Home Automation With The Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is the answer to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and [Orwell]’s Telescreen – a device that sits in your home, listens to everything you say, and will gladly oblige if you want to buy something on Amazon. Brilliant. Despite being a pretty cheap device, there’s not really a whole lot it can do; sure, Echo, or more accurately Alexa, the personality in the Echo, can tell you the weather, queue up a playlist, or read a Wikipedia entry, but there’s a definite lack of imagination when it comes to the Echo.

Now, thanks to some clever API hacks, you can do far more with the Echo. [Noel] is using the Echo to turn lights in his house on and off, ring his home phone, and basically everything else you can do with some wire and a bit of code.

[Noel] got his idea from [Owen Piette] who recently investigated the Echo API. It’s all unpublished by Amazon, but it is possible to poll the todo list for random key phrases. By polling this API and getting new results, it’s pretty easy to set up some logic to do arbitrary actions.

Right now [Noel] can turn a light on and off and call his phone, but the sky really is the limit here. If you have a web-enabled thermostat, Alexa can turn the heat on or off. Want to text yourself something? That’s easy too. Anything that can be put in a todo list can be done with the Echo, the only obstacle is doing all the programming and electronics.

Amazon Fire TV Update Bricks Hacked Devices

The Amazon Fire TV is Amazon’s answer to all of the other streaming media devices on the market today. Amazon is reportedly selling these devices at cost, making very little off of the hardware sales. Instead, they are relying on the fact that most users will rent or purchase digital content on these boxes, and they can make more money in the long run this way. In fact, the device does not allow users to download content directly from the Google Play store, or even play media via USB disk. This makes it more likely that you will purchase content though Amazon’s own channels.

We’re hackers. We like to make things do what they were never intended to do. We like to add functionality. We want to customize, upgrade, and break our devices. It’s fun for us. It’s no surprise that hackers have been jail breaking these devices to see what else they are capable of. A side effect of these hacks is that content can be downloaded directly from Google Play. USB playback can also be enabled. This makes the device more useful to the consumer, but obviously is not in line with Amazon’s business strategy.

Amazon’s response to these hacks was to release a firmware update that will brick the device if it discovers that it has been rooted. It also will not allow a hacker to downgrade the firmware to an older version, since this would of course remove the root detection features.

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of us. We’ve seen this type of thing for years with mobile phones. The iPhone has been locked to the Apple Store since the first generation, but the first iPhone was jailbroken just days after its initial release. Then there was the PlayStation 3 “downgrade” fiasco that resulted in hacks to restore the functionality. It seems that hackers and corporations are forever destined to disagree on who actually owns the hardware and what ownership really means. We’re locked in an epic game of cat and mouse, but usually the hackers seem to triumph in the end.

Echo, the First Useful Home Computer Intelligence?

We’re familiar with features like Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana which grope at a familiar concept from science fiction, yet leave us doing silly things like standing in public yowling at our phones. Amazon took a new approach to the idea of an artificial steward by cutting the AI free from our peripherals and making it an independent unit that acts in the household like any other appliance. Instead of steering your starship however, it can integrate with your devices via bluetooth to aide in tasks like writing shopping lists, or simply help you remember how many quarts are in a liter. Whatever you ask for, Echo will oblige.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 2.57.14 PMThe device is little more than the internet and a speaker stuffed into a minimal black cylinder the size of a vase, oh- and six far-field microphones aimed in each direction which listen to every word you say… always. As you’d expect, Echo only processes what you say after you call it to attention by speaking its given name. If you happen to be too far away for the directional microphones to hear, you can alternatively seek assistance from the Echo app on another device. Not bad for the freakishly low price Amazons asking, which is $100 for Prime subscribers. Even if you’re salivating over the idea of this chatting obelisk, or intrigued enough to buy one just to check it out (and pop its little seams), they’re only available to purchase through invite at the moment… the likes of which are said to go out in a few weeks.

The notion of the internet at large acting as an invisible ever-present swiss-army-knife of knowledge for the home is admittedly pretty sweet. It pulls on our wishful heartstrings for futuristic technology. The success of Echo as a first of its kind however relies on how seamlessly (and quickly) the artificial intelligence within it performs. If it can hold up, or prove to hold up in further iterations, it’s exciting to think what larger systems the technology could be integrated with in the near future… We might have our command center consciousness sooner than we thought.

With that said, inviting a little WiFi probe into your intimate living space to listen in on everything you do will take some getting over… your thoughts?

Continue reading “Echo, the First Useful Home Computer Intelligence?”

Hack removes ads from Kindle ‘Special Offers’ hardware

We figured it wouldn’t be long before someone figured out how to remove the ads from the ‘Special Offers’ versions of the Amazon Kindle hardware. There are two things that made this obvious to us, the huge flaw that lets code be easily run as root, and the MP3 tag forming that makes it possible to unlock the device.

[Pat Hartl] knows his way around a *nix shell, so once he gained SSH access to the device he started a search for the ad images that make up the special offers feature. He found them in a few different places, making backups of the files in an alternate location, then removing them with some simple commands. He even rolled the process into a one-click installer like the Jailbreak package. It makes us wonder if Amazon has a way to tell if your device is not longer pulling down content for these offers?

At risk of sounding preachy, Amazon does offer this hardware without ads for a one-time fee. Circumventing the unobtrusive ads may lead to higher hardware prices in the future, and [Pat] mentions that. He pulled off this hack to show the holes in Amazon’s security, and hitting them in the pocketbook is a powerful way to do it.

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I am root! — Kindle Fire edition

Amazon’s new tablet reader, the Kindle Fire has been rooted. Early this morning [Death2All110] posted the steps he took to gain root access to his device (which is so fresh out of the box it still smells new). The heavy lifting is done by a package called SuperOneClick which aims to root all manner of phones and devices running Android.

There’s a bit more than the one click necessary, but not by much. Using the Android Developer Bridge in conjunction with the SDK you need to put in a value that will be recognized as the VID. From there, turn on the ability to install apps from unknown developers, re-enumerate the device on your PC and run the one-click package.

What can you do with this? Well, it completely opens up the Android OS so that you can bend it to your will. We haven’t seen any demonstrations yet, but it should be even better than what we saw done with the Sony PRS-T1.

[Addictive Tips via Reddit]

Ubuntu 9.04 on Kindle 2

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Having read books on a Palm device for years we were excited when Amazon came up with the Kindle. Our problem is that if you’re going to carry around a portable device it should do a whole lot more than just display text from a few books. [Jesse Vincent] managed to get Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope running on the Kindle 2. This opens up endless possibilities to run whatever you want on this hardware.

The new functionality was presented in a talk at OSCON 2009. Be warned, [Jesse] has a very high geeky-hacker level. Make sure you have a tech dictionary and Google at the ready when you watch the video embedded after the break. His talk starts at about two minutes in and runs for five minutes total. Continue reading “Ubuntu 9.04 on Kindle 2″

Kindle 2 teardown

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The people at iFixit have shown that they’re still on top of their game by tearing down the new Kindle 2 eBook reader. The main processor is a 532MHz ARM-11 from Freescale. Interestly, there isn’t any significant circuitry behind the large keyboard; it seems its existence is just to hide the battery.

Related: previous teardowns on Hack a Day

[via Make]