something like this? Think again! I started my Alexa project only 8-weeks into my 48-week Software Engineering program and utilizing Amazon’s great resources had my first two skills submitted for certification in just a few hours each. During the skill development process I was introduced to both the Amazon Developer and Amazon Web Services (AWS) platforms and so far everything I have needed to develop skills has kept me within the free tier of both services. My skills are being written in Node.js and utilize AWS Lambda.
My Trivia Skill - State Trees Quiz
State Trees Quiz is a trivia skill game consisting of 5 rounds where Alexa will ask the player to choose the correct state tree from multiple choices for a randomly selected state and keep the players score.
My Fact Skill - US Park Facts
US Park Facts is a fact skill where a user can say “Alexa, tell me a US Park fact” and Alexa will read back a fact or stat about the National Park Service (NPS). Facts are randomly selected from a defined list that initially has 40 facts, but I plan to add more facts every few weeks to encourage continued usage.
Both of these skills have been certified by Amazon and can be enabled on your Alexa device using either the Alexa companion app (iOS / Android) or from the Alexa website when on your computer and searching for State Trees Quiz or US Park Facts. I’ve also included links to GitHub repositories in case you want to take a look behind the scenes…
|:)||State Trees Quiz||US Park Facts|
I’ve barely tapped into the true power of Alexa and am currently working on my third skill which I’ll be blogging about soon!