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ASU Students Create Amazon Alexa Skill Focusing on Sustainability

April 20, 2018

With Earth Day approaching, two Arizona State University students created a feature for Amazon’s line of Echo smart speakers that provides daily sustainability tips.

Students in the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication created Earth Saver, an Alexa Skill, which offers ways for people to reduce their carbon footprint.

Users activate the skill on the Echo smart speaker by saying, “Alexa: Ask Earth Saver how can I help the Earth.” The Echo device responds with suggestions ranging from “clean out your dryer’s lint filter” to “don’t forget to unplug your cell phone charger.”

Cronkite student Sierra LaDuke and Deepak Mahudeswaran, a student from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, worked on the project over the past several months. The New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab pairs Cronkite students with ASU computer science, design and business students to create digital media products for regional and national media companies and other organizations.

LaDuke researched most of the sustainability tips featured on Earth Saver. She said the experience will help her as she pursues a career in entrepreneurship following graduation.
“I’ve always really been into technology and apps,” she said. “It really excited me to be a part of something that’s so futuristic.”

LaDuke added that she enjoyed working with Mahudeswaran, who taught her the basics of developing an Alexa Skill for the Echo, while Mahudeswaran said working in the lab allowed him to collaborate with people of diverse backgrounds. Mahudeswaran also received guidance from Cronkite Web Administrator Hari Subramaniam.

“I really enjoyed working on this project,” Mahudeswaran said. “Environmental issues are some of the most important issues that we face today. I’m happy we could work on something that helps the environment.”

Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab, said she got the idea for an Alexa Skill on sustainability after the Cronkite School hired former NPR executive producer Tracy Wahl as executive editor of Elemental, a regional journalism collaboration that focuses on sustainability with other public media organizations in Denver, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Hill said Earth Saver is one of the only Alexa Skills that focuses on sustainability. She said Wahl and her team as well as Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, are working to research more sustainability tips to add to the Alexa Skill.

“Our students did a fantastic job creating a cutting-edge digital media project that will make a difference in people’s lives,” Hill said. “We hope Earth Saver will give people the bite-sized information they need to be more sustainable in their daily lives.”

Launched in 2006, the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab is one of more than a dozen professional immersion programs in which students gain real world experience working with award-winning professional journalists and communication experts at the Cronkite School. Projects have included virtual reality experiences, a mobile transit app for the Apple Watch, an interactive news game on veterans affairs and a mobile app exploring downtown Phoenix.