Presented by:

Brian Broll

from Vanderbilt University

Brian Broll is a Research Scientist at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems at Vanderbilt University. He holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in Computer Science and a B.Sc. from Buena Vista University, majoring in mathematics education. His research interests include computer science education and model integrated computing.

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Smart devices and voice assistants have become ubiquitous in the era of the internet of things. This presents a huge opportunity for making computing more relevant and engaging - especially for young learners! What if students could use familiar, blocks-based programming environments to create their own voice assistants?

To this end, we have recently made it possible to develop Amazon Alexa skills from within NetsBlox. Using the RPC abstraction available in NetsBlox, users can develop their own Alexa skills from within the browser. As these skills are created within NetsBlox, they share the affordances of NetsBlox - including the rich set of integrations such as cloud variables, RoboScape, and weather data. This makes it possible to extend Alexa with your own capabilities such as adding voice control to a game or even use it to control physical robots!

During this workshop, we will gain hands-on experience building our own Alexa skills within NetsBlox. To promote sharing and remixing, we will be using the NetsBlox Gallery during the workshop. We will start with a short introduction to NetsBlox and Alexa and then transition into a demo project which uses Alexa to control a sprite on the stage. This project will be inspected and remixed to support additional voice commands such as commands for resizing or hiding the sprite. Finally, we will build Alexa skills from scratch where we will be defining our own commands and handlers entirely! We will conclude with a short discussion and provide additional resources for further exploration and experimentation!

Slides are available at

1 h
Room 4
Snap!Con 2021