Amazon Echo: Level Up With Alexa Skills

Originally published July 06, 2015.
Information provided in this post may be out of date.

Amazon opened up development of Alexa Skills – voice-based services for its Echo device – to the general public. Skill services can be AWS Lambda functions or self-hosted web services, possibly part of a larger application.

The pattern of interaction with custom Alexa Skills involves either a question or command.

Alexa, tell thing to do something.

Alexa, ask thing to check something.

Alexa, ask thing how do I make something?

Lots of people are excited to use Alexa Skills to further automate various functions of their homes using voice commands. While I’m not a member of that particular automation crowd, I have my own ideas for voice commands. But, before I tackled the big, interesting stuff, I wanted to start small for a bit of learning.

Recently, I’ve found it interesting to calculate someone’s age, or how long ago an event took place, so I made an age calculator as an Alexa Skill. Simple, useful, and it works.

Alexa, ask Age Calculator how long has it been since April 15, 1912?

Alexa, ask Age Calculator how long ago was January 19, 2006?

Alexa, ask Age Calculator how old is someone born on July 6, 1899?

Apparently, there’s a way to have my Skill be Certified to let other Amazon Echo owners use it. I’ll update this post in the future if I decide to do so.

The source code for my Age Calculator Skill is available on GitHub.

Age Calculator on GitHub