The Sound of Alexa

A fortnight ago I was lucky enough to attend the amazing HackSheffield and I can honestly say it was fantastic! Everyone had brilliant ideas and watching the presentations at the end was great fun, so much creativity! Some of the apps that were developed made use of Alexa and the Echo which Amazon brought for everyone to try. Watching the participant’s creations in action really inspired me to take a look and have a play!

If you’ve not heard of the Echo or Alexa, here’s the Amazon Introduction video.

Looks good doesn’t it? You can shout out a command and Alexa kindly maps it to an app and shouts back a response. If you want to order a taxi, you can just ask Alexa. Need to know the weather? Ask Alexa. Want to start playing your favorite playlist, etc. It’s an interesting idea but not really a new one and while the hardware, with it’s 7 microphones to always discern when it’s being spoken to, is impressive,  would a voice driven interface really work? After some discussion the conclusion we reached was that it would all depend on the app being used, realistically for the Echo to succeed it really needs that killer app. Thankfully Amazon have realized this too and provided fantastic support to help everyone get started very quickly.

When creating custom “skills”, as the apps are referred to, you will most likely need to create an AWS Lambda and as luck would have it, this was something I had recently been looking at anyway.With the help of the great tutorial here, I created the appropriate mappings between key phrases and functions, referred to as “intents” and then connected them to my modified Lambda. The Lambda itself was only a simple one but I was able to have Alexa call it and tell me the response. The tools even let you hear what Alexa would say aloud! It’s a long way from being a finished product but it was nice to be able to make such quick progress!

Normally at this point I would share the steps to repeat what I had created, but in all honesty everything needed was in the tutorial, although if you would like to look at AWS Lambda a bit further I think I gave a reasonable introduction in my previous post.

Take a look at Alexa, and definitely take a look at the tutorial, with a bit of luck you might think of that killer skill as you go!


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