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Discover the Alexa Skills Kit

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify differences between custom skills, smart home skills, flash briefings, and video skills.
  • Walk through the life cycle of building a skill from ideation to launch.

Now that we’ve been over how Alexa works at a high level and we’ve planned out how to build a great voice interface, how do we actually get started on building this thing? Note : we aren’t going to start building in this module, but look for the project on Building Your First Skill to get into some code.

First, let’s understand the different skill types that are available.

Skill Types

Alexa supports many different types of skills. These types help define common supported intents across different skill developers. For example, when creating a smart home skill, a developer doesn’t have to define any other utterances because all of that handling is already done by Alexa.

Skill Type
Use Case
Example Supported Utterances
Smart home
Control smart lights, thermostats, smart cameras, entertainment devices, and more using voice.
  • Turn on the lights.
  • Turn on the TV.
  • What’s the temperature in the bedroom?
Flash briefing
Share the latest news headlines, weather updates, and more.
  • What’s my flash briefing?
Video
Enable customers to easily find and consume video content without invoking a specific skill or specifying a provider.
  • Play <title>
  • Play Manchester by the Sea.
Custom
Anything you can imagine! custom skills are the most flexible of the different types with no preset utterances.
  • No predefined utterances
  • Ask Uber for a ride.
  • Ask TED Talks to play the latest talk.
  • Play Jeopardy!

Now that we know what types of skills are out there, let’s introduce the Alexa Skills Kit.

Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation, and code samples that makes it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. By using ASK, you can leverage Amazon’s knowledge and pioneering work in the field of voice design.

Learn

Find links to webinars and events nearby to come and learn from the experts. Conferences, meetups, bootcamps, and hackathons are happening all over the world all the time.

Training videos are available to walk through Alexa, teach skill development in different programming languages, and for even more advanced topics.

The Alexa developer blog and podcast are also sources to learn about new features, get customer highlights, and learn some new tips.

Design

We just covered voice design in our last unit, go back and read it if you haven’t already! ASK has even more guidelines, recommendations, and exercises to help design for the best possible voice experience.

Build

The ASK build materials provide comprehensive resources for skill developers. Tutorials are available that provide in-depth, step-by-step instructions to create a variety of skills. Starting from easy skills that contain simple dialogue and no outside data to more advanced skills that introduce database persistence, multiturn dialogue, and interactive games.

For those looking for some tooling support, there is a Node.js SDK that makes the experience of building for Alexa much easier by handling common boilerplate code so you can start building faster and with less complexity.

The full reference documentation can also be found here if you want to understand more details on the requests that come from Alexa to the skill or get details on APIs that can be called for different skill types.

When it comes to testing, ASK also provides a few options. If you don’t have an Alexa-enabled device handy, you can use the Service Simulator that is part of the Alexa Developer Console, the Echosim community project (it’s basically an Echo in your web browser), or utilize the skill beta-testing tool that allows you to publish your skill to a select group of users who can test your skill and provide feedback.

Launch

After building a skill, the next step is to launch the skill. Before doing that, there is a certification process to pass before your skill is listed in the Alexa Skills Store for anyone to discover and use. ASK includes tips for each type of skill to help you pass the certification process.

The certification is different for each type of skill. For example, smart home skill certification requires a more thorough testing with the device that can be controlled via the skill. Flash briefing skills need to ensure that the content is fresh and that it, the images, URLs, and descriptions all meet Amazon’s policies.

Summary

And there you have it—you’ve seen what Alexa is, how to build voice user interfaces, and learned how to use the resources at your disposal in the Alexa Skills Kit. Now you can impress all of your friends with your knowledge of Alexa.

Resources

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