Build Your Own P-Brain

I don’t think we’ll call virtual assistants done until we can say, “Make me a sandwich” (without adding “sudo”) and have a sandwich made and delivered to us while sitting in front of our televisions. However, they are not completely without use as they are currently – they can let you know the time, weather and traffic, schedule or remind you of meetings and they can also be used to order things from Amazon. [Pat AI] was interested in building an open source, extensible, virtual assistant, so he built P-Brain.

Think of P-Brain as the base for a more complex virtual assistant. It is designed from the beginning to have more skills added on in order to grow its complexity, the number of things it can do. P-Brain is written in Node.js and using a Node package called Natural, P-Brain parses your request and matches it to a ‘skill.’ At the moment, P-Brain can get the time, date and weather, it can get facts from the internet, find and play music and can flip a virtual coin for you. Currently, P-Brain only runs in Chrome, but [Pat AI] has plans to remove that as a dependency. After the break, [Pat AI] goes into some detail about P-Brain and shows off its capabilities. In an upcoming video, [Pat AI]’s going to go over more details about how to add new skills. Continue reading “Build Your Own P-Brain”

That’s No Moon! That’s a Virtual Assistant

[Wisecracker] likes how the Amazon Echo Dot works, but he doesn’t like how they sound or how they resemble hockey pucks. A little 3D printing, though, and he transformed the Dot into a credible Death Star. That doesn’t sound very friendly, we guess, so he calls it Alex-Star.

What makes it work is the Death Star’s “superlaser” — the weapon operated by a console that looks suspiciously like some studio video equipment — happens to be about the size and shape of a two-inch speaker. [Wisecracker] added a slot to let the sound out of the second speaker. You can see the thing in action in the video below.

Continue reading “That’s No Moon! That’s a Virtual Assistant”

IoT-ify All Things: LG Has Gone Overboard

If you been following Hackaday lately, you’ve surely noticed an increased number of articles about IoT-ifying stuff. It’s a cool project to take something old (or new) and improve its connectivity, usually via WiFi, making it part of the Internet of Things. Several easy to use modules, in particular the ESP8266, are making a huge contribution to this trend. It’s satisfactory to see our homes with an ESP8266 in every light switch and outlet or to control our old stereo with our iPhone. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. And that’s completely fine for one’s personal projects.

But what happens when this becomes mainstream? When literally all our appliances are ‘connected’ in the near future? The implications might be a lot harder to predict than expected. The near future, it seems, starts now.

This year, at CES, LG Electronics (LG) has introduced Smart InstaView™, a refrigerator that’s powered by webOS smart platform and integrated with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service.

… with webOS, consumers can also explore a host of WiFi-enabled features directly on the refrigerator, creating a streamlined and powerful food management system all housed directly on the front of the fridge door. Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service gives users access to an intelligent personal assistant that, in addition to searching recipes, can play music, place Prime-eligible orders from Amazon.com…

This is ‘just’ a fridge. There are other WiFi-enabled appliances by now, so what?  Apparently, during the LG press conference last Wednesday, the company marketing VP David VanderWaal said that from 2017 on, all of LG’s home appliances will feature “advanced Wi-Fi connectivity”.

Notice the word advanced, we wonder what that means? Will ‘advanced’ mean complicated? Mesh? Secure? Intelligent? Will our toaster finally break the Internet and ruin it for everyone by the end of the year? Will the other big players in the home appliances market jump in the WiFi wagon? We bet the answer is yes.

Here be dragons.

[via Ars Technica]

“Alexa, Order Everyone In San Diego A Doll House”

Every day it seems there is a new Alexa story in the news, as for the moment the Amazon voice assistant is in the ascendant over its rivals from Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Today’s slice of Alexa weirdness comes courtesy of a newsreader in San Diego, who inadvertently triggered Alexa-enabled devices within hearing distance of a television to buy doll houses when he reported on a Dallas child’s accidental purchase.

It’s unclear whether any doll houses were dispatched or whether the Echos and Dots merely started the process and asked their owners for confirmation, but we hope it serves to draw attention to the risks associated with an always-on and always-listening device. We’ve looked at how the technology has seemingly circumvented the normal privacy concerns of our own community, so it’s hardly surprising that this kind of incident catches the greater public completely unprepared. It’s one thing for the denizens of a hackspace to troll the owner of a Dot by adding embarrassing products to their wish list, but against a less-informed user who hasn’t worked out how to lock down the device’s purchasing abilities, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine a criminal attack.

Voice assistants are clearly going to become a ubiquitous feature of our lives, and it is inevitable that there will be more such unfortunate incidents which will serve to educate the public about their privacy before the technology reaches maturity. This particular story is definitely Not A Hack, though as our “Alexa” tag shows the devices have huge potential to bring a new dimension to our work. It’s up to all of us in our community to ensure that the voice assistant owners in our lives are adequately educated about them, and maybe resist the urge to say “Alexa, add all the Hackaday merchandise to my wish list!”.

Alexa Robot Coffee Maker Brews Coffee, Speaks For Itself

To keep hackers fueled and hacking, why not hack a coffee maker into a coffee brewing robot? [Carter Hurd] and [David Frank] did just that at The Ohio State’s Hack OHI/O 24 hour Hackathon. They even won the “Best Hardware Hack”. The video below shows it in action but the guys sent us some extra details on how it’s made.

To give it a voice they put Alexa on a Raspberry Pi. Using an audio splitter they have the voice go both to a speaker and to an Arduino. The Arduino then uses the amplitude of the audio signal’s positive values to determine how much to open the “mouth”, the coffee maker’s hinged cover. As is usually the case, there’s some lag, but the result is still quite good.

The brewing is also controlled by the Arduino. They plan to add voice control so that they can simply ask, “Alexa, make me coffee”, but for now they added a switch on the side to start the brewing. That switch tells the Arduino to work one servo to open the cover, another to insert a coffee filter, and two more to scoop up some coffee from a container and dump it into the filter.

They replaced the coffee maker’s on/off switch with a relay so that after the Arduino closes the cover again, it uses the relay to start the brewing. The result is surprisingly human-like. We especially like the graceful movement achieved by the two servos for scooping up and dumping the coffee. Full disclosure: they did admit that it would often either not scoop enough coffee or scoop enough but spill a bunch on the group.

Continue reading “Alexa Robot Coffee Maker Brews Coffee, Speaks For Itself”

Police Want Alexa Data; People Begin to Realize It’s Listening

It is interesting to see the wide coverage of a police investigation looking to harvest data from the Amazon Echo, the always-listening home automation device you may know as Alexa. A murder investigation has led them to issue Amazon a warrant to fork over any recordings made during the time of a crime, and Amazon has so far refused.

Not too long ago, this is the sort of news would have been discussed on Hackaday but the rest of my family would have never heard about it. Now we just need to get everyone to think one step beyond this and we’ll be getting somewhere.

What isn’t being discussed here is more of concern to me. How many of you have a piece of tape over your webcam right now? Why did you do that? It’s because we know there are compromised systems that allow attackers to turn on the camera remotely. Don’t we have to assume that this will eventually happen with the Echo as well? Police warrants likely to affect far less users than account breaches like the massive ones we’ve seen with password data.

All of the major voice activated technologies assert that their products are only listening for the trigger words. In this case, police aren’t just looking for a recording of someone saying “Alexa, help I’m being attacked by…” but for any question to Alexa that would put the suspect at the scene of the crime at a specific time. Put yourself in the mind of a black hat. If you could design malware to trigger on the word “Visa” you can probably catch a user giving their credit card number over the phone. This is, of course, a big step beyond the data already stored from normal use of the system.

It’s not surprising that Amazon would be served a warrant for this data. You would expect phone records (although not recordings of the calls) to be reviewed in any murder case. Already disclosed in this case is that a smart water meter from the home reported a rather large water usage during the time of the murder — a piece of evidence that may be used to indicate a crime scene clean-up effort.

What’s newsworthy here is that people who don’t normally think about device security are now wondering what their voice-controlled tech actually hears them say. And this is a step in the right direction.

Raspberry Pi and Alexa Make Teddy Ruxpin Smarter than the Average Bear

Behold the unholy union of Amazon’s Alexa and that feature-limited animatronic bear from the 80s, Teddy Ruxpin. Alexa Ruxpin?

As if stuffing Alexa inside a talking fish weren’t bad enough, now Amazon’s virtual assistant can talk to you through the creepy retro plush thanks to [Tinkernut]’s trip down memory lane. Having located a Teddy Ruxpin on eBay for far less than the original $70 that priced it out from under his childhood Christmas tree, [Tinkernut] quickly learned that major surgery would be necessary to revive the Ruxpin. The first video below shows the original servos being gutted and modern micro servos grafted in, allowing control of the mouth, eyes, and nose via an Arduino.

With the bear once again in control of its faculties, [Tinkernut] embarked on giving it something to talk about. A Raspberry Pi running AlexaPi joined the bear’s recently vacated thorax with the audio output split between the bear’s speaker and the analog input on the Arduino. The result is a reasonable animation, although we’d say a little tweaking of the Arduino script might help the syncing. And those eyes and that nose really need to get into the game as well. But not a bad start at all.

This isn’t the first time that Teddy Ruxpin has gone under the knife in the name of hacks, and it likely won’t be the last. And the way toy manufacturers are going, they might just beat us hackers to the punch.

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi and Alexa Make Teddy Ruxpin Smarter than the Average Bear”