BCIT Computing instructor Dr. Bill Klug recently attended Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas and what he learned isn’t staying in Vegas.
The event is one of Amazon’s largest cloud services gatherings, attracting over 30,000 attendees, including customers, partners, vendors, and users of AWS cloud resources and services. Hundreds of technical sessions, workshops, boot camps, and hands-on labs are offered over the course of the week-long conference held at six different venues. Bill presented at two of the sessions, reporting on how BCIT students are learning using AWS.
With a smorgasbord of activities to choose from, and the many distractions of The Strip, Bill decided to focus on sessions related to voice processing offered through the Amazon Echo devices and the Alexa Voice Service.
What Can Echo and Alexa Do?
“Alexa, add bread to my shopping list.”
“Alexa, what is my flash news briefing?”
“Alexa, what is BCIT?”
Just this month, Amazon introduced the Echo in Canada. Echo connects to Alexa – a cloud-based voice service – to play music, make calls, set alarms and timers, answer questions, check your calendar, update on weather/traffic/sports scores, manage to-do and shopping lists, control smart home devices, and more – instantly. Applications that run on the Echo devices are called “skills.” Skills are developed in a similar manner as apps using programming languages like Java and Python.
For their final project in COMP 4968, Serverless Computing & Microservices, graduating Computer Systems Technology (CST) diploma students in the Cloud Computing Option were tasked with writing an Alexa skill. The resulting skills included booking study rooms, finding Student Association events, obtaining the location of school departments, booking classes and activities with Recreation Services, and others.
Bill’s goal is to have numerous Amazon Echoes located across campus, giving both visitors and students access to dozens of BCIT-oriented skills, and making BCIT the first Alexa-enabled campus in Canada. “While at re:Invent, I learned how two colleges in the US were using Echoes on their campuses. The skills developed by my students are definitely on par with what was developed at those US colleges,” explains Bill.
To speed up the development of BCIT-specific Alexa skills, and the adoption and deployment of Amazon Echoes on BCIT campuses, BCIT Computing has teamed up with Amazon Web Services to support events and new initiatives which will be announced in 2018.