Lego and Alexa Announce $100K Voice Challenge Winners
Amazon and LEGO revealed the winners of the Lego Mindstorms Voice Challenge: Powered by Alexa this week, with Game Station, an interactive, customized console for multiple games, taking home the grand prize. Developers around the world spent the last three months working on ways to combine coding and robotics of Lego Mindstorms with the Alexa Gadgets Toolkit in a bid to win some of the $100,000 worth of prizes.
Lego Games and Fun
Game Station, created by Jason Allemann, was chosen by a panel from Lego and Amazon as the grand prize winner. He will get $20,000 in Amazon Gift Cards, Lego models, and a trip to Lego’s headquarters in Denmark. Game Station will also be on display at the Lego World event in Copenhagen this February. Allemann has been building with Lego robotics for some time before applying voice tech to his designs.
“When I discovered the possibility of using an Alexa Echo to provide some voice interaction with the EV3, it really opened my eyes to the possibility of not only using voice commands to trigger and play games, but also to provide a level of feedback and interactivity that would provide an amazing play experience,” Allemann wrote in his entry. “I wanted to design the game console as simply as possible, so that it would be easy to reproduce and customize, yet still provide a versatile play experience.”
Alleman’s design connects Alexa to the Lego EV3 components and largely reproduces a kind of video game console mechanically. The difference is that the sophisticated Alexa AI handles all of the processing on its end, communicating by Bluetooth with the Game Station. Four buttons and four tracks make it possible to play the included games with up to four people. You can see an example of how Trivia works with the Game Station at the top of the article.
“Using this setup, I was able to implement 5 different games, and I already have ideas for more to add in the future,” Allemann wrote. “The games currently implemented are Simon, Trivia, Musical Chairs, Hot Potato and Race to the Top.”
Along with the Game Station, five finalists each won $10,000 in Amazon gift cards and LEGO models, with another $5,000-value prize going to a teenager’s entry. The finalists included an audio magic show, a robot that reads and turns the pages of a book for people with visual impairments, a robot that will make waffles, and a robot that uses Alexa to help train a puppy. The teenage creator category was won by a voice-controlled Lazy Susan.
Voice Game Growth
Games and toys with voice control are a promising, but very young market for partnerships between voice AI developers and toymakers. Alexa and other voice assistants include more and more audio games from classic mainstays like Jeopardy! to the award-winning Westworld: The Maze. The Skill Flow Builder Alexa released last year is making it even easier to create new games for the voice assistant. As kids become more comfortable using voice assistants for playing games with Alexa or getting a distant parent to read a bedtime story, it makes sense for adaptable toys like Lego to follow suit.
Voice is integrating particularly quickly into the video game space. Startups like Fridai are building video game-specific voice assistants to handle starting games, taking screenshots, and offering suggestions on strategy during the course of play. Google’s new Stadia video game streaming platform comes with a button for Google Assistant and Google is working on Stadia-specific features to enhance gameplay. Sony filed patents recently suggesting the PlayStation 5, due out in 2020, will include a voice assistant to help players while Facebook-owned Oculus is also reportedly developing a voice assistant for the Oculus Quest headset.