Blueprints Make It Easy To Make (Some) Alexa Skills

If you can code, you can create an Alexa skill — the programs that allow an Amazon Echo or similar device interact with you. What if you can’t code or you are just too lazy to do all the setup? Amazon now has Blueprints that can help anyone make a skill. The only problem is the skills you can create are pretty limited. In addition, they are only available to your Alexa devices.

The idea is simple. You start with a template — OK, a blueprint. This is a model application that does something like giving you a compliment or a joke on demand. When you open the blueprint, you’ll see a list of things it can say. You can edit the list, including adding or deleting things. Then you name the new skill. In a few minutes, your skill will be live on your devices.

Some of the blueprints are more involved than others. For example, the “First Letter” game lets you set a category and the items in the category. We couldn’t find any with really advanced content like picking off an RSS feed, searching, or anything algorithmic, we hope we will see more advanced examples eventually.

Is it useful? Maybe. But you won’t be able to use it to talk to your own hardware or software, which is probably what hackers mostly want. Meanwhile, you can use it to inflict your worst dad jokes on the rest of your household.

If you want to do a real skill, you’ll need to host some code somewhere. We’ve done it with Glitch, which is handy.

Amazon Echo Dot image: Michael Sheehan [CC BY 2.0].

13 thoughts on “Blueprints Make It Easy To Make (Some) Alexa Skills

  1. Having tried to develop a basic Skill in the past, I was excited when I heard about this. Then I used it…

    All of these Skills Blueprints are little more than templates that allow you to manually create strings of text for the Echo to parrot back to you under controlled conditions.

    So you could do something like: “Alexa, what is the best tech website?” and it could answer “That would be Hackaday.com, of course!”.

    Now the rub is that YOU wrote that, and it’s enabled only on YOUR Echo(s). So you’re the only person who is ever going to hear the custom response you crafted. I can’t imagine the narcissistic personality it would take for somebody to think writing their own static responses to preset questions would possibly be useful. Like this post says, it’s almost completely limited to writing high tech “Dad Jokes”.

    I’m starting to think I’m not the target audience for the Echo.

    1. Your kid is struggling in history class, so you setup audio “flash cards” to help them study, because the novelty of it might help them remember; you’re trying to learn a new subject, so you set audio flash cards for yourself; you set a loving message to play on your significant other’s birthday when they ask a common question; on a lark, you program movie/book/tv/radio references that your family will enjoy; etc.
      There are lots of possiblities, a little imagination goes a long way.

    2. The paranoid nut in me thinks these ai “assistants” are preparing us for even greater levels of constant surveillance, and it amazes me how little they have to work for it. It doesn’t really do anything useful or convenient, but people are scrambling to put it in their houses just to hear it tell jokes or other hokey novelty behavior. Why are we doing this?

      1. Because it’s cool and people don’t care that they have just let Amazon(or any other company) big their home with a listening device that destroys any privacy they have left.

        But it gets better, some the device can still listen even if you are in another room. Others have a IR camera.

        Now factor in that most people have a cell phone, a car with GPS or On Star(which also can listen in). You buy groceries and prescriptions with a ATM or CC card. So they know what you eat and if you are sick and what kind of illness you have. They know who your friends are and that weekly trip to that bad neighborhood to pick up that supply of heroin and X for your parties.

        And you have just reduced yourself to a tagged animal that the government and corporations can keep track of.

        Even Orwell could have never dream’t that we would simply embrace the notion of destroying our own privacy and dignity for no other reason than it’s “new” and “cool” like some mindless children.

    1. That is part of the reason why I am currently searching for scans of blueprints of things like the Fieseler Fi 156 Storch so I can make a plane to have on hand for when I need to escape the thought police. Actually, are there any big collections of DIMENSIONED blueprints online?

  2. If I am a guest in a private room with one of these “always listening” devices, I politely ask my host to turn it off (really turn it off). Then there are the ubiquitous cameras. And the “Smart” phones that are constantly listening as well.

    So it seems my approach is a lesson in futility. But not really: At least the physically visible presence of a Google or Amazon device in the room is a catalyst to convey to your host that you do not trust these devices. So when you see one, always ask that it be turned off in your presence. The response will likely be interesting. Next open a conversation about the dangers of Constant Surveillance by these dangerous and out-of-control companies, especially in private spaces.

    1. Respectfully, when this happens, you have a choice… Stay or leave. I understand you want privacy; but this is not your home/function. Additionally, when everyone has no qualm with such devices and only one person does, who should assimilate, the group or the individual? I have been on your side of the fence and I understand the frustration, but no one forces me to stay, adapt, or accept. I do have a choice to not be around, and so do you. Don’t expect a pleasant reaction when you are invited into someone’s home, then try to tell them what they can and cannot have in your presence. There are exceptions, allergies, things that endanger your life, etc., but not an Alexa…

  3. Having played with this new feature a bit, I think that for a certain type of person the “My Questions” skill alone is reason enough to buy an Echo device or three. It may not be obvious at first, but it has the potential to be extremely disruptive. People tend to believe what they hear from computers, and with this skill you can make Alexa answer questions in any way you wish, making it easy to manipulate gullible people.

    Also, consider the possibilities of being able to override Alexa’s standard answers. As a benign example, Q: “Will it rain today?” A: “Look out the window. What do you think?” This one has been getting a lot of laughs in my family.

  4. I use generic Custom Q&A to answer questions for houseguests (and my wife than can’t remember the names) to learn how to turn on and off the stuff that’s automated around the house, how to control the TV’s, stream music from my server, etc. Haven’t tried any of the other templates and I doubt I ever will but this feature has been somewhat helpful.

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