Inspiration

At the beginning of 2018, my wife and two children (ages 9 and 12) wanted to commit to improving our healthy living. If we could stick to our goals over the first half of the year, then we would reward ourselves with a major trip in the fall. We didn't want to just focus on a target weight goal because this wasn't what the kids needed and we had additional goals we considered part of "healthy living," like exercising our brains and bodies and eating well.

So, we collaborated as a family to identify daily tasks -- personalized for each individual -- we would check off as completed throughout the day. Mom and Dad had exercise time at the gym, the kids had learning time, and we all had vitamins, healthy eating, and a family 7-minute exercise time each evening. Then, I set off to create daily spreadsheets to print off and hang on the refrigerator for everyone to check off as healthy tasks were completed.

After about two weeks of formatting, tweaking, and perfecting the lists, the effort was not diminishing. It was time to be more efficient -- so I could spend less time making spreadsheets and more time finishing my healthy tasks.

This was the birth of the new web application, My Healthy Today (http://www.myhealthy.today), which I began developing and evolving with immediate feedback and input from the family. My daughter helped create the logo and everyone used the app from their smartphone or Chromebook to check off their daily tasks, and offer ideas and identify bugs so I could develop faster. Since Amazon Alexa was already a part of our day (playing music during dinner time, setting timers for learning activities, and checking the weather each morning), we thought it would provide an even more efficient interface to quickly check off completing healthy activities without the need to open and login to the app on our devices.

"Alexa, open my healthy today." ... "Complete my vitamin task." Then, run out the door to get to school on time!

What it does

The MyHealthy.Today app integrated with Amazon Alexa is designed to help you keep track of all the healthy activities that fit your needs. Create customizable daily tasks that are just right for you and your goals, and MyHealthy.Today will keep you focused and monitor how you are doing every check of the way.

Set daily tasks one-by-one or create templates of tasks to apply each day. Save your routine tasks and use the built-in default tasks to get you started. Check your statistics to see how you are doing over time with completing tasks.

How I built it

The core features are included in a web application designed with JavaScript and php connected to a MySQL database. For each user account, the application maintains the daily healthy tasks, completion records, performance statistics, and user account information. The integration with an Amazon Alexa skill VUI allows a linked account to query the day's healthy tasks, complete tasks, and create new tasks on the fly. A Node.js lambda function calls the same MySQL database, so the web application is immediately in synch with any activities tracked through the Alexa skill.

Challenges I ran into

While wrapping up the development for this Life Hack challenge, additional security warnings began to appear for the web application in mobile browsers. I was already using encrypted SSL for the Alexa account linking, but because of how my web host provided the certificates, the updated mobile browser warnings still fired off red alerts making the site appear very unsafe. I scrambled to work with my web host to reconfigure the SSL and refactor my code to work with the new setup. It was not particularly difficult, but the last-minute timing (based on the deadline for this competition!) and the lack of warning or my awareness for the browser change, made it unexpected and not part of my development schedule.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

I'm excited that I was able to develop this project collaboratively with my family. Even during the early stages of development, it provided tangible motivation for the kids, wife, and myself to keep focused -- and reminded -- on being healthy each day. Everyone provided feedback and feature ideas to be incorporated into the app as well as writing the script and performing in the promotional video. Taking an idea and developing it together as a family by leveraging our skills, which drove us to a better state of heathy living, is something I'm proud of that we could accomplish.

What I learned

This is my first Alexa-integrated app I've published, so I learned more about how to link the service with external accounts allowing for even more powerful and useful VUI applications. The Alexa Skills Kit is straightforward -- since all of the extreme work with voice recognition and rendering is taken care of by Amazon -- and when integrated with extended custom services and backend database systems, the possibilities are endless.

What's next for My Healthy Today

With more promotional opportunities, I plan to expand the user base of the app to support my continued development of the service through display advertising and "pay-what-you-want" user subscriptions. There are more features and ideas we have in the pipeline to incorporate into My Healthy Today, and we are at a point where we need a larger active user community to provide more direct feedback and experiences to drive enhancements.

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