Hands-on with four new Alexa Blueprints for keeping the peace at home

If you want to tell Alexa what to do, try Blueprints. Amazon just introduced four new types that allow you to customize Alexa with some new helpful skills.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

In April, Amazon introduced Alexa Blueprints, which Larry Dignan, ZDNet's editor-in-chief, calledb"kinda brilliant" and "a masterstroke." Now, Amazon has introduced four more types of Blueprints.

Blueprints allow you to extend Alexa's capabilities merely by filling out a form. There are templates for basic home information, family stories, and information. By filling in the forms, you can customize (and even name) these Blueprints to fit your family situation. For example, you can build out a babysitter template, so whenever a babysitter comes over, he or she has access to essential information, merely via an Alexa query.

Also: "Alexa, fart," plus 15 other useful Echo tricks and tips

Alexa can now interact with your family with personal knowledge and provide help that specifically fits your needs. Larry gave six reasons he considers Blueprints so strategic: 1. Apple hasn't done this with Siri; 2. Alexa becomes part of the family; 3. Kids can easily become comfortable customizing Alexa and that follows them into adult life; 4. They make a good test bed for Alexa's business efforts; 5. Personalization matters; and 6. The more you interact Alexa, the more entrenched it becomes.

Last week, Alexa introduced four more skills: Chore Chart, Roommate, Whose Turn, and What to Do.

Chore Chart

How many times have you had the fight over whether it's Bobby's time to do the dishes, Nancy's week to take out the trash, or Don's turn to fold the laundry? Chore chart aims to eliminate that never-ending battle by using Alexa to both describe and log chores.


Define your family's chores.

To set up a family chore chart, you tell the Blueprint the members of your family. Next, you'll create a list of the chores that need doing.

Now comes the fun: you'll schedule the chores, and then assign who has to do what. You can leave the skill named Chore Chart, or you can give it a unique name that suits your family.

Alexa also allows you to customize some of the prompts, so after someone hears a list of chores, Alexa will say something like "You can do it!" or "Make it so." There doesn't appear to be a limit to the number of prompts, and Alexa chooses them randomly. This Blueprint also allows completion prompts that you can customize.

Also: Alexa, more cowbell: 18 silly (but fun) Amazon Echo commands

Once done, Alexa creates the skill and updates your account. It does take a little while for the skill to be created. In my case, it took about five minutes.


In a few short minutes, your new skill will be ready.

Once the skill has been created, your family can get a chore list, log a chore (which allows Alexa to keep track of when a chore has been completed), and get a chore score (which helps all members of the family know what's been done by whom).


Roommate is great for students and anyone sharing a rental location. It provides house rules and important information. In fact, the Roommate Blueprint, paired with the Chore Chart, would make an ideal household management tool for those sharing a house.

Back in my engineering school days, we sure could have used this capability to prevent some epic disagreements!

Also: No, I won't use the Amazon Echo to buy things

Roommate allows you to create house rules for each room of the house, as well as provide contact information for key people, like a landlord, plumber, or -- most important -- best pizza delivery in town.


Here's the helpful Roommate Blueprint. Fill it in to fit your circumstances.

What I think is far more interesting, though, is the 'How thing work' and 'Where to find things' sections. Amazon uses connecting to Wi-Fi as an example for how things work, but you might also need to explain how to set a timer for lights or how to change the water filter on the fridge.

Also: Why Amazon's Alexa Skill Blueprints are a master stroke

Where to find things is equally interesting, especially if there are tools or resources a roommate needs to know and might forget.


And where, exactly, are those fridge filters hiding?

Whose Turn

Whose Turn is a random value selector, using people's names for those values. When you ask Alexa, "Whose turn is it to whatever," Alexa will pick one of the names from the list. As for the "whatever" part, it looks like Alexa ignores that.

Also: Getting started with Alexa and smart home tech for under $100

That way, you can ask, "Whose turn is it to pick a movie?" or "Whose turn is it to hold the puppy?" and Alexa will pick a person from the list.


Whose turn is it to...?

In the hands of someone with a twisted sense of humor (no, not me, never!), Whose Turn could be a blast at Thanksgiving. For example, if you want Alexa to pick Uncle Jimmy more often than anyone else, just enter his name a bunch of times. Then, when you want to ask "Alexa, whose turn is it to complain bitterly about politics?," Uncle Jimmy's name will likely come up, followed by a musical fanfare and family hilarity.

What To Do

"What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. What do you want to do?"

"I don't know. I asked first. What do you want to do."

Also: Amazon gives developers new tool to make their Alexa skills

Yeah, you remember these conversations. I sure do, as recently as last Saturday. What to do is really a random item picker. It's power is in the ability to select categories. You can ask What to Do from any category you define, like what you want to eat for dinner, what movie you want to watch, or -- as the Blueprint's name implies -- what to do.


What do you want to do? Let us know in the comments below.

Final thoughts

Blueprints are still a work in progress. For example, the Roommate Blueprint has a prompt that says: "Customize Alexa's farewell. When your sitter closes the skill..." Clearly, the Roommate Blueprint was based on the babysitter skill.

That said, all of these Blueprints are interesting. They're definitely a small taste of what's to come. Have you created or shared any Blueprints? If so, let us know in the comments below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

Find the perfect Amazon Alexa-powered device

Previous and related coverage:

Alexa for Business: 10 key takeaways

'Hey Alexa, start the meeting.' AWS has launched Alexa for Business as it readies customers for the next wave of disruption, voice.

Amazon Prime vs Amazon Business: Everything you need to know

You've probably heard about Prime. But did you know it's more than just free two-day shipping? And what about Amazon Business? Yes, Amazon also offers a marketplace with Prime-like benefits just for businesses. Here's what you need to know about both.

Everything you need to know about the Amazon Echo CNET

Amazon's Alexa-activated smart speaker is a smash hit. If you're thinking about buying in (or just curious about what she's capable of), here's a helpful cheat sheet.

10 ways Alexa can help you get work done TechRepublic

Alexa can do more than play music and read you the news. The device also has skills like translation and time tracking.

Editorial standards