A Little IoT for Your PID Tea Kettle

For some folks, tea is a simple pleasure – boil water, steep tea, enjoy. There are those for whom tea is a sacred ritual, though, and the precise temperature control they demand requires only the finest in water heating technology. And then there are those who take things even further by making a PID-controlled electric tea kettle an IoT device with Amazon Echo integration.

Nothing worth doing isn’t worth overdoing, and [luma] scores points for that. Extra points too for prototyping an early iteration of his design on a RadioShack Electronics Learning Lab – the one with a manual written by Forrest Mims. [luma] started out using an Arduino with a Zigbee shield but realized the resulting circuit would have to live in an external enclosure. Switching to an ESP8266, the whole package – including optoisolators, relays, and a small wall-wart – is small enough to fit inside the kettle’s base. The end result is an MQTT device that publishes its status to his SmartThings home automation system, and now responds when he tells Alexa it’s time for tea.

Projects that hack the means of caffeine are no strangers to Hackaday, whether your preferred vector is tea, coffee, or even straight up.

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Alexa Keeps Pet Snake Thermoregulated

[Chris Grill] got his hands on a pet boa constrictor, which requires a fairly strict temperature controlled environment. Its enclosure needs to have a consistent temperature throughout, or the snake could have trouble regulating its body temperature. [Chris] wanted to keep tabs on the temp and grabbed a few TTF-103 thermistors and an Arduino Yun, which allowed him to log the temperature on each side of the enclosure. He used some code to get the temp reading to the linux side of an Arduino Yun, and then used jpgraph, a PHP graphing library, to display the results.

snakemainBut that wasn’t good enough. Why not get a little fancy and have Amazon’s Echo read the temps back when you ask! Getting it setup was not so bad thanks to Amazon’s well documented steps to get custom commands set up.

He eventually lost the battle to get the Echo to talk to the web server on the Yun due to SSL issues, but he found an existing workaround by using a proxy.

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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.

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A Handy Tutorial For Voice-Command Awesomeness

When somebody can’t find a guide on how to accomplish a particular task, we here at Hackaday admire those individuals who take it upon themselves to write one for the benefit of others. Instructables user [PatrickD126] couldn’t find a write-up on how to connect Amazon’s Alexa service, and Echo to his Raspberry Pi home security system, so his handy tutorial should get you up to speed for your own projects.

[PatrickD126] shows how loading some software onto the Raspberry Pi is readily accomplished along with enabling Alexa to communicate more directly with the Pi. From there, it’s a matter of configuring your Amazon Web Services account with your preferred voice commands, as well as which GPIO pins you’d like to access. Done! [PatrickD126] notes that the instructions in the guide only result in a temporary solution, but suggests alternatives that would allow your project to operate long-term.

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Alexa Brings Back Singing Fish, This Time It’s A Good Thing

Remember Big Mouth Billy Bass? That’s the singing fish with which you could torture family members by having it endlessly perform a rendition of either “Take Me to the River” or “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.

Now [Brian Kane], a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design, has connected Amazon’s Alexa to the fish. Speak the “wake word”, “Alexa”, and the fish’s head turns to face you. Then ask it any question you’d normally ask Alexa and Alexa’s voice answers while the fish opens and closes its mouth in time to the words. Want to know the weather? Ask the fish, which you can see [Brian] do in the video below.

[Brian] hasn’t given details on how he’s done it but he’s likely made use of the Alexa Skills Kit, an SDK from Amazon that let’s you use the Alexa voice recognition and speech service with your own hardware (wetware, aquaware?), just as Amazon does with their home assistant, Echo .

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Amazon Offers $2.5M To Make Alexa Your Friend

Amazon has unveiled the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 Million purse for the first team to turn Alexa, the voice service that powers the Amazon Echo, into a ‘socialbot’ capable of, “conversing coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes”.

The Alexa Prize is only open to teams from colleges or universities, with the winning team taking home $500,000 USD, with $1M awarded to the team’s college or university in the form of a research grant. Of course, the Alexa Prize grants Amazon a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free license to make use of the winning socialbot.

It may be argued the Alexa Prize is a competition to have a chat bot pass a Turning Test. This is a false equivalency; the Turing Test, as originally formulated, requires a human evaluator to judge between two conversation partners, one of which is a human, one of which is a computer. Additionally, the method of communication is text-only, whereas the Alexa Prize will make use of Alexa’s Text to Speech functionality. The Alexa Prize is not a Turing Test, but only because of semantics. If you generalize the phrase, ‘Turing Test’ to mean a test of natural language conversation, the Alexa Prize is a Turing Test.

This is not the first prize offered for a computer program that is able to communicate with a human in real time using natural language. Since 1990, the Loebner Prize, cosponsored by AI god Marvin Minsky, has offered a cash prize of $100,000 (and a gold medal) to the first computer that is indistinguishable from a human in conversation. Since 1991, yearly prizes have been awarded to the computer that is most like a human as part of the competition.

For any team attempting the enormous task of developing a theory of mind and consciousness, here are a few tips: don’t use Twitter as a dataset. Microsoft tried that, and their chatbot predictably turned racist. A better idea would be to copy Hackaday and our article-generating algorithm. Just use Markov chains and raspberry pi your way to arduino this drone.