New Media Capstone is a project-based course designed to join students of different backgrounds and skills to work together to build new media solutions that address specific client problems, explore and implement emerging technologies, or both. Groups not only develop amazing products, but learn to brand, market, and present them to current professionals and family at the end-of-semester NMI SLAM event.
My group for New Media Capstone was assigned one of the most intriguing emerging tech topics: Voice. We decided to build a program for Amazon's Alexa, a voice assistant that's typically confined to the home through Amazon echo speakers and other smart devices. However, we wanted to go beyond that perspective, take Alexa out of the home and into a new environment. After extensive research, we discovered a variety of problems with retail environments: sales associates often found difficulty handling all their tasks as well as gauging customer's interest in interacting; and customers often had trouble finding products that they wanted, finding associates for assistance, and more. With that in mind, we decided to combine our skills, and create a program using Alexa as an opportunity to modernize the in-store shopping experience, giving birth to Shopstar.
Shopstar is designed to solve a lot of the retail problems on both the business-side and the consumer-side. Customers can use Alexa to search for in-store products, check stock, get store information, and call associates to their location in stores for assistance. Freeing up time for employees and expediting the shopping process for customers.
I took on the developer role for this project. My primary duty was to gain a general understanding of how voice technology worked, specifically Amazon's Alexa; develop the Shopstar skill to include its main features: product search and notifying employees; as well as figure out how to connect the skill with Airtable's platform, a database system with user-friendly interfaces and real-time implementation that would allow store employees to easily update information for Shopstar to pull from without having to deal with underlying code. Throughout this process, I learned so much about how to search and siphon through development documentation. I was able to gain a pretty solid understanding of voice technology, which was a concept none of us had considered before.
I was also responsible for creating and updating the website throughout the course of the project. This, coupled with a lot of our social deliverables, taught me the importance of cocnsistency across all "published" work. Not only does this prevent confusion for the public-eye, but also provides a foundation for healthy communication and idea generation as progress with Shopstar began to flourish.
Five women, five months, and many late-night conversations later, we were able to create an innovative product to not only learn what can be done with an emerging technology, like voice, but also providing a solution to a real-world problem as well.