“Alexa, help me with ham radio”
By Dan Romanchik, KB6NU
I have had an Amazon Alexa for nearly a year now. Mostly, I just use it to listen to internet radio stations or tell me a joke, but I think it has more potential than that. For example, I’ve written before about how I’d like to develop an Alexa skill to control my IC-7300. I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but, Joe, N3HEE, has just published an Alexa skill called Continuous Wave. It’s designed to help you learn Morse Code.
To use this skill, you have to first enable it. Once enabled, say, “Alexa, open Continuous Wave.” This opens the skill at the main menu. You can then say any of the following at any voice prompt…
- Common words
- Random words
- Call signs
- Quick Brown Fox
- Stop – To end your session.
I’ve just played around with this app for a short time, but I’ve found it to be quite entertaining. It does, however, have one big drawback. You can’t set the speed. It’s currently limited to sending at 20 words per minute only.
Also, the learn function could use a little refining. When you give the command “learn,” it asks you for a character, sends that character three times, and then asks you for another. If you could set the speed at which the skill sends characters, it could teach a character like the K7QO Code Course, first sending the character slowly, then ramping up the speed.
Overall, though, I think this is a great first shot at a usable Alexa skill for teaching Morse Code. I hope this is the first of many versions of this skill.
Other ham radio skills
While I was poking around on Amazon, I decided to see what other amateur radio skills might be available. Here are a few that I found:
- Ham Exam. Ask Alexa to ask you questions from the Technician Class question pool.
- Ham Lookup. Allows you to look up amateurs by call sign. Information is provided from the callbook.info database.
- Ham Radio Propagation Forecast. Reports the latest forecasts directly from HamQSL (run by N0NBH).
- ARRL Audio News. Adds ARRL Audio News to your Alexa flash briefing.
Building your own voice app
The Continuous Wave Alexa skill was developed using tools found at VoiceApps.Com. Two other websites—Pullstring and StoryLine—also have tools to help you build voice apps. And, Amazon has an online tutorial that will teach you how to build an Alexa app. I’m just getting started with these tools, so I can’t recommend one over the others, but they do look like they’ll make developing voice apps easier.
Since I’m currently in the process of updating my No Nonsense Technician Class License Study Guide, it occurs to me that I should also develop an Alexa skill for drilling students on test questions. I guess you could call them audio flashcards. Stay tuned for that.
When he’s not trying to figure out how to build voice apps, Dan blogs about amateur radio at KB6NU.Com, teaches ham radio classes, and operates CW on the HF bands. Look for him on 30m, 40m, and 80m. You can email him about the voice apps that you like at firstname.lastname@example.org.