Rabbit & Pork host Alexa Skills Mini Bootcamp with Code Untapped

25 Code Untappers joined us to learn how to make their first Alexa Skill

John Campbell

Managing Director & Co founder

A massive thanks to everyone who turned up in the monsoon rain on Tuesday night for our voice app boot camp – ‘How to create your first Alexa Skill’ – held in conjunction with our partners Code Untapped, we had some had some amazing people down to the Rabbit & Pork offices and we hope you all learnt something!

Code Untapped are an organisation who are working towards building a brighter future for BAME communities through technology training. Their focus is on driving forward opportunities for BAME communities to learn, collaborate and showcase their skills through a regular programme of themed Hackathon++ workshops.

All setup and ready to go

So on a very very wet Tuesday night, we hosted the event in our meeting space on the top floor at the Rabbit & Pork office. The night was divided up into five stages;

1. Education

Steff (Business Director at R&P) and John (Managing Director & Co-Founder of R&P) looked into the basics. What is an Alexa Skill, what are the basic principles of how a skill works and what are the best examples we’ve seen of these in action?

2. Showcase

Ilarna Nche, an Alexa Developer, then spoke about her path into developing Alexa Skills and the tech start up she’d launched off of the back of this, showing some examples of skills she’s created so far, and finally listed off her eight starting tips for creating voice apps.

Ilarna and some of the Alexa Skill developed so far.

3. Demo

Putting words into actions, John gave a demo of Voiceflow, a drag and drop solution for creating Alexa Skills. Katherine (a R&P developer) then demonstrated creating the same skill, but using ASK and Node.JS to do so.

4. Hackathon time

Everyone was then asked to create an idea of a skill, sample conversation and then use a tool to create a demo of their skill.

Hackathon time

5. Presentation

With some promising ideas circulating, names went into the hat to then present at the end of the evening.

 

Armed with the knowledge and inspiration from the talks, each individual started to create their own Alexa Skill. There were three options for varying levels of experience in the room.

  1. Create a written script on paper
  2. Use Voiceflow a drag and drop solution for designing and creation Alexa Skills
  3. Jump into the Alexa Skills Kit and develop the backend using the hosted Node.JS option in ASK

Pizza from ICCO down the road (best cheap pizza in central London) and drinks fueled the one-and-half hour hack.

The clock struck 8:30pm and it was time to present, judged by the team at Code Untapped, with the golden prize of winning every voice app coders dream, an Amazon Echo Dot!

So what did our teams come up with?

Idea one – Charles – “Jalexa”

I found the jokes funny!

Charles used Voiceflow to create a skill that told jokes. But rather than just joke after joke, the skill asked the user for a preference on the types of jokes told, for instance, birthday jokes. Loops had been used in Voiceflow to move the user back to the menu, keeping the user engaged and asking for more jokes. Best of all, Charles used sound effects in the demo – you had to cheer to confirm you did want a joke, there was laughing after the joke was read out and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song when you exited.

Idea two – Josh – Automated GreenHouse

Josh used Voiceflow to create a demo of an automated greenhouse which would integrate with different temperature, humidity and camera sensors to let the user know how their plants were doing.

Alexa – Hi, so you want to know about your plants?
User – Yep
Alexa – What would you like to know about them?
User – How many plants do I have?
Alexa – You have five plants, should I tell you the type of plants you have?
User – Yes, tell me the types
Alexa – You have 1 Basil, 2 lemon trees and 2 carrots

Two parts stood out here, integration with other connected devices such as the camera or temperature and the accessibility potential – for instance maybe blind gardeners could use this skill to get instant feedback on their greenhouse.

Idea three – Abe – TFL Train Checker

Abe managed to get a Node.JS skill up and running with ASK, which connected to the TLF public API to get the status of train lines.

In the demo, a live feed from TFL informed everyone that the Victoria Line had severe delays due to a faulty line.

It was really impressive that in the short time a real API integration was created and demoed.

Abe live API integration with TFL in action

Idea four – David – Sarcastic weather checker

David created a script with several variations of a conversation. His weather checker would come back with witty and sarcastic remarks along with the weather update.

This idea was drawn from a point mentioned by Ilarna, about looking for existing apps / voice apps and then creating a new one with a different style or execution. There are lots of weather apps, but how many have this entertaining slant?

Idea five – Jason – All Filler No Killer – Calories remainder suggestions

A nod to the Sum 41 album All Killer No Filler, Jason’s skill idea was looking at what happens when you don’t eat all your calories you have planned. For example, you may have planned to eat 2,500 calories, but only eat 2,100. The skill would then suggest food items to make up the shortfall.

Alexa – Hello, welcome to all killer no filler. What have you eaten so far today?
User – Pizza
Alexa – You have 500 calories left. You can eat one more slice of pizza, a mars bar or two bananas. Would you like some more options.
User – Yes
Alexa – Other options include, a coconut smoothie, a hotdog or three apples.

This idea was an interesting twist on traditional food trackers.

Idea six – Erika – Virtual parenting

Erika’s idea was a virtual parenting skill. The skill asked you a number of questions about how many kids you had, ages and then what type of coaching you required.

In Erika’s example, she used a persona of a person and one of the custom poly voices Emma. This gave the experience a curated feel and a persona behind the advice.

Long term thinking in regards to ISP (In Skill Purchases) related to upselling to connect to one of their experts.

 

And the winner is…..

Judged on idea, presentation, long term objectives and technical execution, and after a long deliberation the winner was announced…  Charles’ “Jalexa” came out on top! Well done to Charles who took home the Alexa Echo spot.

The next day Charles posted a nice message on LinkedIn about the win and nice little back story about why it was great to win the Alexa Echo.

 

If you want to get into coding join the Code Untapped Meetup Group and look out for upcoming events!

Big thanks to Ez and the rest of the Code Untapped team for allowing us to host!

John Campbell

Managing Director & Co founder

John founded Rabbit & Pork as the fourth agency and Voice Experience arm of TIPi Group. John has developed and launched several Google Actions and Skills, presented at several voice events around the UK, spoken on the VUX podcast and authored multiple whitepapers.

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