Amazon Echo PGA TOUR Skill

Over the past several years, we have seen the emergence of several new direct to consumer AI platforms.  The trend started with Apple’s introduction of Siri, which was quickly followed up by Google Now, as well as Microsoft’s Cortana.  All of these products let users interact primarily with a phone or tablet through voice activation. These innovations became helpful with manual, phone-based activities such as sending messages, setting alarms, and getting the latest traffic report.  But, in order to use these features it generally meant talking into a phone provided it was nearby.

In 2016, Amazon pushed the AI voice interaction model another step forward with its Echo product.  This new platform has been quickly adopted by people that want similar phone/voice interaction features at home or in the office without having to engage with a phone.  The Echo offers an AI named “Alexa,” which lets you execute a variety of skills.  These skills will turn on the lights in your house, stream your favorite playlist from Spotify, or get the latest sports scores. Amazon has developed a wide variety of Alexa skills that interact with a variety of services and Internet Of Things (“IOT”) products.  Amazon has also opened up API’s that enable third parties to develop Alexa Skills of their own for the Echo.

As part of our mission to expand the availability of PGA TOUR content across a variety of emerging platforms, we engaged with TribalScale and Amazon to build an Alexa skill for the PGA TOUR.  The first release of this new skill will let you ask Alexa for the latest PGA TOUR Leaderboard updates, how a particular player is doing and get the latest FedExCup standings.

Creating this new skill was our first pass at building this new type of voice interaction model for our fans. The process started with the development of a voice user interface (VUI) document that defined the interactions and the results of the possible outcomes from the interactions between a fan and Alexa.

One of the key learnings was creating the invocation types that are supported by Alexa and represent how someone is likely to address the device for information.  There are three types of invocation:

A full intent, where a fan asks for exactly what needs to be returned “Alexa, ask PGA TOUR for a Leaderboard update.”

A partial intent, which is subset of a full intent, such as “Alexa, start PGA TOUR.”  Alexa will respond with a default answer (a leaderboard or event update) but then ask you if you want a player or FedExCup update after that is complete.

No intent, a fan invokes the skill “Alexa, start PGA TOUR” but does not define an intent such as give me a player update.

Another consideration is the planning needed to respond to various states of events during the week.  The skill has to correctly respond when no event is underway Monday through Wednesday, when an event is delayed due to weather, and when a round is in a playoff or complete.

Once the VUI was complete, the TribalScale team began integrating the Alexa API’s, the PGA TOUR data feeds and the code necessary to get the skill in place for testing.   This didn’t take long, as the initial build for was completed in less than 30 days.  Once the testing began, we learned that it was time to teach Alexa a little about golf and player names in order to provide accurate and relevant updates for users.

One of the first interpretations of the data had Alexa stating that a player was at “E” over par, which needed to be translated to “Jason Day is currently even for the tournament…”.  The skill also needed to be updated to differentiate between similar names such as “Rickie Fowler,” and “Ricky Barnes,” when they were both playing in the same tournament.

The biggest challenge we have had is the correct pronunciation of player names.  There are some domestic and international player names that can be tough for the AI to interpret from a user and then repeat back in a response.  Through a set of tools in the Alexa App on a phone you can see what the device hears when asked for information.  One good example is “Louis Oosthuizen”.  His name when spoken into the device was interpreted as “lewis who is hazing”, “lewis who is teasing”, and “lewis hazen”.  As a result he was not found on the leaderboard.  On the other hand, a player’s name can be easy for the app to recognize like “Matt Kuchar,” but the Echo response pronounced it as “Matt Kookar.”

The good news is that the Echo manages the vast majority of player and event names just fine.  And where we have uncovered issues, the Amazon team has a process in place to tune the names so they are properly pronounced and recognized.

We are excited to roll out this new platform for fans to get the latest updates from the PGA TOUR.  This new class of interactive products is going to be one that develops quickly as we can see with the announcement of the new Google Home platform, and rumors of similar products by Apple and others. Our initial steps into this technology should help us to continue to offer the latest from the PGA TOUR in this emerging product space.

To get the PGA TOUR updates on your Echo, enable the PGA TOUR Alexa skill in the Alexa app on your phone and you will be all set to ask it for the following:

“Alexa, ask PGA TOUR for a leaderboard update.”

“Alexa, ask PGA TOUR how Jason Day is doing.”

“Alexa, ask PGA TOUR for the FedExCup Standings.”

 

Enjoy Alexa, (currently) the most intelligent robot golf fan on the planet.