All you wanted to know about India’s first ever Alexa hackathon by HackerEarth

Alexa Skills Kit

Ever since the advent of the Amazon Alexa enabled devices, specifically the Echo line from Amazon, there has been a lot of excitement and interest in the space of AI powered smart homes and smart workplaces. Amazon made that more exciting by adding a lot of interesting and useful skills to make the devices better and  engaging. HackerEarth has officially started India’s first ever Alexa hackathon and here is why we should all be excited

Science fiction has been romanticizing and even sometimes vilifying AI for a long time now. The concept of an artificial entity that can learn, make decisions based on what it learnt and interact with humans using natural language as the primary interface is something that has been capturing our imagination for sometime now.

I remember the early days when I was in college and AI was an elective subject in my final semester of engineering. The epitome of AI those days was an expert system called ELIZA. I used to spend a ton of time trying to write, improve and optimize a program that could talk (using the typed word back then) to humans and have a meaningful conversation by actually giving relevant responses. By the yardstick of today’s chatbots, it is like the tools that early man used, but nevertheless, using simple language to talk to a computer was fantastic back then and it still is I guess. So all the buzz around Alexa today is justified and understandable.

There is a notion that we never use our brains to their full capacities in our entire lifetime, this can also be said about the current state of Alexa. The potential for use is extremely high and the sky is the limit. But the current skills are just scratching the surface. There is room for skills that can add immense value to people and enterprises alike and we need to start thinking about them. This is where HackerEarth and Amazon have gotten together to try and close this gap. They have the First ever Indian Alexa Hackathon going.

HackerEarth, a leader in innovation and talent management, has announced the launch of its first virtual AI hackathon for Alexa. This unique hackathon is aimed at building more engaging skills for Alexa, which is the cloud-based voice service and brain behind Alexa-enabled devices, including the Amazon Echo.

Registration for the hackathon is open now. The contest will encourage developers to think outside of the traditional application development approach and embrace a voice-first design approach. The participants will be given access to the Alexa Skills Kit, a set of free, self-service, public APIs, that developers can utilize to easily create new experiences for Alexa. The existing architecture allows developers to build applications or skills to enhance the customer experience for its users. The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a useful tool for independent developers, designers and brands to create new ways to engage Alexa.

The hackathon is being conducted keeping in mind that the resulting skills will be useful for the end users. For this reason, it is an open themed hackathon where participants can build any skill that can benefit Alexa customers. Participants are encouraged to create business productivity solutions, cool games, engaging chat bots, smart home applications or anything else that users might be looking for.

To get started, participants can have a look at the existing skills in the Alexa India skills store. There are over 12,000 skills in the store across multiple categories including Business & Finance, Food & Drink, Games, Music & Audio. Over the past few months, Alexa developers from across India added a localized flavor to the skills, enabling customers to listen to devotional songs like Hanuman Chalisa and Gayatri Mantra, find out diverse information ranging from Indian pin codes, Indian presidents to Indian Railways PNR status, or play Indian Tambola, Mahabharatha quiz and Indian GK Quiz. Lifestyle and Entertainment skills like ‘Rock Paper Scissors’, ‘Ganesha Speaks’, ‘Find My Phone’ and ‘Help me Sleep’ are among the most popular skills within Indian customers. This hackathon will give participants an opportunity to work on voice-controlled skills that will make Alexa smarter.

Alexa is currently being used for myriad applications including ordering food and transportation, controlling a smart home, playing music, and much more. Popular services such as Ola, Zomato, Saavn and The Times of India have also identified the potential of voice-enabled customer-interactions early on and provide their services to users through Alexa and Echo devices.

The registration process of this hackathon will conclude on April 1st, 2018. All teams that qualify will be required to submit a working skill based on their idea by April 15th, 2018. All skill submissions that pass the skills qualification process by April 21st, 2018 will get published to the India skill store and will be readily available for users to install on their Alexa app. Teams can also add other language support (e.g. EN-US) to make their skills available to the global skill stores, however participants must register themselves as India vendors and publish their skills to the India store to qualify for the competition.

The name of winning team will be announced on May 1st, 2018. The jury for the hackathon includes senior leadership from Amazon and Alexa Skills business in India. The winning teams will also be awarded cash prizes, devices including Amazon Echo and Amazon Kindle and will also get to meet senior team members from Alexa Skills team in India.

Sprint, HackerEarth’s innovation management software is a platform to ideate and collaborate on interesting products, solutions and processes. It also helps organizations to crowdsource solutions, from internal and external audiences, helping them minimize the time, effort and capital spent on driving innovation. HackerEarth also hosts a global network of top developers which companies and governments can tap into through Sprint, to generate ideas and solutions. Organizations use Sprint to crowdsource ideas that help them meet larger goals, which are broken down into distinct themes and specific campaigns.

Important Dates:

  • Registration and Idea Submission: 20 February – 1 April 2018
  • Skills submission phase: 2 April – 15 April 2018
  • Skills certification phase on Alexa Skill Store: 16 April – 21 April 2018
  • Judging: 22 April – 28 April 2018
  • Winner announcement: 1 May 2018

Speaking to us, Sachin Gupta, CEO and Cofounder, HackerEarth said

“It is a great honour to collaborate with Amazon India for the AI Hackathon. The growing popularity of Alexa-enabled devices amongst the Indian consumers is sure to catapult with the active participation of the developer community. This hackathon will provide a platform for eager participants to create amazing new skills for Indian users.”

Dilip R.S., Country Manager, Alexa Skills Kit, Amazon said 

“Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology. We are definitely at the tipping point of a voice-first era. The AI Hackathon with HackerEarth will showcase the potential of the developer community in India to build voice skills for Alexa”, says Dilip RS, Country Manager for Alexa Skills Kit, Amazon. “More than 15,000 developers from India have already started to build skills for Alexa. We look forward to all the cool things that the Indian developers will come up with.”

We will be following this very closely and getting you updates and results as they happen.

About Shakthi

I am a Tech Blogger, Disability Activist, Keynote Speaker, Startup Mentor and Digital Branding Consultant. Also a McKinsey Executive Panel Member. Also known as @v_shakthi on twitter. Been around Tech for two decades now.

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