Let Alexa Control Your Life; Guide to Voice-Enable Everything

Let’s face it, automation doesn’t feel quite as futuristic unless you can just say what you want out loud and have the machines flawlessly obey. That is totally possible now — and on the cheap. Well, cheap as far as money goes. It can be an expensive learning curve to get it all working. This will help. [Lindo St. Angel] has put together a guide to navigate voice control of hardware using Amazon’s Alexa SDK.

We previously reported that Amazon’s AI had escaped its hardware prison in the form of the Alexa Skills Kit. Yes, calling it the Alexa SDK above is wrong it’s actually the ASK but nobody knows what that acronym is while most recognize the gist of an SDK. It gives you the hooks and the documentation necessary to leverage the functionality in your own applications. The core functionality of Alexa is voice recognition. Even so, it’s still a tall hill to climb.

[Lindo] has broken down the problem into a very manageable example. The Amazon Voice Service (part of ASK) is used for voice recognition and control. Amazon’s Lambda service connects the ASK to your piece of hardware; in this case he’s using a Raspberry Pi as the server. The final step is to connect your hardware to the Pi. [Lindo] is interfacing a keypad-based home automation system with the Pi but the sky’s the limit at this point.

With all the authentication and connectivity laid bare, this is a lot more approachable. The question is no longer can you connect everything to voice control. The question becomes should you give control of everything over to one single online service?

Quick Network Bridge Gets Off-grid Home Back Online

Off-grid living isn’t for everyone, but it has gotten easier in recent years. Cheap solar panels and wind turbines let you generate your own power, and there are plenty of strategies to deal with fuel, water and sanitation. But the one thing many folks find hard to do without – high-speed internet access – has few options for the really remote homestead. [tlankford01] wants to fix that and is working on an open-source mesh network to provide high-speed internet access to off-grid communities.

But first he had to deal with a major problem. With high-speed access provided by a Clearwire wireless network, streaming content to his two flat-screen TVs wasn’t a problem. At least until Sprint bought Clearwire and shut down the service in early November. Another ISP covered his area, but his house lies in a depression out of line of sight of their tower. So he rigged up a bridge between the WiMAX network and his lab. The bridge sits on a hill in sight of the ISP’s tower 3.5 miles away. Solar panels, a charge controller and deep-cycle batteries power everything, and a wireless link down the hill rounds out the build.

This is obviously a temporary solution, and probably wouldn’t last long in winter weather. But it’s working for now, and more importantly it’s acting as proof of concept for a larger mesh system [tlankford01] has in mind. There are plenty of details on what that would look like on his project page (linked above), and it’s worth a look too if you’re interested in off-grid connectivity.

Hairband Lights Up Depending on your Mood

After learning how to use the ESP8266, [Chirag Nagpal] decided to do a fun project to experiment that polls data from Twitter. He calls it the Sentiband, and it analyses your last tweet’s sentiment and changes color accordingly.

There is an API available called Sentiment140 (Formerly ‘Twitter Sentiment’) which is capable of determining the emotional content of a tweet on Twitter. It uses classifiers built from machine learning, and was developed at Stanford by a few CS graduates. We’ve seen it used before on a Christmas tree ornament on a much larger scale, analyzing all holiday tweets to light up your tree.

[Chirag’s] version allows you to set a username and display the latest sentiment of that user’s tweets hidden in the subtext. Three LEDs light up; green for a positive tweet, red for negativity, and blue for neutral.

Continue reading “Hairband Lights Up Depending on your Mood”

Amazon Dash Button Pwn3d

If you haven’t heard about the Amazon dash button yet we’re glad you quit watching cat videos and have joined us. Just to get you up to speed: the Amazon dash button is a small wireless device that lets your lazy ass order more laundry soap by pushing the “dash button” which should be affixed to something near your washing machine. The pushing of the button will set in motion the gut wrenching process that we used to know as “buying things we ran out of” but thanks to Amazon we can now just cover our entire lives with an assortment of buttons that take zero credentials to physically push. We can’t see that being a problem whatsoever.

Needless to say we as a community set out to find an actual use for these fantastic little devices. [maximus64] has done quite a nice job at enabling this hardware in a most usable way. Most of the hacks we have seen for the dash button remove the physical push button and add a sensor of some kind. Replacing the button with a sensor still uses the WiFi connection to send data from the button to the cloud. Instead of the button ordering more <<product>> from Amazon, a sensor might trigger the dash to increment a counter on your website letting you know that your dog went through the doggy door +1 more times.

[maximus64] has the dash button working in the reverse manner by porting the Broadcom IoT WICED SDK to the button. He is using the dash button as a receiver and when [maximus64] sends the “all good” signal from his laptop to the dash button his garage door opens which you can see in the video after the break. We find this extremely more useful than the dash button’s original intended use. [maximus64] has instructions in the readme.md file of the github repo so that you too can hack your dash button in this way.

Continue reading “Amazon Dash Button Pwn3d”

Animated Jack-o’-Lantern Really Connects

Days past people used to just carve a scary face in a pumpkin, drop in a candle and call it a day, but for our kind of crowd that’s not going to cut it. [Alexis] stuffed this Jack o Lantern with a lot of brain power and even connected it up to the internet for community control.

At the core of the festive decoration is a spark core, which allows micro controlled special effects to be triggered via Twitter. RGB LED’s change colors, flicker and flash and even a spooky ghost pops out of the top. Along with all that, a sound sensor is added in so the lights can react to the ambient sound around the lantern.

If you get too close an ultrasonic sensor will trigger the ghoulish treat with lights and animation, but what about spooky sounds? That is also included thanks to a toy found at the local discount store, which had its guts removed and its trigger button replaced with a transistor.

Now sights and sounds can all be controlled remotely or in an active response mode to entertain all the little goblins visiting the house this Halloween. Join us after the break for a quick demo video and don’t forget to send in links to your own pumpkin-based hacks this week!

Continue reading “Animated Jack-o’-Lantern Really Connects”

An Internet Connected Earth

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that more than half of the world’s population doesn’t have an Internet connection. It’s tricky to get an exact figure on this, however the number of people without connection is commonly agreed to be somewhere around 2/3rds of the population of the planet. There are some heavy hitters working on this problem with some pretty interesting solutions.

OneWeb is an outfit with [Richard Branson] as the front-man who plan to launch low orbit satellites to communicate with ground terminals. The ground terminals would rebroadcast the communication signals from the satellites resulting in 2G, 3G, LTE, and WiFi signals for those near a ground terminal.

SpaceX is throwing its hat in the ring with a little helpful funding from Google and Fidelity to the tune of $1 Billion.

Perhaps the most surprising is [Zuckerberg’s] solar-powered internet laser beaming drones. The idea is that these laser birds will circle over an Internet dead-zone like buzzard over a dying buffalo (reaching?) and provide connectivity to those below. The solar drones will fly at an altitude of 20km which is a pretty good ways up there, and they are believed to be able to stay in flight for months at a time. There’s a Facebook PhD explaining this in a video after the break, thanks Dr. Facebook.

Continue reading “An Internet Connected Earth”

73 Computer Scientists Created a Neural Net and You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

The Internet is a strange place. The promise of cyberspace in the 1990s was nothing short of humanity’s next greatest achievement. For the first time in history, anyone could talk to anyone else in a vast, electronic communion of enlightened thought, and reasoned discourse. The Internet was intended to be the modern Library of Alexandria. It was beautiful, and it was the future. The Internet was the greatest invention of all time.

Somewhere, someone realized people have the capacity to be idiots. Turns out nobody wants to learn anything when you can gawk at the latest floundering of your most hated celebrity. Nobody wants to have a conversation, because your confirmation bias is inherently flawed and mine is much better. Politics, religion, evolution, weed, guns, abortions, Bernie Sanders and Kim Kardashian. Video games.

A funny thing happened since then. People started to complain they were being pandered to. They started to blame media bias and clickbait. People started to discover that headlines were designed to get clicks. You’ve read Moneyball, and know how the use of statistics changed baseball, right? Buzzfeed has done the same thing with journalism, and it’s working for their one goal of getting you to click that link.

Now, finally, the Buzzfeed editors may be out of a job. [Lars Eidnes] programmed a computer to generate clickbait. It’s all done using recurrent neural networks gathering millions of headlines from the likes of Buzzfeed and the Gawker network. These headlines are processed, and once every twenty minutes a new story is posted on Click-O-Tron, the only news website you won’t believe. There’s even voting, like reddit, so you know the results are populist dross.

I propose an experiment. Check out the comments below. If the majority of the comments are not about how Markov chains would be better suited in this case, clickbait works. Prove me wrong.