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Alexa Programming Languages and Tools

Building Alexa Skills means you have a Voice User Interface (VUI) and the fulfilling programming logic. For simplicity think of the frontend for the VUI and the backend for the programming logic. There are several ways doing the fulfillment of an Alexa Skill. Often developer use Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda which is a perfect fit: Simply enter the Lambda’s ARN (Amazon Resource Name) inside the Skill’s configuration. AWS Lambda supports code written in Node.js (JavaScript), Java, Python, C#, or Go.

There is also an alternative approach: You can enter a SSL/TLS secured https-address as the endpoint for other technologies and programming languages independently from AWS. Under the hood, there is only JSON via REST going back and forth. Thus every technology supporting that might work. In case you prefer your own infrastructure to AWS Lambda, please make sure to secure everything accordingly and always provide valid responses as described here.

Dealing with Java Script Notification Objects (JSON) might be tedious. Therefore, it is good to have some helpers out there, which can make your life easier – despite the preferred technology. Here is a brief list for your convenience:

JavaScript / Node.js

Alexa Skills Kit SDK for JavaScript / Node.js (Lambda)
Skillinator (prototype Alexa Skills for Alexa Skills Kit SDK for JavaScript / Node.js (Lambda))
Alexia (framework for creating Skills using Node.js)
alexa-app (Node module to simplify the development of Alexa Skills)
Several libraries used to build both custom Skills and smart home Skills
Creating SSML (Speech Synthesis Markup Language) using the builder pattern
Jovo (Node.js based development framework for voice apps)

Java / Kotlin

Java Alexa Skills Kit SDK (Lambda)
Alexa States SDK for Java (extends the Java Alexa Skills Kit SDK)
Aleksa (framework for writing Skills in Kotlin)

Python

Flask-Ask
Python Alexa

C# / .NET

Alexa Skills SDK for .NET
AlexaSkillsKit.NET (same object model as Java Alexa Skills Kit SDK)

PHP

Voice Skill Management System (Skeleton)
PHP Library for Amazon Alexa Skills
Amazon Alexa PHP Library
AlexaApp (classes to make creating Skills with Laravel and Lumen)
Alexa Custom Skill for Patami Framework

Go

Alexa SDK for native Go on AWS Lambda

Command Line Tools (CLI)

Alexa Skills Kit Command Line Interface (ASK CLI)
Bespoken CLI (Develop, Debug, and Test Live on Your Laptop)

Designing / Protoyping / Platforms

Cognigy (Voice and Chat AI without any coding)
Sayspring (Voice Prototypes for Amazon Alexa)
Storyline (Create voice apps without coding)
PullString (Design, Prototype, and Publish Voice Apps)
Alpine.ai (Voice-enabled applications)
slotinaotr.io (easy batch-input of slots)
BotTalk (Create Complex Alexa Skills with simple markup language)
VoiceX (Low Fidelity Prototyping Tool)

Voice, SSML, and Polly

Talestreamer (using rich, multilayered audio)
polly-s3 (renders text-to-speech for Alexa using AWS Polly)

Testing / Virtual Alexa Devices

Echosim.io (Alexa Skill Testing Tool)
Reverb (works in your browser, or on your tablet or phone)

Analytics for Voice

Chatbase
dashbot

Anything missing? Feel free to send me suggestions to complete the list, please!

Alexa Links (English/Deutsch)

Here is a brief list of some Alexa related links (both from Amazon and *independent). I hope those are handy if you like to start, discuss, or simply need help with Alexa. Suggestions are welcome.

Hier ist eine kurze Liste einiger hilreicher Links zu Alexa (sowohl von Amazon als auch *unabhängig). Ich hoffe, diese sind hilfreich. Sollte was fehlen, dann bitte einfach Bescheid sagen.

Docs

Alexa Skills Kit
Alexa Skills Kit in Deutschland (Deutsch)

Code

Alexa Skill Building Cookbook
Alexa Github Repository
Sascha Wolter Github Repository (Deutsch)

Design

Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide
Amazon Alexa Sprachdesign Guide (Deutsch)

Slides and Media

Slidedeck “Build Voice-Enabled Experiences with Alexa”
Slidedecks from “AWS re:INVENT 2017” (search for Alexa)
Amazon Press Room – Images and Videos
Sayspring Design Resources – Free downloads and resources to design and promote Skills

Video-Trainings (Screencasts, Webinare etc.)

Alexa Developers on YouTube
Amazon Alexa on Twitch
Videos from “AWS re:INVENT 2017” (search for Alexa)
Amazon Alexa Developer Channel Germany on YouTube (Deutsch)

Boards and Communities

Amazon Developer Forums
Alexa Developers Slack Channel*
stackoverflow Alexa-tagged questions*
Amazon Alexa projects on hackster.io*
Amazon Alexa Entwickler für D-A-CH auf Facebook* (Deutsch)
Das inoffizielle deutsche Alexa und Echo Forum.* (Deutsch)

Support and Feature Requests

Amazon Developer Support and Contact
Amazon Developer Support (Deutsch)
Alexa Skills – Developer Voice And Vote

Twitter

@alexadevs – Alexa Developers
@maxamorde – Max Amordeluso, Alexa Evangelist EU*
@muttonia – Andrea Muttoni, Alexa Evangelist UK/EU*
@saschawolter – Sascha Wolter, Alexa Evangelist DE/AT/EU* (Deutsch)

Tools and SDKs

Skillinator: Node.js Codegenerator
Alexa Skills Kit SDK for Node.js
Alexa Programming Languages and Tools

API, Docs, and Code

Alexa Account Linking: 5 Steps to Seamlessly Link Your Alexa Skill
Why a Custom Slot is the Literal Solution (related to transcripption, Speech to Text, free text etc.)

Custom Endpoint/Fullfilment (i.e. using PHP)

Host a Custom Skill as a Web Service
Amazon Alexa lokal (Tunneling, ngrok, etc.)* (Deutsch)

Optimizing Audio

How Loud Is Too Loud? Tips for Setting Your Alexa Skill’s Audio Volume Level
Normalizing the Loudness of Audio Content

Alexa for Business (an AWS service)

Alexa for Business
Alexa for Business FAQs

Coding the Internet of Things for creative beginners and kids

Last week I had a trip to the Droidcon Moscow where I talked about the Internet of Things, in particular smart home for creative developers and rookies. It was really exciting to see how interested and open minded the developers in the awesome Russian capital are.

Moscow State UniversityWell, the weather was not the best in front of the Moscow State University. Anyway, my personal favorite in Moscow is the weather-proofed subway: It’s soviet era charm is stunning.

I did the only English sessions and both have been packed (sorry for the parallel track ;)). Usually I get questions on privacy, security and stuff like that. But at Droidcon Moscow it was surprisingly different. The Russian developers seem to be really eager to start with the Internet of Things themselves and did ask a lot on how to do that. Especially the part on how to get technology-laggards and kids into that topic was very well received.

To make one really wanting to become a developer, it’s important rather to motivate than to teach: Teaching feels like school! But it’s more about continuous offering, playing and explaining. Especially because being a developer of new and innovative ideas does not mean you have to be a fulltime programmer. Nowadays almost everybody who is keen to get into the Internet of Things can do so thanks to various available easy toolkits.

Anyway, a basic understanding of programming does not hurt. If anything. A good starting point could be the following selection of trainings and tools. I made quite a good experience using these in the given order with my son and his classmates:

  • Hour of Code: You can choose among several themes from Minecraft to Frozen in this online programming environment where you have to fulfill easy tasks to solve the challenges.
  • Scratch: Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is both a visual programming environment and a story telling tool. So, start your interactive fairy tales and games right now. There’s also an extendable version named ScratchX, which we use for IoT prototypes connected to the real world (see here). By the way, Scratch is the prefiguration of a lot of visual programming environments like the following.
  • App Inventor: App Inventor was originally provided by Google, and is now maintained by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It is based on the same visual programming approach like Scratch, but suited for mobile apps one can use on a real device.
  • Minecraft and ComputerCraft: There are a few Minecraft based ways, to learn programming. Our personal favorite so far is ComputerCraft. It introduces virtual Computers and peripherals like printers in Minecraft. All programmable with Lua, one of the easier programming languages. Furthermore, you can extend it with your own API (application programming interface) to add some additional capabilities (i.e. to connect your smart home as shown here). Lua is not just a more and more popular programming language, it is also common for IoT solutions (i.e. based on the ESP8266 chip with NodeMCU firmware).

Well, as mentioned above that worked like a charm with my son. Even my daughter did great, but unfortunately she just does not like it that much until now: But I will not give up offering, playing and explaining and once I find a way, I will let you know…