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How complex is creating a one line voice skill?

Like many people we would forget which day to put the bin out, or we would get the day right but put the wrong bin out. Then there are bank holidays to think about, especially the ones around Christmas. They mess with everyone’s heads, routines and systems.

What if we made it as easy as just asking Alexa? Well, that is precisely what we did. We created a skill that enables you to check when and which bins are being emptied next for residents of Bournemouth.

We started to think about how people would ask for information about bins, the more we picked it, the more complicated it got. We learnt a few lessons such as different people ask in different ways, sometimes people refer to it as the green bin or even garden bin or waste, not to mention that everyone puts there bins out at different times (some late at night, some early morning) so this also affects the way people ask too. Then there is how do we determine your location without asking too much personal information?

Some examples were:

  • ‘Alexa, ask which bin when is the next green bin collection.’
  • ‘Alexa, ask which bin when the garden waste will be collected next.’
  • ‘Alexa, ask which bin if it is the garden bin collection tomorrow.’

The challenge of determining the location was next, we didn’t want residents to have to enter their whole address. Instead, we have a check in place for Alexa to check the postcode linked to the Amazon account (Which we don’t store).

By doing a postcode check, we get the minimal information needed to ensure the user receives the correct bin collection information.

Bournemouth council already offers a website for residents to check their collection dates; we have enabled voice users to be able to do it just by asking Alexa which accesses the API and returns the response to the user in an audible way.

There is more to voice assistants than just games and music

Games and music are fun along with all the funny questions you can ask, but there is more to voice than just entertainment. We can embrace voice technology to help us with our daily tasks to make them easier and/or quicker.

Benefits of building for local or geographical areas

We see a huge scope to develop skills for localities, the experience for users will be much more focused and specific to them, depending on where they are and what they are doing. Both in information context as well as using local dialects.

How is it used?

After doing a soft launch, we started to see people using the skill, and we quickly realised that the invocation name we had chosen was wrong. The invocation name is effectively the name of your skill that you use with the wake and starting phrase.

The decision was made to change the name from ‘Bin Day’ to ‘Which Bin’. The data started to reveal the evenings were the most popular time for people to find out which bin they need to put out.