This project was inspired by the importance of recycling, and more so the importance of doing it properly. The city of Santa Cruz, for example, has even stopped accepting the recyclables from UC Santa Cruz due to the recent news that China has stopped accepting the United State's plastics. Everyday it becomes more and more apparent that we need to make a change. Many people, if you asked them about it, would not know their local recycle sorting guidelines. Even today, people believe that pizza boxes are recyclable, which they are not at all. The general public has very little knowledge about the correct recycling policies for their specific community. Moreover, those who try to learn more can be discouraged by the inaccessibility of their communities’ lengthy recycling guidelines.
That’s where our project comes in. An Alexa skill would be easily accessible to anyone with an Alexa enabled device, just having to add "Santa Cruz Recycling" to their skill list. The user simply has to talk to Alexa to get their recycling questions answered accurately, and may learn more things about recycling in general. No google searching required.
We built it using the Alexa Developer Console, the Amazon Developer console, and the Amazon Web Services Developer Console. The front-end was done by following basic tutorials on how to set up intents, utterances, slots, and invocation on the Alexa Developer Console. The back-end work was written in node.js using the lambda functions on the Amazon Web Services Console. All Testing was done through the test page on the Alexa Developer Console.
Some challenges we ran into was getting Alexa to have a longer dialogue conversation with us. She would often respond to only one of our questions and then exit out of the skill. We had several mentors help us and give us advice until we finally figured out that rewriting one line made the entire thing work. We also had the issue that we were giving ourselves to large of scope when it came to having her respond to the users questions. We found that having her ask things like "Are you trying to recycle paper, plastic, or metal?" was a lot more helpful then her asking "what would you like to recycle?". That way it only give the user a few options to choose from, and we as developers weren't stuck hard coding a whole database full of random recyclable objects.
We’re proud to say that on day one of the hackathon no one on our team had ever encountered Alexa Skill development and now we have all been able to create a fully functional Alexa Skill. Much of our learning was done independently, even learning new things alongside some of the mentors. With a team of students of all different levels and backgrounds, we were able to work together to make this skill. Along the way, we also had the opportunity to learn a lot about our own recycling habits and how we can improve our everyday.
We as developers would like to add a greater range of knowledge to our Alexa Skill. Doing so would make the skill more useful to many more people in our community.