Thursday, 4 August 2016

Alexa, explain me how Skill works

(Continue from the 1st Post)
Amazon's voice assistant is called Alexa and it can run on Amazon Echo, Tap, Dot, FireTV and Fire Stick.
Amazon allows users to improve Alexa capabilities with the installation of 3rd party "Skills".
Some Skills are simple enough to be developed, even with very basic programming background.

Amazon is doing a very good job to teach developers how to build skills: code on github, webinar, tutorial, podcast, documentation and swaaaag!

Thinking about what people can ask

The developer of a Skill need to:
- write a list of possible questions a user can ask to Alexa for the skill
- develop a list of operations that answers for each possible questions to Alexa

Each operation can be connected to multiple questions, instead, for each question there is only one operation that can answer.

The operations are called Intents, meanwhile the questions are  called utterances.

Amazon take care of all the rest: recognize questions and parameters in user's questions and connect it to the right operation. The operation is executed and the response is sent back to the user.

Responses can be:
- voice responses
- voice and text/image: the contents is available on a mobile app for android / ios

The role of the mobile app is to give the user a way to install,delete and search for skills, give some informations on how to use a specific skill.
The way Alexa works, sometimes remeber the assistant of the movie "Her".

The mobile app helps the user to find the correct questions for the skill, but a very well done skill is the one in which for a specific intent the developer generated a very exhaustive list of possible questions.

Code on Amazon Lambda

Even if you can create and host your skill somewhere on internet with specific constraints and guide lines in any language you want, the easy way to code a skill, it is to use Amazon Lambda.

Most of the code example on github released by amazon are lambda-ready and built with javascript/nodejs, so with very few changes your new skill/bot is online.
If you are new with bots, I highly encourage to start with lambda so you can put all your efforts on the voice experience.

In the next post I will talk about testing and deployment of the EuroCup skill.
The code is available on my github here.