This company is turning FAQs into Amazon Echo skills

NoHold's QuickStart bot builder is expanding to Amazon's virtual assistant.

amazon echo ces
Credit: Martyn Williams

People looking for an easier path to integrating with Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant have good news on the horizon. NoHold, a company that builds services for making bots, unveiled a project that seeks to turn a document into an Alexa skill.

It’s designed for situations like Airbnb hosts who want to give guests a virtual assistant that can answer questions about the home they’re renting, or companies that want a talking employee handbook. Bot-builders upload a document to NoHold’s Sicura QuickStart service, which then parses the text and turns it into a virtual conversation partner that can answer questions based on the file’s contents.

Right now, building Alexa skills is a fairly manual process that requires programming prowess and time to figure out Amazon’s software development tools for its virtual assistant. People who want to change the way that a bot behaves have to go in and tweak code parameters.

“Right now, if there has been a little bit of a pushback on bots and virtual assistants, it’s because they tend to be gimmicky,” NoHold CEO Diego Ventura said. “They’re either born out of mashing up existing APIs, like the typical bot that just gives you the weather, or they’re born out of somebody patiently having to specify every single utterance that somebody may use. That’s not scalable.”

In contrast, a bot made with QuickStart can be changed by uploading a new version of the document that spawned it. Based on a demo Ventura gave using an Echo in NoHold’s office, that same capability will apply to the company’s Alexa integration.

However, NoHold’s work still requires Amazon to make some changes to its development tools before the new capabilities can be made broadly available. Ventura is hoping the company will make the requisite changes in the near future.

The company’s goal for this feature is to allow QuickStart users to turn a bot they create into a skill that other people can download from the Alexa marketplace.

In the meantime, people can still try out QuickStart’s text bot creation capabilities for free. NoHold also offers a pro version of QuickStart that supports customizing how the resulting bot looks.

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