Inspiration

It's commonly known that citizens of the United States are incredibly disconnected with the government that has such a large impact their lives. In any given group of citizens, most would have a hard time recalling even one of their state senators let alone both senators and their house representatives. Our goal with Ask Political is to make this information easily available so that anyone with an Amazon Alexa can become more integrated with United States Congressional Politics.

What it does

Ask Political can provide a variety of basic congressional data as well as doing comparisons or analysis of other aspects that might help a voter get a better understanding of who their representatives are and what they do. Alexa can be asked simple questions such as:

Who are the senators for Illinois?

The answers to these questions can be bridged into other queries such as:

Tell me more about Mark Kirk

If we wanted to see a politicians viewpoints, we could further ask:

What bills has Mark Kirk introduced?

Now, our user is more knowledgeable and can prepare to vote by saying:

Next election in Illinois

There are many more functions to help viewers learn and compare representatives within the app and a simply saying "Help" will prompt Alexa to give a better overview of querying capabilities.

How we built it

This application is specifically for the Amazon Echo so all technologies used, aside from the congressional APIs, are directly associated with it. The application is written as an AWS Lambda function using node.js. This connects the New York Times Congressional API, the Google Civic API, and the Sunlight Congress API. By using these three resources, we can use the power of the Amazon Echo to convert vocal requests into web requests that retrieve relevant information.

Challenges we ran into

While we had some experience with javascript before coming, we had never worked with Node.js. Asynchronous concepts provided us with a lot of confusing results. We had to learn concepts such as callbacks and the culmination of knowledge eventually led us to creating a successful Echo application. Additionally, some of the API interfaces did not cover all we needed. Having to create custom lookup tables proved to be difficult.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Having never worked with node.js, AWS, or an Echo before, we are proud of the fact that we were able to create a functional app that would be useful for such a huge demographic (Any U.S. Citizen). There are so many different possible vocal requests and the Echo is able to translate them to something our code is able to understand.

What we learned

While our team was able to learn node.js over 36 hours, the ideas that we learned were even more interesting. The architecture behind how an Echo is able to convert any input into a discrete set of structured handlers by using an intent schema and sample phrases/utterances was truly an interesting topic to learn about.

What's next for Ask Political

More advanced statistics and analysis of congressional members.

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