Lego and Alexa Team Up For Storytelling Through Device

In terms of toys, what could possibly be better than LEGOS?  How about LEGOS, combined with Alexa?  That’s the latest idea from Amazon, who has paired the unlikely duo in a newly announced service called “LEGO Duplo Stories.”  The new service (“skill,” in the parlance of Alexa) will be available on any device that offers Alexa support including Echo Dot and Amazon Echo. It provides a selection of stories with audio prompts that guide children in the construction of something with their LEGO Duplos that ties in with the story being told.

The stories are quite inventive, and change based on the responses of the children listening and interacting.  For example, one story involves going on vacation via plane, and based on what the children say they want to pack, the vacation destination will be either to a warm or a cool place, with various build instructions being introduced along the way.

According to the company, the goal is to use these interactive stories as a means of developing color recognition, social, and cognitive skills.

It’s an innovative approach, and an excellent use for a technology that is becoming increasingly common in American homes.  To access the stories, simply say “Alexa, open LEGO Duplo Stories,” then follow the prompts to begin the interactive experience.

Currently, the stories span ten different themes and work in tandem with existing Duplo sets.  It should be noted that you can still interact with the skill even if you don’t own a set of LEGOS, or don’t have all the required pieces (although obviously this will make it even more interactive).

James Poulter, the Head of emerging Platforms and Partnerships at LEGO, had this to say about the new offering: “Voice is such a powerful tool for play as it is one of the most human ways of interacting.  Long before we can type, read or control a device, we listen and speak.”

An exciting development, and it is available right now.

Amazon Removing Music Storage Service At End Of April

If you use Amazon’s Cloud MP3 Locker to store your music online, now is the time to start looking for a new home for it.  Last year, the company announced that they were ending the service, but didn’t provide a firm date.  April 30, 2018 will be the last day you’ll be able to access your music if you don’t take action.

Back in December, the company stopped allowing users to upload new tracks to their music storage system, which users were formerly allowed to store up to 250 songs for free.

In the company’s most recent announcement about the coming changes, they made two important clarifications.  First, there is a back-end way you can keep access to your existing music files, but it requires action on your part.  You’ll need to log in, go to your Music Settings and click the “Keep My Songs” button.  Failing to take this step will result in your music being deleted.

Second, the company stresses that these changes do not apply to music purchased through Amazon Prime, or Amazon’s digital music streaming service.  Those files will still be available, with no action needed on your part.

While it’s a sad development, it’s not surprising in the least.  Increasingly, companies that provide cloud-based storage are streamlining or scaling their services back.  Amazon isn’t the first, and they certainly won’t be the last.  Last year, both DropBox and Microsoft Onedrive (two prominent players in the cloud storage ecosystem) announced scalebacks to the amount of storage offered in their free accounts.

While it’s true that storage has become increasingly low cost, it’s also true that the growth in popularity of cloud storage has exploded. Companies offering the service have had to scale back, lest they become completely overwhelmed.

In any case, there’s still time to move or preserve your files, but you’ll want to take action sooner rather than later.

Alexa Now Makes It Easy To Donate To Charity

Amazon has made a small but significant change to its Alexa service, which now makes it possible to donate to charity by issuing voice commands.

So far, there are 48 charities connected to the system, with more in the pipeline.  There are two ways you can make use of the new feature.  The first is to simply say, “Alexa, make a donation.”

Doing this will prompt Alexa to ask you which charity you want to donate to, and the dollar amount to be donated.

The second method is to say something like, “Alexa, donate $20 to the American Red Cross,” or one of the others currently tied into the donation system.  Alexa will use whatever payment information you have tied into your Amazon account (including Amazon Pay, if you use it).

This isn’t the first time Amazon has taken steps to make donations to charity easier.  Not long ago, the company collaborated with an organization called “Give Back Box,” which allows users to reuse Amazon boxes to ship donations to various charity groups.

The company’s motivations for making these changes are unclear, but it could be a bid to help their new Amazon Pay system gain more momentum.  Regardless of the reasoning, these are exciting changes indeed. Given Amazon’s global reach, it’s all but certain to be a boon to the charities tied into the program.  Even better, these changes may well prompt other tech giants to make similar moves.

If you own a business of any size and are in the habit of making donations as part of your firm’s goodwill and outreach, Amazon just made it easier to do that.  If not, then at the very least, when you opt to make a personal donation you now have a convenient way to do so.