Penguin Random House has unveiled two new voice-activated 'skills' for Amazon’s Alexa devices. One is an interactive voice experience for smart speakers, making use of sample content from Tim Peake and the European Space Agency’s new book The Astronaut Selection Test Book (Cornerstone). The second is an app that allows listeners to access The Penguin Podcast directly from their smart speaker.
As one of the first voice products to be launched by Penguin Random House globally, "The Astronaut Selection Test skill" app allows users to engage with Peake via their smart speakers as they are challenged directly to answer real puzzles and training exercises from the ESA’s astronaut selection test process.
The interactive test - testing users' memory, teamwork and survival skills, as well as their Russian - will take about eight minutes and can be replayed multiple times. According to PRH, "exceptional candidates" who ace the test will also be treated to a hidden reward in the form of an ‘Easter Egg’ recording from Peake and the virtual voice assistant (i.e. a hidden piece of content that can only be found if they get a certain amount of questions right). Users will also be able to purchase the book via the app.
Rebecca Ikin, marketing director for Cornerstone, said she and her team had "learned an awful lot" in the course of working on the project and were now excited to see how users would engage with the new interface that seeks to connect authors with potential readers. Cornerstone and Penguin Random House's Audiences & Audio team partnered with Voxly Digital, specialists in voice technology development, to develop the app, which features as part of a wider audio-based promotional campaign for The Astronaut Selection Test Book including binaural podcast and radio advertising featuring Peake’s voice.
Peake commented: "Recording the skill was a unique experience and felt very appropriate, as astronauts are currently exploring the use of similar virtual assistants on the ISS."
PRH has also launched a new voice-activated skill allowing listeners to access The Penguin Podcast directly from their smart speaker, developed by PRH’s digital development team in collaboration with PRH Audio. Available from today (18th October), the app will allow listeners to play all episodes from 2018, plus eight “flagship episodes” from earlier years, and every episode of the podcast going forward. In addition, it will send extra information about the author to the user’s phone.
The most recent episode to feature on the skill will be William Boyd in conversation with new host and radio presenter Nihal Arthanayake, talking about his latest book, Love is Blind. New episodes will be added every two weeks.
Richard Lennon, editorial director for PRH Audio, commented: “2018 has already been a landmark year for the Penguin Podcast. We have introduced new hosts, interviewed some amazing authors, and launched a brand new series of live episodes. The podcast has now reached over a one and a half million listens to date and we’re delighted to be able to take it to an even wider audience by giving Alexa users a curated selection of brilliant conversations with authors including Salman Rushdie, Caitlin Moran, Arundhati Roy and many more.”
Both skills are free to enable and available now via Alexa on the Amazon Echo range of speakers. "The Astronaut Selection Test skill", which will be launched in all English language territories, will also shorlty be available on Google Home devices.
Data and analysis company Strategy Analytics claimed earlier this year that smart speaker devices "took a giant step towards mainstream acceptance" at the end of 2017, with full-year shipments up 300% globally compared to 2016 at 32m units. Google and Amazon account for nine out of every 10 smart speakers sold, it reported.