Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice. Recently, Amazon announced the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. With a few lines of code, developers can easily integrate existing web services with Alexa or, in just a few hours, they can build entirely new experiences designed around voice. No experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required – Amazon does all the work to hear, understand, and process the customer’s spoken request so a developer doesn’t have to. The Alexa Skills Kit is free – learn more and get started with the preview at https://developer.amazon.com/ASK.
Examples of skills developers can create with the Alexa Skills Kit include:
- A hobbyist developer can enable Alexa to access his or her child’s school lunch menu—then, each morning simply ask, “Alexa, ask Ballard Elementary School what’s for lunch today” and decide whether to pack a lunch for the child.
- A device maker with an Internet-connected sprinkler system can integrate its sprinklers with Alexa, so a customer can say, “Alexa, ask my sprinkler to water my lawn for 15 minutes.”
- A surf report provider can create a new skill for Alexa that lets customers ask for the latest conditions at their favorite break by saying “Alexa, ask Surf Status for my local forecast.”
- The maker of a smart vacuum cleaner can create a skill for Alexa that lets customers control their vacuum by saying “Alexa, tell the vacuum to start cleaning the living room.”
- A fitness service can enable Alexa to access a user’s workout history, so a customer can say “Alexa, ask My Fitness how many miles I have run this week.”
- A baseball fantasy league can make a new skill for Alexa, so managers can simply say, “Alexa, ask Fantasy Baseball to change my lineup and start Felix Hernandez today.”
“When we launched Amazon Echo we immediately heard from developers about the innovative voice experiences they would create if they had access to an SDK,” said Greg Hart, Vice President, Amazon Echo and Alexa Voice Services. “Today, we’re making the Alexa Skills Kit available to any developer, maker, or general hobbyist that wants to invent on behalf of customers, creating new skills and capabilities. We can’t wait to see what developers are going to invent with this technology.”
Creating an Alexa skill is easy and fast. Developers simply write cloud-hosted code that interacts with Alexa’s cloud-based APIs to process customer requests. Alexa does the work to hear, understand, and resolve the customer’s spoken request, and then maps the service call to the developer’s endpoint.
The easiest way to build a skill for Alexa is to use AWS Lambda, an innovative compute service that runs a developer’s code in response to triggers and automatically manages the compute resources in the AWS Cloud, so there is no need for a developer to provision or continuously run servers. Developers simply upload the code for the new Alexa skill they are creating, and AWS Lambda does the rest, executing the code in response to Alexa voice interactions and automatically managing the compute resources on the developer’s behalf.
Here are a few of the developers who are using the ASK to create new skills for Alexa:
Pebblebee, a hardware company making customized Bluetooth trackers and sensors, is using ASK to enable customers to track items and check sensors using voice. “We’ve learned over the past few years that it’s not always intuitive to use a visual app with so many features. Using voice commands simplifies the complexity for customers,” said Daniel Daoura, Co-Founder and CEO of Pebblebee. “We’re thrilled to use the Alexa Skills Kit to integrate Alexa with Pebblebee’s sensor information, so a customer can simply ask, ‘Alexa, find my keys,’ or ‘Alexa, how warm is the baby’s room?’ or ‘Alexa, is my dog nearby?’”
Intuit, maker of financial software, is planning a reference implementation using Alexa to access Mint.com, the free web-based personal financial management service. “The Alexa Skills Kit allows us to begin experimenting on our vision for voice user interfaces,” said Wolf Paulus, Staff Software Engineer at Intuit. “Since Alexa is cloud-based, as soon as a prompt is spoken, the service could respond with the most up-to-date information, allowing us to quickly provide our customers with updates that are useful to them, like ‘what is my account balance’ or ‘how long until I reach my savings goal?’. We look forward to experimenting with new ways for our customers to access their data.”
StubHub, an online marketplace for sports, concert, theater, and other live entertainment event tickets is using Alexa to enable customers to purchase tickets and more using voice. “At StubHub, we are constantly thinking of ways to make the live event experience easier and more fun,” said Parag Vaish, Head of Mobile at StubHub. “By bringing StubHub’s great experience to Alexa, we’re able to reach more fans by allowing our customers to use their voice to engage with our content to do things like ask, ‘Alexa, ask StubHub what events are happening this weekend near me?’ or ‘Alexa, ask StubHub to send event suggestions to me for tomorrow.’”
Octoblu, Citrix’s enterprise Internet of Things platform, is using ASK for voice-activated automation of business tasks, like setting up meetings on Citrix GoToMeeting. “The Alexa Skills Kit provides an ideal solution for our enterprise automation solution, Octoblu,” said Chris Matthieu, Director, IOT Engineering at Citrix. “By integrating Alexa’s robust APIs, Octoblu can now facilitate a wide variety of voice-activated automations, and the advanced, reliable voice technology makes us confident end users will have a great experience. Using Alexa with Octoblu, a customer can set up a GoToMeeting, without having to stop what they’re doing—they can just tell their Echo to schedule it and keep going.”
AOL, a global media technology company that curates content from brands and web sites, is using ASK to enable customers to listen to AOL daily headlines and articles. “Alexa enables readers to access content from across our brands by simply using their voice,” said Drew Lesicko, Head of Mobile Product at AOL. “Using Alexa, an avid reader could have Echo read them their favorite headlines or articles from TechCrunch or news of the day from any of our other AOL properties. This allows us to continue to reach our audience, even if they are not in front of a tablet or computer—an exciting prospect for AOL, and a great use case for our customers.”
Glympse, a mobile service that provides a fast, free, and simple way to share your location in real time with the people you trust from a GPS-enabled mobile phone, is using ASK to enable customers to request location details via voice. “We are always looking for innovative solutions to expand our ecosystem, and Alexa’s cutting edge voice technology was a natural fit,” said Steve Miller, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Glympse. “Location information—the question of ‘where are you?’ or ‘when will you arrive?’—is pervasive in daily life. We are excited to use the Alexa Skills Kit to make it even easier for people to request location details by saying ‘where is Bob?’ or ‘when will Jack get here?”
The first new capabilities built by developers using the ASK will launch later this year. The free Alexa Skills Kit developer preview is already available.
In addition, Amazon today announced that the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), the same service that powers Amazon Echo, is now available to third party hardware makers who want to integrate Alexa into their devices—for free. For example, a Wi-Fi alarm clock maker can create an Alexa-enabled clock radio, so a customer can talk to Alexa as they wake up, asking “what’s the weather today?” or “what time is my first meeting?”
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