Alexa Skills: foundation (part 1)

This is the first blog in this series of blog posts, During the whole series we will learn how to create custom Alexa Skill.

Prerequisites: Basic or no programming experience.

End product / Expected result: We will be able to talk and issue commands to a voice enabled Amazon device which will in turn perform the desired action.

Since we are targeting audience from developers to those who have no programming experience, let’s take a moment to describe Alexa skill and answer few questions that you guys might have before diving deep.

This blog is the basic foundation blog for those who want to know more about Alexa skills and Amazon devices. If you are already familiar with the technology and devices, you can go ahead and skip this.

Without further delays, let’s get started and tackle our very first question.

What is Alexa?

Answer: Alexa is a voice service from the heavyweight brand Amazon which powers devices like the Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap, Amazon EchoDot, Echo spot etc.

You can also find Alexa in Amazon’s Fire TV, Fire Tablets and any other Alexa voice service enabled device.

How to talk to Alexa?

Answer: Use the wake word.

To begin with Alexa is always listening for the wake word i.e. the word which will activate Alexa. The default wake word is “Alexa” but as a user you can customise the wake word and choose from the following list: “Alexa”, “Amazon”, “Echo” or “Computer”.

Once the wake word is spoken, Alexa wakes up 🙂 and starts listening to you.

If you were using an Amazon EchoDot you will notice a blue circular ribbon light up notifying the user that the device is active (as shown in the figure).

You can now start issuing tasks or ask questions from the device (EchoDot in this case)

What is a Skill?

Answer: Inbuilt capabilities that the device(Alexa) has are referred to as Skills or more precisely “Alexa Skills”.

For example, you can ask Alexa to set an alarm for 6:00 am tomorrow by just saying the following:

User: “Alexa”, “set an alarm for 6:30am tomorrow”

and in response, Alexa will respond back as follows:

Alexa: “Alarm set, for 6:30am tomorrow”

Easy, isn’t it!

Different type of Alexa Skills

Alexa Skills can be classified in the following two types:

  1. Built in skills and
  2. Custom skills.

Built in Skills

Because Alexa has many other built in skills, you can ask Alexa to perform multiple other tasks like:

Setting a reminder, checking weather forecast, listening a song etc.

and if Alexa is performing a continuous task like playing a song or music, you can gently tell Alexa to stop by saying the following:

User: Alexa, stop!

and that’s it, you have learned how to operate Amazon’s voice operated devices 🙂

Alexa can also control smart devices like switches and thermostats.

Custom Skills

So far, we discussed about some cool skills that come bundled with Amazon voice service enabled devices (like EchoDot, Tap etc.) but you can really harness the power of these voice enabled devices by building your own custom skills. For example:

you can book a ride with Uber, order groceries from the supermarket or even do your everyday banking using these voice activated devices.

To watch a quick introductory video of Amazon Alexa moments to experience the WOW factor, check out the link below:

Some of amazing Amazon voice service enabled Devices:

Echo Show: Watch video flash briefings, Amazon Video content, see music lyrics, security cameras, photos, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, browse and listen to Audible audiobooks, and more. All hands-free—just ask.
Echo Spot: 2nd generation far-field voice recognition to watch video flash briefings, see weather forecasts, make to-do and shopping lists, listen to Kindle e-books and more. All hands-free—just ask.

Stay Tuned!

In the upcoming posts I will cover more advanced concepts like Alexa Skills Kit, Components of Custom Skill, planning and creating Alexa Skill before finally testing what we have built and preparing it for submission.

For other updates you can follow me on Twitter on my twitter handle @NavRudraSambyal

Thanks for reading, please share it if you found it useful 🙂

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