I attended a Hackathon for children some months ago as an expert for design and coding, when I met a group of very curious, young girls in the age of eleven. They were so keen on knowledge and learning stuff, but they neither knew how to use a computer nor how to code. So I taught them from step one how to use a computer up until a bit of programming. Unfortunately we lost contact. I thought to myself: "Now they don't know whom to ask. Furthermore they don't know how to search in Google properly, as they didn't even know how to use a computer. Wouldn't it be awesome if they could be connected to an expert for any topic, which they want to know more about?"

What it does

You can ask Sir Albert any question you like. He provides you with an instant answer. If this reply didn't answer your question, he forwards it to our expert network. As soon as an expert explained the solution for the question, the kid can retrieve it by asking Sir Albert. Additionally they can ask about fun facts, if they want to learn something new.

How we built it

After Alexa started Sir Albert and receives a message, we send it to IBM Watson Conversation to interpret it. This made it easy to build a whole dialog. Furthermore, when a question is stated, we use IBM Watson Natural Language Understanding to intrepret and categorize the question into topics. This enables our expert network to only see the questions in topics they know about. To give Sir Albert a more realistic touch and his own character we use the voice pattern 'Brian' from AWS Polly, so he has a male british voice – no matter in which English-speaking country you are.

Challenges we ran into

Of course we had some challenges like developing a realistic character or building an intuitive, voice-first conversation flow, which feels like a normal dialog. But in the end no challenge was too big and we are now really satisfied with our solution.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

When we developed the first prototype, which posted the categorized questions to Twitter, it was quite an accomplishment. We were so happy when the question was intrepreted into the right categories and we immediately saw the result. Another accomplishment was when we tested one of our prototypes with an actual user group and everybody liked the idea, despite some misunderstandings when testing.

What we learned

Testing, especially with real people, is the most important thing. They give you the most valuable feedback. More valuable feedback than testing on your own can ever give. In addition we were surprised how implementing another voice can give a complete new character to an application. The current voice represents just the character we imagined for Sir Albert.

What's next for Sir Albert

The first step is to develop an easy-to-use platform for our experts. After that we need to find a solution for receiving different answers to the same topic, because of course there could be several answers with different quality and opinions on the same topic. In addition to that we would like to develop a learn mode, in which curious children are introduced to new topics in a fun way.

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