How Has Amazon Managed To Make Hackers Love Alexa?

Our hackspace has acquired an Amazon Dot, courtesy of a member. It mostly seems to be used as a source of background music, but it has also spawned a seemingly never-ending new entertainment in which the hackspace denizens ceaselessly bait their new electronic companion with ever more complex and esoteric requests. From endless rephrasing and careful enunciation of obscure early reggae artists to try to settle a musical argument to hilarious mis-hearing on the part of our silicon friend, the fun never stops. “Alexa, **** off!” it seems results in “I’m sorry, I can’t find a device of that name on this network”.

amazon-dot-always-listeningThat is just the experience of one hackspace, but it evidently does not end there. Every other day it seems that new projects using Alexa pass through the Hackaday timeline, so it looks as though Amazon’s online personal assistant has been something of a hit within our community.

Fair enough, you might say, we’re always early adopters of any new technology. But it’s a development over which I wonder; am I alone in finding it surprising? It’s worth taking a moment to look at the subject.

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Voice Activated Fireplace Is As Cool As It Gets

A fireplace can add a cozy, relaxed atmosphere  — and a touch of style — to any home. Redditor [hovee] saw the opportunity to add some flair to his gas fireplace by making it voice activated. Check out the video of it in action below.

Google Home and Google Assistant provides the voice recognition component. A Raspberry Pi 3 with Home Assistant does the legwork. An iTach TCP/IP-to-Contact-Closure relay toggles the fireplace, and an IFTTT account connected to Google Assistant brings it all together.

[hovee] then ran some thick 16/2 wire from the relay network port to the fireplace’s remote receiver circuit to actually turn it on. Some custom code and configuration of the Home Assistant files was necessary, but [hovee] has shown his work, with some tips besides, if you want to throw together a similar setup. It’s a help if your fireplace has a ‘remote’ setting, and a double bonus if there is documentation for the fireplace to be found that will help with the build process.

Once done, all you need to do is kick back with your favorite beverage in the lap of home automated luxury. Just be sure you have a backup to turn off your fireplace just in case your setup goes the way of Skynet. While you’re at it, you can set up your fireplace to save energy as well.

[via /r/homeautomation]

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DIY Rocket Mass Heater Build Log For Commercial Greenhouse

[Bigelow Brook Farm] has a cool geodesic dome greenhouse that needs to stay warm in the winter. There are a lot of commercial solutions for greenhouse heating, but if you’re the kind of person who research and develops solutions for aquaponics, a greener solution may have more appeal.

A rocket mass heater is a combination of a rocket stove and underfloor heating. A rocket stove works by having such a strong draft created by the heat rising up the chimney that the flames can’t crawl up the fuel and burn in the open air, creating a controlled burn zone. Unfortunately, with just a plain rocket stove a lot of heat is lost to the atmosphere needlessly. You only need enough to create the draft.

The mass part solves this. It runs the exhaust under the floor and through radiators. This passively retains a lot of heat inside the space to be heated. It’s a bit of a trick to balance the system so it puts as much heat into the space as possible without stalling, which can be dangerous due to carbon monoxide, among other things. Once the balance is achieved the user gets a stove that can burn fuel very effectively and best of all passively.

[Bigelow Brook Farms] have been working on their heater for quite some time. We really enjoy their test driven development and iteration. They have really interesting autopsies when a component of the heater fails and needs replacing. Right now they have a commercial sized operation heated by their latest iteration and it’s completely passive, being gravity fed. Video after the break.

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Stairwell Lights Keep Toddler with Night-Blindness Safe

A devastating diagnosis for a young child is every parent’s worst nightmare. All too often there’s nothing that can be done, but occasionally there’s a window of opportunity to make things better for the child, even if we can’t offer a cure. In that case even a simple hack, like a rapid response stairwell light to help deal with night-blindness, can make a real difference.

[Becca] isn’t yet a year old, but she and her parents carry a heavy burden. She was born with Usher Syndrome, an extremely rare genetic disease that affects hearing and vision to different degrees. In [Becca]’s case, she was born profoundly deaf and will likely lose her sight by the time she’s 10 or so. Her dad [Jake] realized that the soon-to-be-toddler was at risk due to a dark stairwell and the night-blindness that accompanies Usher, so he came up with a simple tech solution to the problem.

He chose Philips Hue LED light strips to run up the stringer of the stairs controlled by a Raspberry Pi. Originally he planned to use IFTTT for but the latency resulted in the light not switching on fast enough. He ended up using a simple PIR motion sensor which the Pi monitors and then uses the Hue API to control the light. This will no doubt give him a platform for future capabilities to help [Becca].

We’ve covered a few builds where parents have hacked solutions for their kids, like this custom media center for the builder’s autistic son. We suspect [Jake] has a few more tricks up his sleeve to help [Becca], and we’re looking forward to seeing how she does.

Waiting For A Letter? This IoT Mailbox Will Tell You Exactly When It Arrives.

If you’re waiting for a much sought-after letter, checking your mailbox every five minutes can be a roller-coaster of emotion — not to mention time-consuming. If you fall into this trap, Hackaday.io user [CuriosityGym] as whipped up a mailbox that will send off an email once the snail-mail arrives.

The project uses an Arduino Uno, an ESP 8266 wifi module, and an idIoTware shield board — making specific use of its RGB LED and light dependent resistor(LDR). Configuring the RGB LED on the idIoTware board to a steady white light sets the baseline for the LDR, and when a letter is dropped in the box, the change in brightness is registered by the LDR, triggering the Arduino to send off the email.

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Put an Honest Face On Alexa With This HAL 9000 Build

Amazon put out a version of Alexa’s software that  could run on Raspberry Pi. Adafruit sold a big scary red button. For, [Keith Elliott] the project ahead was an obvious conclusion.

The Raspberry Pi version of Alexa’s software was lagging behind the release version. You had to press a button to input a command, which really steals a lot of the joy out of a creepy voice controlled robot listening to you putz around the house. Now, it can wake on command.

Since this sold him on finally adding Amazon’s ever watching witch eye to his home, he decided he would give it appropriately sinister clothes. These were 3D printed from files based on Adafruit’s guide. He ended up with a fairly convincing facade.

The inside is kind of melancholy. A lone Raspberry Pi 3 is held company by a microphone and audio amplifier. These are pretty much all that’s needed to make you home automated shopping experience dreams come true. Video after the break.

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Super-Sizing Leaf Collection; Hackers Doing Yardwork

For many parts of the world, the great raking has begun as deciduous trees in temperate zones drop their leaves. Of course not everyone can abide the simple yet laborious process of manual raking and so they look to technology. You can buy a handheld leaf vacuum, a pull-behind leaf sweeper, or a mower attachment that lifts leaves into hoppers. [Lou] has the latter, but it’s way too small for his taste so he super-sized his leaf collecting hardware.

The hard part of leaf collection has already been solved for [Lou]. The riding lawnmower lifts the leaves and propels them through an angled pipe into three hopper bags which we think total 9 bushels (roughly 80 gallons or 300 liters). That sounds like a lot, but anyone who has recently cleared leaves will attest that they will fill up in no time.

[Lou] builds a light-weigh 4-foot cube covered in deer netting to super-size his hopper to a whopping 51 bushels (475 gallons or 1800 liters)! His first attempt uses a pipe that falls too short to fill leaves to the top, but his final product adds longer ductwork and hits the mark perfectly.

Gardeners everywhere should be salivating right now. Leaf mulch is one of the best things you can put on your garden in the spring. Although [Lou] designed his hopper to be emptied by leaf-blower, adapting this to set the full hopper in an out-of-the-way space would help them breakdown over the winter — turning them into planter’s gold by springtime.

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