Designing & developing an Echo Show app

Jay Clark
By Jay Clark under Insights, #TABLife 18 July 2018

After 4 weeks of hard work and an 8 hour flight, Roberta, Andy (2 software engineers) & I (a product designer) arrived in Chicago with a product we were proud to showcase at the Solstice FWD Conference, an innovation summit held by one of our sister companies, Solstice. 

solstice fwd, conference, tech conference

The Hackathon

Earlier this year, TAB hosted an internal hackathon, inviting cross-functional teams of designers, engineers and testers to develop concepts that leveraged emerging technologies, in just 12 hours. Teams worked on a range of concepts, including, an interface visualising mocked location data, an Alexa guided on-boarding bot, a ‘polite’ chatbot and an Alexa skill for writing haikus. The winner, as judged by Solstice, would be showcased at their FWD conference in Chicago.

I was fortunate to be part of the winning team whose idea focused on the hypothesis that on-boarding experiences could be improved through the use of voice.

developers working, engineering, hiring, engineering jobs

Designing & developing the skill

We spent the next 4 weeks refining the conversation and visual interface. The week after the hackathon, our team set to work. We had identified the health sector as a potential market and decided to build an on-boarding experience for a fitness service. The hardware we chose was the Echo Show, as its voice and visual interfaces would give our users a richer, more accessible experience.

We began by setting up our conversational framework, building an AWS lambda function that would process all utterances (user inputs). We used Node.js along with Amazon’s ask-sdk library as the basis for this function. For each action, or intent, the user gave, it would apply logic to determine the response.

We worked hard to create the right balance of personality for the skill; a mix of fun and rude, which the attendees loved. The challenge in creating this personality lied with the limitations in tone of voice.

A bonus feature was how our skill referenced external APIs and music libraries on the fly throughout the experience. Giving people contextual feedback on their answers made the experience much more interactive and fun. We feel that creating more meaningful, engaging conversations with users is the way to break down the barrier between the two sides.

London > Chicago

Once the 4 weeks was over, we jumped on an 8 hour flight to Chicago to set up for our demo at Solstice’s FWD conference.

FWD is an opportunity for Solstice to showcase all of the work by their Labs team. It was amazing to see the innovative things they’ve been up to using technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, mixed, virtual and augmented reality.

We got the chance to show off our skill to a large varied audience including CEOs, CTOs and Innovators who were all impressed by how quickly you can build a fairly robust skill.

gymbot, echo skill, amazon echo

Overall, the whole experience from start to finish was amazing. Getting to work with our colleagues in Chicago whilst continuing to expand our knowledge in the Health sector went hand in hand perfectly. TAB’s global connections allow us to support and learn from each other at rapid speed, and this will also continue to compound over the future years to come.

 

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Thanks for reading! You can find me on Twitter here and Medium here.