How R2D2 can Save the Amazon Echo

3 min readJul 4, 2017

Voice controlled software and hardware is a new world, no wonder it is in the stone age.

My fiancee and I absolutely love the Amazon Echo. We got started with the Dot size (only $49.99), and then we quickly doubled down and got the tower sized. So now we have Alexa (the Echo’s voice controlled helper) pretty much everywhere in our house.

The main reason we like the Echo is that we can do phone-type things without looking at our phones, or any screen for that matter.

I’ve tried the Google Home, and of course Siri on my phone, and currently I like Alexa the best. I haven’t tried Microsoft’s Cortana yet, maybe she’s better. But my suspicions are that they all suck. Here’s what’s wrong and how to fix it.

Too Verbose — Be More Like R2D2

All voice assistants are too verbose. They talk and talk and talk and say all these rough phrases in their strange robotic voices. Even if their voices modulated perfectly, usually the user doesn’t want to hear all the details.

Take for example when the Echo is not connected to the internet, but you don’t know that.

**Echo is dark**
“Alexa, what is the weather outside?”
**Echo has angry red ring around it**
I’m sorry, I’m having trouble connecting to the internet. Please use the help section of your Alexa app.

So long!

Another example is when you ask Alexa to play some music. Should be relatively straight foward, but it isn’t.

**Echo is dark**
“Alexa, Play the song Float On by Modest Mouse”
**Playing the song Float On by Modest Mouse from Adam’s Spotify**

Jeeeeesus Christ on a bike that’s long. If I say to my friend “Hey can you play Float On by Modest Mouse?”, all I’d need is a nod or a grunt of approval.

R2D2 to the Rescue

There is a machine that has a less verbose verbal interface (VI): R2D2. If you forgot this Star Wars hero’s noises, here is a video of a bird making them all.

Using something like R2D2’s VI could be a solution to voice assistant’s interfaces.

Luke Skywalker and R2D2 get along just fine with his little emotive blips and beeps.

For clarifying things there might want to be a C3P0 type routine that can actually speak human language, but for most things, most of the time, a friendly beep or whistle will do.

R2D2 uses intuitive base sounds — like a whistle, chirp, beep, etc that lines up with the basic concepts of success, not authorized, client error, server error, warning, etc. And then a secondary sound, like tone or pitch or modulation that indicates the variation on the basic idea. Why not do the same for voice assistants? Scroll to the bottom for example scripts.

Please, Thank you, and Your welcome

First off, it is very natural to say “Thank you” to Alexa after she helps you with something, but no “Your welcome”.

Gratitude is a human emotion that has deep connections in the brain and life with happiness, satisfaction, and meaning. Why miss out on the opportunity to engage with that emotion? Especially if people are already saying “Thanks Alexa”. Just say “Your very welcome.”

And a setting that requires you to say “Please” might be good to keep everyone polite.

Pulling it All Together

Let’s look at the two examples and apply the R2D2 method.

Playing Music w/o Gratitude
“Alexa, Play the song Float On by Modest Mouse”
**Blue ring and and cheerful whistle**

Connection Issues w/ Gratitude
“Alexa, what is the weather outside?”
**Red ring and disconnected beep**
“What’s wrong?”
I am having trouble connecting to the internet”
“How can I help?”
Use the Alexa app to troubleshoot my connection”
“Ok, on it”
**Thank you beep**
“Your welcome”

Doing Math w/ Gratitude
“Alexa, what is 32 divided by 4?”
32 divided by 4 is 8
**Green ring and you’re welcome/acknowledgement beep**

Politeness Requirement
“Alexa, can you turn down the lights?”
**Red ring and offended beep**
“Alexa, can you PLEASE turn down the lights?”
**Blue ring and a cheerful whistle**
**Green ring and you’re welcome/acknowledgement beep**

Thanks for reading — if you like your voice assistant but think that voice assistants could be a hell of a lot better, please recommend this post on Medium and share it too. :)

Thanks again!




Educator, Founder, Engineer. Interested in Evidence Based Education and Solving BIG Problems.