If you expect a night to be like any other it usually turns out you are wrong. If you expected nothing, it turns out even better. It is exactly nights like this which you will always remember. There is no way of knowing beforehand and this is a good thing.

This is how we see April 27th, the day of the Alexa hackathon in Cologne, organized and coordinated by hack.institute and mobile.cologne. After the hackathon about Android wearables they focused on Amazon’s newest “magic box”. More or less coincidentally the event fit our schedules perfectly because we had planned a meeting in cologne for this day.

Like other participants we had thought about a product or service which could be put together in the time of only four hours. It quickly became obvious that the list grew shorter and shorter when we defined two major restrictions: Solving a problem and making maximal use of the technology’s unique selling point.

After two espressos we were able to move away from the most obvious target group – us – and came across a different, very important and interesting target group to whom our criteria applied: Senior citizens and those who are soon to be senior citizens.

Cologne Hackathon - Amazon's digital aisstant Alexa

At that time we had only briefly touched upon this idea and summed it up as follows: We replace/complement the known home emergency call service and help individuals who had an accident at home and have no or limited capability to move and get help.

With our shortlist of ideas for the hackathon we met in Cologne (we prepared two ideas in case someone else should have had the same idea) and started into the evening without expectations. On-site we took Franziska into our team and the three of us worked together on realizing the idea and creating an MVP. To our surprise and delight, none of the other competing 20 teams used a similar approach.

„If you expect a night to be like any other it usually turns out you are wrong.”

Four hours later at 9pm sharp the laptops were closed. After many good pitches by the other teams it was our turn to present our “Rescue Me” skill in front of 700 people. We won. With the activation of the skill we addressed a webservice which in turn would contact an emergency contact via phone call or text message. Besides, Alexa was able to ask for the user’s vital body functions and send the answers via text message. Both the jury and the participants voted us to 1st place.

With this idea we harnessed Alexa’s unique strength to help in a moment when the user has no other way but to use his voice to get help. In an emergency this dire situation can end tragically. Furthermore, we are building on a communication canal which nowadays is responsible for many buzzwords such as voice control, voice assistant or natural language understanding but is also one of mankind’s oldest: Voice that becomes language.

As a positive side effect this kind of service is not limited to the target group we initially focused on. Single people or persons with a high need for safety can benefit from the skill. The conceptual development of the skill (especially the voice interface design) needs to be catered towards the target group which might take the most unexpected path in activating the skill. It is a minor matter how easily we, who grew up with the Nokia 3310, will be able to use it or to find alternative access to the system.

Subsequent to this evening, we as happy winners thought this might have been our secret proof of concept idea. Not only for the development of a smart skill for Alexa but also for something else which is very close to our hearts: Create added value through the improvement of everyday life or products which do exactly what they are supposed to do at exactly the time when you really need them.

Let’s do it!

Addendum: Find here the hack.institute’s Facebook-livestream which recorded the evening’s pitches. Our presentation starts at 21:00 minutes.

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