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Building the First Alexa App for a Conference

Here's a look at building an Alexa app for a conference, with neat functionality like seeing when speakers are giving a lecture.

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Geeks will be geeks. We can’t resist buying the new gadget to play with, especially if it’s hackable. Recently our CEO, Steve, could not resist buying an Amazon Echo, which turned into the beginning of an API journey at APIStrat Austin. When the Amazon Echo was launched in November 2014, I don’t remember people getting overexcited about it. I don’t remember people screaming on social networks that they were dying to get one. Even if it was way cheaper than what it is now, I don’t think people understood at that time the real value of this device. Now, it looks like it was the must-have thing under your tree for Christmas this year. I want to share my story of playing with the Echo for a few days and see how this device will influence the API space in the coming years.

The first time I played with it was at re:Invent in Las Vegas. At the Amazon stand, they had a giant Echo replica that you could get inside and try out live. Inside this sound-proof mega-Echo you could ask Alexa (the AI) all the questions you wanted and she would answer. It was a very impressive demo. It wasn’t just a Siri in a box, it’s much more. At re:Invent AWS announced IoT platforms and integrations with partners like Campbell’s Soup.

I got to play with our own device on a Saturday afternoon. We tried to ask it any weird question we had in mind, trying to figure out patterns and edge cases. I wanted to trick Alexa and ask if she knew what was the square root of -1… of course she knew! We tried the awesome integration by Campbell’s Soup. You ask Alexa what’s for dinner and she will offer you different options for recipes. Something that takes only 30 minutes to prepare? Something vegetarian? This particular recipe? You end up having a specific conversation with your own sous-chef about what you are going to eat tonight. All of this was made possible by the Campbell’s Soup Recipe API – powered by 3scale!

Playing with it and asking silly questions was fun…but hackers gotta hack. So I quickly jumped into the tutorial to create a simple app for the Echo. Instant win! Using the AWS Lambda, in few lines of JavaScript, you have a working app. Now it was time to build a “useful” app. While we were coming up with all our silly ideas, Steve said, “Will be cool to have it at APIStrat and get people ask for the program.” Exciting! I switch to “hacker in hackathon” mode, with only a few days to build a working app. But I was missing the most important part: the API. The Echo app would have to call the APIStrat API to get the info about the program or about a speaker. We were sure our partner in crime, our APIStrat co-organizer the API Evangelist (Kin Lane), would be excited about this idea. Indeed, he built a solid API for the conference in few hours.

(You didn’t know that APIStrat had an API? Here’s a pro tip: Always scroll to the bottom of a web page – that’s where you’re most likely to find a link to the API page).

The API can give tell you what’s happening now and give you the list of speakers or sessions. The app lets you interact with Alexa like this:

Alexa, ask conference what’s now

Alexa, ask conference when is Kin Lane speaking

or Alexa, ask conference when is the API Design session

Here’s a video that shows how it’s working.

You can find the code of the function here.

Unfortunately, during the event, there was too much ambient noise to make it work all the time at the booth.

This simple example shows that APIs will not be only for geeks in the future, people will use and consume APIs in their everyday lives through devices like the Amazon Echo. I also think the design of the API might change to facilitate the integration with devices like this one. Is that integration-driven design? On this topic, I hereby encourage you to check out Steve’s keynote at APIdays Paris.

We’re curious to hear what you think about the influences of devices like the Echo in the API space. Tweet at me @picsoung or @3scale.

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iot app development,ai,amazon,echo

Published at DZone with permission of Steven Willmott, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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