New Ways To Program Alexa
Written by Lucy Black   
Friday, 21 September 2018

At a launch event yesterday Amazon announced revamped versions of its Echo products and completely new hardware including a clock, a security camera, a smart plug and a microwave. To support the new devices there are new and updated developer tools, which are currently in Preview.

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The updated Smart Home Skill API extends voice control to any device, from the simplest wall plug to the most complex appliance, and to any feature of  the device. Amazon has added Toggle, Range, and Mode capability interfaces, which can be used like building blocks to model the full feature set of devices. These new capabilities can be customized to provide native integration for settings or features of a device that follow an on/off, numeric, or enumeration pattern.  

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The second update is the ability to use both custom intents and smart home directives in a single skill. This saves both developer effort in that you no longer need to create additional custom skills for specific features of a device for creating a more conversational experience, and means customers only need to enable a single skill per device. 

The new Alexa Connect Kit (ACK), currently in invitation-only preview, goes even further as it is a way for device makers to connect devices to Alexa without worrying about creating Alexa skills, writing complex networking and security firmware, or managing cloud services. Instead with ACK, manufacturers pay for a hardware module and a low, upfront fee that covers ongoing use of the ACK cloud service. ACK enables them to turn the ongoing and variable cost of managing an in-house cloud service into a fixed, one-time cost. If device manufacturers want to connect devices to their own cloud services or mobile application ACK will also offer cloud extensibility options to do so, which will also  third-party cloud services such as IFTTT.  This allows manufacturers to build and manage devices more quickly and economically, and their customers enjoy Alexa control, Wi-Fi simple setup, and the Dash Replenishment Service. Companies including Procter & Gamble, Hamilton Beach, Tonly, and Midea are already using ACK to develop smart devices. 

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Amazon used ACK to build its new AmazonBasics Microwave, which is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com. It is voice controlled using another Echo device or the Alexa app and has  a number of voice presets to help you cook food quickly. 

Also aimed at device manufacturers, and currently by invitation only the new Amazon Alexa Smart Screen Dev Kit  is for building screen-based products with Alexa built-in. The kit provides a complete hardware and software system reference solution, including support for interactive screens with rich visuals, Alexa Multi-Room Music (MRM), Alexa Calling & Messaging, and more. It is based on the ARM Cortex-A53 chipset that hosts the Alexa client software and has audio front end technology for ‘Alexa’ wake word detection. The kit features a 4” touch screen, 3-mic array for far-field speech recognition and includes the Alexa Smart Screen and TV Device SDK.

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For developers, Amazon has announced a preview of the Alexa Presentation Language (APL), a new design language and tools that make it easy to create visually rich Alexa skills for Alexa devices with screens. It enables you to build interactive voice experiences that include graphics, images, slideshows, and video, and to customize them for different device types. The devices developers will be able to create skills for are Echo Show, Echo Spot, Fire TV, select Fire Tablet devices and forthcoming third-party devices built using the Alexa Smart Screen and TV Device SDK. 

With APL, you can build interactive voice-first experiences that include text, graphics, slideshows, and, soon, video content. You can synchronize on-screen text and images with the associated spoken voice. You can support voice commands as well as touch and remote controls, when available, and take advantage of automatic entity resolution for voice-based selection of on-screen elements. To get started quickly, you can take advantage of Amazon-supplied sample APL documents that are designed to work well across a broad range of different device types. You can use these samples as-is, modify them, or build your own from scratch. Although APL is a new language, the syntax will be familiar to anyone with front-end development experience.

Using it you create APL documents, which are JSON files sent from your skill to a device. The device evaluates the APL document, imports images and other data as needed, and renders the experience.  In APL documents, you can deliver images and text on-screen, and specify text color, size, and weight for available fonts. You can use ScrollViews to display text that is outside the bounds of the container. Both text and images can be made responsive to touch using TouchWrappers. Pagers can be used to show a time-ordered sequence of items that typically advance automatically, such as slideshows. Or you can use Sequences to show a continuous list of choices, such as local restaurants, and allow customers to navigate the list via voice or by touch/remote control. You can use Layouts to group components, can nest layouts and, for example conditionally select one nested layout when the device shape is round, and another when the shape is rectangular. 

Devs can apply to participate in the APL preview by outline their use case via a short survey. The public beta is due to be released next month.  

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More Information

Understanding the Updated Smart Home Skill API (Preview)

New Alexa Smart Home Developer Tools Enable Seamless Voice Control of Any Device and Any Feature

Introducing the Alexa Connect Kit

Introducing New Tools for Device Makers to Create Screen-Based Products with Alexa

Introducing the Alexa Presentation Language (Preview) 

 

Related Articles

Updates to Alexa Skills Kit for Echo Show

Amazon Introduces Alexa Skills Templates

Echo Buttons Contest

The State Of Voice As UI 

 

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 20 April 2019 )