Working for a home appliances manufacturer, we always try to tackle the needs of our users and there were two major pains we wanted to solve: First of all, our connected appliances offer a great range of functionalities, but most of them are not used, because our users are not familiar with and therefore partly afraid of actually using them. The second pain was mulititasking while cooking, e.g. turning the pages in cookbooks or scrolling the recipes in our app with dirty hands - interrupting the cooking process itself again and again. We therefore wanted to make it as easy as possible to access the oven specific functionalities, offering better user experience and better cooking results as well as a hands-free and guided cooking experience with total focus on the cooking process itself.

What it does

Our Skill currently offers the user a set of 25 recipes, clustered into 5 different challenges. Each challenge focuses on a different type of preparation method and meal-type (e.g. Roasting, Pizza, Pastry). All users get a guided cooking experience with step-by-step recipes. Additionally we enrich the experience by integrating cooking tips (such as how to cut onions or which knife to use). For users that already have a Home Connect oven, there's even more: Those can steer the oven by saying "Alexa, tell cooking challenge to start my oven" via voice, making the cooking process (almost) completely hands-free. In our backend we then choose the best fitting program for the selected dish, which is available on the specific oven, so that the user can focus on the recipe and doesn't have to worry about the right temperature/cooking time, etc. With every recipe the user cooks, we track the progress, providing badges as incentive while improving their cooking skills and giving the skill a playful and funny touch.

How we built it

For the realization of the Cooking Challenge we have implemented an Alexa Custom Skill. The skill accesses a serverless AWS lambda, which was developed using Node.js and TypeScript. In the process, the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) has enabled us to develop our skills for the visual use in the kitchen. For the support of persistence in the skill a DynamoDB hosted by Amazon was chosen. In order to provide step-by-step guidance during the cooking process we used the Cook-With-Alexa API. The Lambda function also accesses a service developed specifically for our Alexa skills via an API, which links internal data from our ovens to the various recipes. Therefore a Spring Boot application with Kotlin was developed, which is hosted via Cloud Foundry. In order to control the ovens from within the skill, we use the Home Connect API.

Challenges we ran into

During the development of the skill, technical and organizational challenges occurred for us: A technical challenge for us was to customize and deliver the APL templates to support different aspect ratios and device displays. In addition, it was difficult to optimize the development environment and tools in an agile team with multiple developers. Through manually created deploy scripts using the ASK CLI, we were able to overcome this challenge. Additionally we had to adress not only a specific user group, but wanted to provide the usage of this skill to everyone, who owns an echo show device. This led to differentiation and handling of multiple cases of recipes based on the availability of an oven with Home Connect functionality, respectively the Home Connect account pairing.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Within a few months and a small, but highly motivated team we were able to develop an Alexa skill optimized for use in the kitchen by using the Alexa Presentation Language, despite few face-to-face session due to COVID-19. The skill has great potential for our company and shows new opportunities for interaction with kitchen appliances in the future.

What we learned

Motivation, spirit and trust can't be ranked high enough.

What's next for Home Connect Cooking Challenge

After releasing it in UK, we planned to also rollout in Germany soon, while integrating more challenges and recipes continuously. Additionally, we want to sharpen the challenge-character and hopefully make it a multi-user skill in the future.

PS: If you want to access the video above, please use following password: bsh

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