Alumna Adva Levin '12 Wins Grand Prize in Amazon's Alexa Skills Challenge for Kids
April 17, 2018
Competitors had to build and publish an Alexa "skill" to entertain, educate and engage children under 13. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo.
Levin, who studied fiction and translation at Columbia, won for Kids Court, a game that helps children resolve disputes. She took home the $20,000 grand prize.
“I decided to address one of the most agonizing parts of family life — kids fighting — and created Judge Lexy, which is an objective, quirky judge that helps kids settle their battles," Levin said in her winning entry.
In the skill, siblings can go to court before a "judge," named Judge Lexy, who takes the kids through a mock trial process. But the judge's punishments are fun, and the point is for kids to walk away smiling, having resolved their issues. Words such as "plaintiff" and "defendant" are introduced so that children can gain an understanding of new vocabulary within the context of the game. If siblings don't have a case to settle but want to hear others, they can listen to prior court cases and guess who won.
Levin said she heard about the competition through one of Amazon's marketing channels. "I think this field is currently attracting mostly people with a tech background or ux designers," she said. "Writers have so much to add to this space, so I would love to encourage people to learn more about it."
She added that Voice User Interface design incorporates skills that are used in fiction writing, translation and screenwriting.
"Essentially you're writing a conversation between one character (the computer persona) to a bunch of unknown, and very diverse, characters (the users)," she said. "You define and write your character's personality through dialogue, and you have to have a good ear for the many ways different people can say the exact same thing to write the users' parts. People are building lots of interactive stories and games for this medium, where the creative tools are characters, dialogue, different voices and sound effects."
The game has received rave reviews on Amazon.
"Very original and useful idea for a skill!" writes April L. Hamilton. "It walks kids who have beef with one another through a 'trial,' allowing the 'defendant' and 'prosecutor' to present evidence and call witnesses. I especially like that when Judge Lexy renders [a] sentence, it ensures everything will end on a cheerful and probably laughter-filled note."
In order to be considered, participants had to submit a skill, a demo video and a story of how they built it. Some competitors explored advanced features like custom voices and sound effects, leaderboards, augmented reality and chat bots, and some tapped into NASA’s real-time orbital tracking data for the International Space Station.