Tech Labs developed a workshop that teaches you how to create skills for Alexa

With conversational interfaces we have finally found a way to improve upon the old point & click paradigm, but how can such an interface be developed?

At Tech Labs we are looking into and working on several possibilities, one of them is Alexa, by Amazon. What started as a Hackathon project is becoming a much more important focus for our research. After creating several skills we started looking at ways to share the knowledge about creating skills for Alexa, the most easily accessible way is through a workshop we created and open-sourced on Github that you can sign up for here.

Background

Looking for new innovative methods to improve UX is, among Blockchain, AI and Software Technologies one of the main pillars of Tech Labs. Mainly because we provide very complex software solutions and making them simple and easy to use is difficult, but new innovations in UX might make our software more accessible to our users. To this end we tried working with the Amazon Alexa on our hackathon, with success. The skills we created for the real estate department were easy to use and just worked. After that initial proof of concept we continued to look into conversational interfaces and how they can be applied at Ortec Finance.

Learn to build your own skills

Building Skills for Alexa is relatively easy, much of the tooling and infrastructure is in place to quickly develop and deploy skills. To help people learn to build their own skills we developed a workshop that can be completed in roughly 2 hours, at the end of the workshop participants will know how to build their own skills. The workshop consists of 3 skills, each becoming more difficult than the one before and each tackling a more challenging problem. The first skill mainly helps participants learn how the API’s work and how to let Alexa say certain phrases. The second skill is a trivia skill, with the knowledge gained from the second skill it is already feasible to start creating public Alexa skills for the world to enjoy. The last skill requires the participant to interact with the user in a conversation, and remember what the user has said so far. This is by far the most tricky and complex skill, but after mastering having a conversation with the user the possibilities become endless. At the end of the workshop we will have learned to work with the API’s, to create basic skills and to create advanced skills that can actually have a conversation with the user. Because the workshop is freely available online nothing is stopping you from learning to develop Alexa skills like we did at Tech Labs.

Build your own skills

After completing the workshop the real fun can begin, any idea can now be transformed into a Alexa skill, with enough effort of course. Adding skills to platforms such as Alexa is becoming more and more popular, which makes sense because the audience (those that own an Alexa) is growing. For users it will be incredibly easy to use the skills you developed, they usually only need to say a single line to start your skill. This means developers are given the opportunity to show off their ideas to potentially huge audiences right in their living rooms. After finishing the workshop you can reach that ever growing audience with your own ideas and your own skills.

What’s next for new UX

Working with and researching Alexa was done out of one of the main pillars of Tech Labs: new UX. We’ve not only researched conversational interfaces but also augmented reality with the Hololens and we want to continue to explore new interfaces with which our users can interact with our software. To that end we will start a thesis on conversational interfaces in February and validate a proof of concept of a conversational interface with our users. In the end the end the real goal is achieving the best possible UX technology has to offer and we hope to bring these innovative techniques to our users.

Open-source

The workshop is entirely open-source, feel free to try out the workshop, to modify it and to share it. We’re not interested in commercializing the workshop, so by any means improve and share the workshop whenever possible.

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