* Alexa, frage Feiertag, wann der nächste ist

16. April 2017, Jakub Horák. Categorized as AWS.


The topic of AI assistants is recently one of the hottest in technology. With Apple’s Siri and “Ok, Google” now available in every smartphone, Amazon is not behind and has its own Alexa. As Amazon is not a phone maker, the assistant’s main place to live is a special speaker with integrated microphone array known as Echo.

In December 2016, Amazon was just introducing Alexa in Germany and came up with a promotion, under which everyone, who publishes three Alexa skills in the Alexa store within one month, will recieve a free Echo Dot device. That and curiosity were good motivation for me to start developing. I made a first primitive skill quite fast. It took just two hours. I wanted my second skill to be more advanced though. An idea came to me to make a skill, which tells you, the user, when the next public holiday is. That is actually quite useful in Germany, as different Bundeslände have different public holidays.

Alexa skill’s main part consists of an AWS Lambda function, which takes input from the Alexa speech model and outputs a text which will be told to the user. Lambda currently supports Java, Python and Node.js. As the developer gets charged by the used memory, I believe it’s best to use Node.js. Most of the examples online are implemented in Node.js too, and Alexa’s Node.js SDK  provides more features than the Java SDK.

My new skill, which I call Feiertag, requires you to link your Amazon profile and fetches the postal code from your primary Amazon postal address. The postal code is then used to determine the  Bundesland in which you’re residing and subsequently the public holidays that affect you. One of the ways to can interact with the skill is:

Alexa, frage Feiertag, wann der nächste ist.

As it took me a bit longer to finish the skill, I missed Amazon’s promotion for a free device. So when an Echo Dot became available for pre-order, I bought one myself. Unfortunately while testing my skill, I discovered, that the Alexa itself can tell you the holidays without the need to install any skill. You just ask:

Alexa, wann ist der nächste Feiertag?

This sentence sounds much more natural than the previous one, right? The difference is that it doesn’t contain invocation of my “Feiertag” skill. Too bad, that my skill is not bringing any new cool features, but at least I got to do a nice programming exercise.

See the source code of Feiertag skill on Github.

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One Response to “Alexa, frage Feiertag, wann der nächste ist”

  1. ZEE.cz » Blog Archive » Feiertag Alexa skill update Says:

    […] it turns out, several people use my Feiertag Alexa skill, which I’ve described in a previous article. Recently I’ve upgraded it to use Amazon’s new device location API. Therefore now […]

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