Alexa Skills: Basics for development
Amazon Skills: what basics are necessary for the development? this article describes shortly what you need to know about programming.
The following article is an excerpt from my book “Developing Alexa Skills“. Click on the picture to buy the book on Amazon from 8,99€. It’s worth it for developers and those who want to become developers.
Alexa Skills: Basics for the development
The good news is: there are many ways to develop Alexa Skills, and in some cases you can even do without programming.
What is Amazon Alexa?
Alexa is the voice service that can be used in intelligent devices (speakers like Amazon Echo or smartphones). Unlike systems that rely solely on machine learning, language assistants like Alexa have a good understanding of speech because a dialogue with them can also be predetermined through applications called skills. This lowers the space for grammatical or contextual analysis, as the dialog should follow a structure.
How can you develop skills for Alexa?
The first step for the development is to open a free Amazon Developer Account at https://developer.amazon.com/alexa With this account you get access to the “Developer Console” where skills are developed. You can either use the “Alexa Skills Kit” to develop a skill or the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to use Alexas skills in another device as long as it has microphones and speakers. Sonos, for example, uses AVS in their loudspeakers, and there are already finished sample projects, for example for the Raspberry Pi.
Alexa can thus be integrated into a variety of other products, provided they have a microphone and a loudspeaker. Amazon also offers the Amazon Lex service, which allows developers to create chat bots using the same technology Alexa is based on. (https://aws.amazon.com/en/lex/)
What is the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)?
Developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit to create echo capabilities or integrate Alexa into an existing product or device through its API via the Alexa Voice Service. This is where the development work takes place. Developers can write Alexa Skills with the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) or with the help of predefined frameworks from the Alexa Skill Blueprints. In addition, networked products can be equipped with the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) with intelligent voice control or Amazon Lex can be used. Amazon, ASK is “a collection of self-service interfaces (APIs), tools, documentation and code samples that makes it fast and easy to develop a custom skill for Alexa”.
Who needs ASK?
this platform is needed by developers who want to set up a language interface to Alexa as well as companies who want to take advantage of Alexa’s power via the available API. what kind of Alexa skills can be programmed? There are four types of skills:
- Smart Home Skills for home automation,
- Flash Briefing Skills for information and news,
- Video Skills,
- Custom Skills for any other type of request,
- Baby activity skills based on the Alexa Health API.
Do you need to be an experienced programmer to develop Alexa Skills?
No, developers don’t need a background in speech processing or speech recognition to get started with Alexa. Of course it is helpful anyway. Additionally, there are tutorials for beginners, so that even inexperienced users can work with the platform. Non-developers can build their own simple skills with the Alexa Skill Blueprints, which were released in April 2018. In general you should have some experience with object-oriented programming languages like Python and server communication. This is also assumed for the code excerpts in this book.
The Manual for Alexa Skill Development
If the article interested you, check out the manual for Alexa Skill Development on Amazon, or read the book’s page. On Github you can find all code examples used in the book.