Ready Freddy

Kendall Lake
Apr 27, 2018 · 6 min read

The Summary

Mornings are hard, but mornings with kids are harder. Parents have enough to deal with on their own when they start the day, but with a little help from Ready Freddy, they will have time to address their own needs (like sleep) and be able to teach their kids independence. Ready Freddy is an Amazon Alexa skill created to make mornings less hectic.

Ready Freddy feels like a game to kids and an extra set of hands to parents. When launched, Ready Freddy guides children through morning tasks like brushing their teeth and getting dressed. Designed for kids in kindergarten to third grade, the skill is easy to start and exciting to use. Kids will love their new morning sidekick, and parents will love having time to swallow their coffee.

Ready Freddy helps parents take the mornings back and gets kids out the door faster than ever before.


The Problem, Solution, and Impact

Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, everyone can agree that a stressful morning is a bad way to start the day — especially for parents trying to get their kids ready for the day. Making breakfast, packing lunches, and preparing for work all while having to constantly tell a seven-year-old which task to complete can turn mornings into a battle that’s no fun for anyone.

Ready Freddy takes the hassle out of the morning by providing kids with a cheerful lion friend to walk them through their routine. The witty rhymes and happy music help keep the morning fun while things get done.

Parents can choose to work through the routine with their children, or let them establish a sense of accountability while they guide themselves. Going through a morning routine with Freddy can help kids feel more independent and in control of their daily tasks. Now that parents don’t have to nag, Freddy helps strengthen relationships by keeping mornings light and fun. The impact is small and personal but powerful.


The Features

Choose Your Routine: Ready Freddy allows you to choose from a variety of routines to find one that fits your life and your morning. When you launch the app, Freddy will ask which routine you would like to load and allows you to look through a list of routines to choose your favorite.

Personalize Your Experience: Ready Freddy remembers the name of your child (or children) to add an additional friendly touch to the experience.

Simplify Your Morning

1) Freddy will introduce each task with both an audio instruction and a picture on the display.

2) Cheerful music will play while the child completes the task.

3) When the child is done, they return to Ready Freddy to mark it as complete and move on to the next task.


The Technology

Ready Freddy is a skill for the Amazon Echo, powered by Amazon’s Alexa voice service. Smart speakers and virtual assistants have become a huge trend lately, and they don’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon. According to a recent report from Edison Research, 18% of Americans over the age of 12 own a smart speaker, up from just 7% last year. Of that group, 83% of people choose to use Alexa, either exclusively or in addition to a competing device.

In addition to its widespread popularity, Alexa and kids get along pretty well. The same Edison report includes that smart speaker owners whose households also have children report that they “really, really enjoy” working with Alexa. In fact, Amazon just announced they will soon be launching an Alexa meant just for kids.

In general, Amazon Alexa devices are meant to be a hands-free resource inside the home. It functions as a speaker, a digital assistant, and smart home controller and much more. The Echo Spot is a recent Echo device that incorporates a small display and touchscreen in addition to the powerful voice technology. The Spot was originally advertised as a smart alarm clock intended to be placed in bedrooms.

Although Ready Freddy is compatible with all Alexa devices, it is best enjoyed on the Echo Spot. The combination of the voice technology and touchscreen display made possible by the Spot makes Ready Freddy more effective and engaging.


The Journey

Our initial challenge was learning to code for Alexa without an advanced developer on the team, so the research phase was essential. Free online courses, Amazon documentation and plenty of Google searching made it possible for us to understand how Ready Freddy could come to life. Designing and developing for Alexa is a different process than coding for the web or creating an iOS app, and familiarizing ourselves with that system was a hurdle we had to overcome before even starting to create Ready Freddy.

Luckily, Amazon partnered with Codecademy to give new developers like us the knowledge needed to understand the Alexa framework. For example, we now comprehend that the front-end inferences are linked to a back-end lambda function. When a user sends a request, that request is sent to the lambda function, read, transcribed as a JSON feed, sent back to the front-end, then spoken by the device.

Next, working with a technology that continues to add new features during the project development process is both exciting and challenging.

For example, earlier in the semester we were dismayed to realize we could only use hyperlinked text to link the different tasks. We had originally envisioned some kind of button for progress, but Amazon did not allow it. This created a problem during our user testing because some kids were unable to press the small touch target of the text. However, when we tried to see how we could solve that problem, we discovered that Amazon recently released the ability to use images as buttons. The solution was perfect, but it came later than we would have liked.

Additionally, the Amazon Developer interface used to create the interaction model for the skill and to write the back-end code switched versions during the semester. Luckily, this change was easy to adapt to but still highlights the lack of stability in the system.

Finally, we came to the understanding that Amazon’s Alexa development program doesn’t allow for the same freedom seen in iOS or Android. It has strict privacy rules and motivates coders to use a custom SDK. That said, these restrictions allow for a streamlined publication process. Our biggest problem caused by these restrictions is the short 90 second time limit. Due to privacy issues, Amazon’s software limits the open mic capability of the hardware. As a default, Amazon only allows Alexa’s listening capabilities to be issued via a reprompt request. During this reprompt, the mic is open for eight seconds. Seeing as children need more than eight seconds to interact with the skill, we added audio files into each speech output. Therefore, as long as the audio continues playing, the skill stays open. While these audio files are limited to 90 seconds, it does give far more opportunity for interaction. For devices with displays, this means that the task stays on screen for the entirety of the song. For devices without a screen, after the song plays for 90 seconds, the user is prompted to move onto the next skill.

Finally, user testing revealed a few problems that we were able to solve. We were lucky enough to test our skill’s usability on a group of ten kids ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade, as well as interview a few of their parents. After testing we quickly realized our original target market age was far too broad. We narrowed our focus to kids kindergarten through third grade because they seemed the most engaged and enthusiastic about the product. One girl even remarked that she wished she could use Ready Freddy every day! Another issue we discovered was that the buttons that allow you to move on to the next task were way too small. When we built Ready Freddy, the only option for buttons was hyperlinked text, but Amazon has since added the ability to hyperlink images, solving our problem. We also discovered that the custom Freddy voice we created was “weird” and “creepy,” so we switched back to the regular Alexa voice instead. Finally, we added a few potential tasks that parents requested should be part of the morning routine.

For More Information

Project Website: readyfreddy.mynmi.net

Amazon Echo Spot: www.amazon.com/echospot

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