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 It’s all unpublished by Amazon, but it is possible to poll the todo list for random key phrases.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.

Website Response Speedometer

Here’s something that will probably make it to a wall right next to the people responsible for the Hackaday servers sometime soon, and should be something every web dev should build at some point: a website response meter, an analog gauge that will tell you how long it takes to reach your website.

The build is simple enough, with a micro servo working as a gigantic analog gauge. There are also a pair of four-digit, seven-segment displays for displaying a digital number and the number of website requests per second. There’s also an 8×8 matrix of bi-color LEDs for showing a green happy face or a red frowny face, just in case all that data wasn’t self-evident to the uninitiated.

All the electronics are handled by an Arduino, but what really makes this build useful, or even possible, is the bit of code that runs on a computer. The computer uses an API from New Relic, a software analytics company, to come up with the response time and requests per second. That data is pulled down and piped up to the Arduino that displays everything on a beautifully milled acrylic sheet.

Will Dance For Bitcoin

It seems that Bitcoin is all over the news nowadays, but the Bitcoin Bot is probably the first robot that will dance for Bitcoins.

[Ryan] at HeatSync Labs in Mesa, AZ, is a fan of the cryptocurrency, and decided to build something to accept it. He discovered that Coinbase, a popular hosted Bitcoin wallet service, has a callback API. This causes Coinbase to fetch a specified URL any time a wallet receives a transaction, and provides information on the transaction in the request. A Python script handles these requests and updates a running count of the BTC balance sent to the robot’s wallet.

On the hardware side, an Arduino with an Ethernet Shield checks the balance. If it has changed, it calls the dance function and the luau girl dances.

The robot sits in the window of the hackerspace, so anyone passing by can read about Bitcoin and make a donation. The source code is on Github, and a video follows after the break.

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Smart Brake lights and more with OpenXC


At a recent hack-a-thon event, [Al Linke] tapped into a vehicle’s OBD port with an OpenXC vehicle interface and hacked an LED screen in the rear window to display data based on events. If you haven’t heard of OpenXC, you can expect to read more about it here at Hackaday in the near future. For now, all you need to know is that OpenXC is Ford’s open source API for real-time data from your vehicle: specifically 2010 and newer model Ford vehicles (for now).

[Al] connected the OpenXC interface to his Android phone over Bluetooth, transmitting data from the OBD port to the phone in real time. From here, the Android can do some really cool stuff. It can use text to speech to announce how much your lead foot cost you, add sound effects for different car events, and even interact with additional devices. Although he managed all of those features, [Al’s] primary goal was to add an LED screen that displayed messages on the vehicle’s back window.

When the phone detected a braking event from the car, it directed the LEDs to light up with a “braking” image, adding some flavor to the process of stopping. He could also change the image to a “Thank You” sign with a waving hand, or—for less courteous drivers—an “F U” image with a slightly different hand gesture. You’ll want to check your local and/or national laws before attempting to strap any additional lighting to your vehicle, but you can watch [Al’s] car light up in the video below. For a more detailed look under the hood, he’s also provided an Instructables page.  If OpenXC catches on, the number of vehicle hacks such as the Remote Controlled Car may skyrocket.

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Controlling Chromecast: AirCast APK released

[Koush] is at it again, this time releasing AirCast, an Android app that’ll push videos to the Chromecast from Dropbox, Google Drive, and your phone’s Gallery. Astute Hackaday readers will recall that AirCast has been around for a few weeks now, but limited to only his whitelisted Chromecast. As [Koush] explains it, he had to reverse engineer the protocols and now he simply avoids the Chromecast SDK entirely. If you’re lucky enough to have a Chromecast, you’ll want to hurry and grab the APK (direct download link) and have some fun with it before it self-destructs. [Koush] isn’t ready to release it for more than a 48 hour period, but we encourage you to take advantage of AirCast and contribute to his call for feedback, bugs, and crash reports. You have a little under a day left.

See “AllCast” work its magic in the video below. No, that’s not a typo. Apparently [Koush] has been struggling with available names for the app, and you’ll hear him call it “AllCast” in the Youtube video. That name was taken for some other product, though, and “AirCast” has now replaced it. If you suddenly regret not immediately ordering a Chromecast and are sitting this one out, go read [Mike’s] rant and get psyched up for when they’re back in stock.

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Rant: Why I love what the Chromecast stands for

I’ve had my hands on this Chromecast for almost a week now and I love it. Years ago I hacked my first Xbox after seeing [Kevin Rose] do it on The Screensavers (I did the hardware mod but that’s inconsequential). Why did I do this? So that I could run Xbox Media Center, the predecessor of XBMC. Since then I’ve dreamed of a device which can be hung on the back of the TV with Velcro and run XBMC. We basically got there with the Raspberry Pi, but the Chromecast is the form-factor that I had always envisioned. This lets me watch Netflix, while the RPi runs XBMC. The two are match made in heaven for under a hundred bucks.

That’s why I love the Chromecast device itself, but the bigger picture is that I love what it stands for. Keep reading to see what i mean.

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Visualize Twitter with an LED matrix


What’s your favorite color? Don’t tell us, Tweet it to [Sebastian’s] favorite color Twitter display and you’ll be contributing to the artwork hanging on his wall.

This answers a very important question, what do you do with your projects after they’re completed? For us the best part is the planning and building. Once it’s done the thrill is pretty much gone for us. We haven’t even switched on our Ping Pong clock in over a year. But [Sebastian] recently dusted his 10×10 LED matrix for this project.

Tweets are parsed by a Python project he wrote to try out the Twitter API. It looks for a set list of colors . He asserts that people aren’t that creative when you solicit their favorite color but to prove him wrong we’re going to say our favorite is Amaranth. After it finds the color it pushes it to the next pixel in the spiraling pattern shown above. But wait, there’s more! To give the pixels a but if extra meaning he uses the total length of the tweet to set intensity.

If you need a Titter enabled hack that displays a bit more specific data you’ll want something that can actually display what was Tweeted.