Recently, we developed a chatbot to help people stop smoking. It was contained in an app, “Quit Smoking With Bella” and it gave advice to people who were trying to beat a smoking habit.
The client was happy with the chatbot, and they came to us soon afterward and asked us to integrate the chatbot Bella into Amazon's Alexa.
Alexa is a virtual personal assistant designed by Amazon's secretive Lab126. It listens to your voice commands and responds contextually to your needs (if possible). Users can ask Alexa to play music, make calls, control their smart homes, or any of a variety of other tasks. It was popularized by the Amazon Echo.
Like other virtual assistants, Alexa has its own understanding user commands and responds as accurately as possible.
We didn’t have much exposure to Alexa’s skills kit development before taking this project, so we invested in a substantial amount of research and development to understand how everything worked. The biggest problem arose when the client requested continuous voice communication for the chatbot, but we looked into that and found that it wasn’t possible using a third-party chatbot. So we had to come up with an alternative solution.
Trigger Words and Responses
Because continuous voice chat with a third party chatbot isn’t viable, we proposed a workaround. Our suggestion was to use trigger words and corresponding responses. The client agreed to that and provided us a set of trigger words and response text, and we used those as a basis to develop the skill.
We created a skill named “Bella” in the Amazon developer account and set it up with the required trigger words, then built an an API to receive voice commands sent by Alexa and send a message in response. This way, users can talk to Bella using Amazon Echo.
These features make user interaction with Bella via the Amazon Echo quite simple. Users just have to follow a few steps to access Bella and start chatting.
The user simply needs to say “Alexa, enable Bella” to enable the Bella chatbot skill into the Echo device.
After enabling the skill, the user can then say “Alexa, ask Bella.” This will connect with the Bella chatbot so users can talk to Bella.
To start a voice chat with Bella, first time users will need to say the word “Alexa.” After the response from Alexa, the chat with Bella is as simple as talking to a real person.
Alexa will respond by saying “Hello, it's Bella, your personal stop-smoking coach. Here is something to remember for when you do feel that temptation coming.” She then offer a randomly selected motivational message, and follow it up by saying, “Have the best smoke-free day ever!”
Randomly Selected Messages:
Any of the following are possible for Bella to say when she greets you. (If you specifically ask her for some motivation, she will also select from this list).
- “Drink a glass of cold water very slowly. The temptation will pass. Every feeling is temporary!”
- “Many people all over the world have quit smoking. You can too.”
- “Taking a few, slow, deep breaths can be really helpful.”
- “Think, walk, talk, and act like a nonsmoker and you will soon be one!
- “Practice saying ‘NO’ to smoking situations!”
- “Every artist was first an amateur. Every person who gave up smoking was once in your position.”
- “You don’t need to listen when you have a thought about smoking. Listen to something else. Listen to your body getting healthy!”
- “You don’t need cigarettes to be complete. All the happiness, comfort and peace you seek, is already inside you.”
- “Everything you are and everything you have is because of a decision you once made. Decide to quit smoking, and nothing will stop you.”
- “Your hearing, vision, breathing, and skin will all improve as you quit!”
- “Quitting smoking is better than anti-aging lotion. Quitting can help clear up blemishes and protect your skin from premature aging and wrinkling.”
- “Quitting can lower your blood pressure and heart rate almost immediately. Your risk of a heart attack declines within 24 hours.”
- “Fact: Smelling better is just one benefit of quitting smoking!”
- “Quitting smoking immediately is the best way to lower your risk of getting cancer.”
- “Quitting smoking will help increase the availability of oxygen in your blood, and your muscles will become stronger and healthier.”
- “Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of fractures, both now and later in life. Keep your bones strong and healthy by quitting now.”
- “Your risk of a heart attack decreases the longer you stay quit!”
- “That craving is temporary. It’s not you. Recognize when you have a craving, and watch it go away.”
- “A warm drink will help the coughing – remember it’s a sign that your lungs are recovering.”
- “It will be difficult. It’s okay to struggle. Just take each moment as it comes and congratulate yourself after each smoke-free day!”
- “Roughly 1370 will have successfully quit smoking today in England! You can do it too!”
- “In only 48 hours of quitting, your body will be nicotine-free!”
- “The negative feelings won’t last. The health benefits will last. You can choose to live a smoke-free life! Just focus on the long term positive impacts.”
- “Each smoke-free moment is a job well done!”
- “Wake up each morning with the confidence of going smoke-free for the day.”
- “Your determination will get you through. Your willpower will make you smoke-free for life. You are the captain of your own ship!”
Here’s a sample conversation a user might have with Bella, about Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
User: “Alexa, Open Bella.”
Bella: “Hello, it's Bella, your personal stop-smoking coach. Here is something to remember for when you do feel that temptation coming. Fact: smelling better is just one benefit of quitting smoking. Have the best smoke-free day ever!”
User: “What is NRT?”
Bella: “NRT works by releasing controlled amounts of nicotine into the body without the tar, carbon monoxide, and poisonous chemicals you get from tobacco. It's these chemicals that are the most harmful, not nicotine. All types of NRT deliver a lower does of nicotine than you would get from cigarettes and are much safer.”
User: “What are the types of NRT?”
Bella: “NRT is available in a variety of forms: gum, patch, inhaler, microtab, lozenge, and nasal spray. They are all as effective as each other so the choice is a personal and practical one. This range is big enough to allow you to use a type that will suit your lifestyle.”
User: “How do I use a lozenge?”
Bella: “An NRT lozenge is like a sweet that you suck slowly. It gives you NRT in a controlled way.”
User: “Is NRT dangerous for your health?”
Bella: “No, the damage to the health of the smoker is caused by the tar, carbon monoxide, and chemical compounds found in cigarette smoke. NRT products help smokers reduce their nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms without inhaling these harmful elements. NRT is safer than most people realize.”
User: “Where can I get NRT?
Bella: “NRT is sold in shops and supermarkets and over the pharmacy counter. If you don't get it on prescription make sure you read the instructions on the package and speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you're not sure of anything.”
User: “Is cutting down a good idea?”
Bella: “There is no evidence that merely cutting down as a strategy makes a quitting attempt more likely to succeed. The only way to really reduce the risks from smoking is to stop completely. If you can not stop smoking totally, an option is to use NRT while cutting down.”
User: “Some motivation?”
Bella: “That craving is temporary. It's not you. Recognize when you have a craving and watch it go away.”
Users just have to say “stop” to end the conversation.
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