This series of posts will guide you through the process of creating your first Alexa skill. To follow along, you need:
- An Amazon.com shopping account.
- A credit card, to create an Amazon Web Services (“AWS”) account. Don’t worry, everything you do in this guide will be free.
- A phone (the AWS registration process will call your phone for a verification code).
- About an hour of time.
That’s it! “Nice to haves” would be an Echo device and programming experience, but they aren’t necessary. You can test your skill in the test simulator and on the Amazon shopping app for Android and iOS, and if you are comfortable using a text editor, you will be able to follow along.
For those of you who are programmers, this guide will provide you with a starting point to continue building your own Alexa skills.
Posts in this series:
- Introduction (this post)
- Set up Accounts
- Create the Interaction Model
- Create the Intent Handler
- Test the Skill
Before jumping in, let’s take a look at an overview of the skill we’ll be building. This may not make much sense now, but I’d like to give you a sense of where we’re going, and I’ll highlight parts of the design along the way so you know where we are in the process (click on the image for a larger view).
On the far left in the diagram above, we have an Echo Dot. This could be any Echo device or even your Amazon mobile app. When you speak to the Echo, it passes your command up to the interaction model running in the Alexa service. Based on what you say (your utterance), the interaction model determines what you’re asking for (your intent). The interaction model then executes code that you write, which is running in AWS, to handle the user’s intent. The result of this code is then returned through your interaction model and then to the Echo, which speaks the response to the user.
Again, don’t worry if most of this doesn’t sink in. As we go through the process of creating the skill, it will become clearer.
Naked Mole Rat Facts
The skill we will create will pick a fact from a list of facts on a topic of your choosing. Before we dive in, take some time to pick a topic and compile a list of facts. If you have a young child in your household, consider choosing a topic with facts that would entertain him or her. I’ll be using “naked mole rats” as my topic in this example, and here is my list of facts:
- The naked mole rat is neither a mole, nor is it a rat. It is more closely related to porcupines and guinea pigs.
- Naked mole rats live in the horn of Africa, and are native to Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya.
- Naked mole rats are 3 to 4 inches long and weigh 1.1 to 1.2 ounces.
- Naked mole rats feed primarily on very large tubers that they find deep underground. A single tuber can provide a colony with a source of food lasting months, or even years.
- Naked mole rats are preyed upon by snakes as well as various raptors.
- A colony of naked mole rats can consist of 20 to 300 individuals, and their underground territory can be as large as 6 football fields.
- The naked mole rat can move its incisors independently, and they can even work together like a pair of chopsticks.
- The naked mole rat is one of only two mammal species that are eusocial, meaning they live in a hierarchical society. Similar to insects like ants, there is a queen, soldiers, and workers.
- The queen mole rat isn’t born a queen. She’s a female who has fought her way to the top.
- Soldier mole rats defend the colony from both predators and foreign mole rats.
- Naked mole rats are the longest-lived rodents, with a lifespan of up to 30 years.
- No one has ever found cancer in naked mole rats; they appear to be resistant to the disease.
- Naked mole rats can survive more than 18 minutes without oxygen.
- Naked mole rats feel no pain, even when exposed to acid, because their skin lacks a key neurotransmitter that is responsible for sending pain signals to the central nervous system.
Let’s get started by setting up the Amazon accounts we’ll need.