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Senior Stretch in Alexa Skills Store

Inspiration

Senior Stretch is an Alexa Skill that provides guided stretching routines designed for older folks that want to get moving, improve their range of motion, and have some fun in the process.

When researching the current Alexa Skills available, our team found that there were few skills focused on helping seniors maintain an active lifestyle. Currently, most Alexa skills catered to seniors focus on helping them optimize daily tasks including managing appliances, checking the news, medication reminders, and connecting with loved ones. However, as we age, flexibility is an important factor in helping maintain mobility and prevent health problems.

Given the aging population, it was important for our team to create a skill for seniors that focused on maintaining mobility and flexibility. We sought out a solution that would promote stretching routines to benefit seniors whether they were recovering from an injury, preparing for a marathon, or unsure of where to start.

How might we create an Alexa Skill to encourage seniors to feel motivated and engaged during exercise in order for them to maintain an active lifestyle routine, regardless of their athletic skill level and living situation?

We conducted user research and a competitive analysis to better understand the features our skill should include to meet the needs of seniors which you can find here (https://www.figma.com/file/jCGUR3VICufGDsylkFy9io/Alexa-Skill?node-id=0%3A1).

Users are more motivated to exercise when they are provided with key information including 1) what each exercise improves, 2) how to perform the exercise safely, and 3) how to create routine/structure. Users are also more likely to engage in exercise routines that are short and manageable.

Lastly, we researched the successful attributes of personal trainers when motivating clients to push through exercise challenges. We found that persuasive health communication provides users with choice, praise/encouragement, language of “we” vs “you”, and gain-framed messages. User's are motivated by personalized experiences that offer choice, options, and checking-in just as a personal fitness coach would.

What it does

Given the aging population, it was important for our team to create a skill for seniors that focused on maintaining mobility and flexibility. That’s why our team created Senior Stretch, an Alexa Skill that provides stretching routines designed for older folks that want to get moving, improve their range of motion, and have some fun in the process. Senior Stretch can reduce pain and prevent injury by providing stretching routines that respond to user's needs and help them gain relaxation and range of motion.

Senior Stretch provides two great guided stretching routines designed for older folks who want to complete the session standing or sitting. Each routine includes up to 8 holistic stretches that cover each part of the body. The skill is designed for audio only with added visuals for additional support.

Features:

  • Track number of times user exercised to encourage routine and promote motivation
  • Visual and audible timers
  • Option to stop and repeat to accommodate users’ desired pace & needs
  • Dialogue that mimics personal fitness trainer
  • Strong pauses, reduced to increase speech understanding
  • Clear verbal instructions and visual of exercises to reduce injury and increase confidence in exercise performance
  • Multimodal images (Our teammate, Rebekah, and her mom kindly contributed photos demonstrating each exercise for users to see on an Alexa Device)
  • Information on each stretch’s benefits
  • <15 min. stretching sessions that are chunked and achievable
  • Positive encouragements and check-ins

How we built it

We used Voiceflow for the conversation design, AWS DynamoDB for persisting the user’s progress, AWS API Gateway for the REST API interface, AWS S3 for publishing images and the privacy policy, and of course the Alexa Developer Console and Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) for testing and publishing the skill.

Challenges we ran into and what we learned

During this process, we thought a lot about how to maintain a personalized and engaging user experience throughout the conversation design of the workout.

This Alexa Skill is not designed to be a conversational partner, more so it is designed to be a guide. As a result, Senior Stretch is leading the conversation as a fitness couch would in order to get the user from point A to point B.

We had a lot to learn with:

  1. Connecting exercises for un/happy paths, including the option to “skip.” There does not seem to be an easy way to have a “next_exercise” variable that points to the block that starts the next exercise so that we could make this a reusable component. We had to hand code the logic for each exercise, ensuring word choice for each exercise was conversational, detailed enough, and maintained the user's focus.
  2. Identifying appropriate amounts of breaks in dialogue without interrupting flow of exercise routine, as well as ensuring there is enough time between each exercises.
  3. Incorporating date math feature. Date math required javascript that was not available in the free version of Voiceflow, so we didn’t add the feature that could tell how many exercises they completed in the same day if they visited multiple times, nor how many days it had been since the last exercise session so we could give kudos if they were stretching multiple times per week.
  4. Displaying animated gifs of timer and exercise image. Found that Alexa Skills platform did not support without specific coding, however Voiceflow is able to demonstrate this feature of the skill

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Barbara - The thing I am proud of is setting up a DynamoDB database for the first time in AWS, and creating the APIGateway to access it from the Alexa skill. I have quite a bit of experience with AWS RDS and Aurora databases and infrastructure, so I am satisfied the skill will scale well as needed with AWS.

Chriseah - I learned so much about conversation design and how persuasive health communication can influence an active lifestyle amongst the aging population. I am immensely proud of working alongside a great team of people! We met weekly to work out kinks, address constraints, and celebrate our successes!

Rebekah - I'm proud of our team's collaborative teamwork and decision making process throughout this project. Despite the challenges, we continued to problem solve and iterate solutions.

What's next for Senior Stretch

Senior Stretch is available for anyone with an Amazon Echo and Alexa Device to download and use from the Alexa Skills store (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BFWFJ97R/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Senior+Stretch+Challenge&qid=1663696461&s=digital-skills&sr=1-1).

Senior Stretch has the potential impact to motivate seniors to keep moving through stretching routines that are catered to their specific needs.

There is potential for this skill to include customizable features:

  • Personalized, varied stretching routines (i.e. to support injury recovery, to prepare for marathons)
  • Favorites
  • Reminders to support users with cognitive challenges maintain a routine
  • Share activity with friends to celebrate achievements
  • Option to change name, if Alexa didn’t get it right
  • Set Alexa voice to preferred speed and volume for the entire session with speak faster / softer intents, if possible if user does not like the slower speech

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