Roll Your Own Amazon Echo on a Raspberry Pi

Speech recognition coupled with AI is the new hotness. Amazon’s Echo is a pretty compelling device, for a largish chunk of change. But if you’re interested in building something similar yourself, it’s just gotten a lot easier. Amazon has opened up a GitHub with instructions and code that will get you up and running with their Alexa Voice Service in short order.

If you read Hackaday as avidly as we do, you’ve already read that Amazon opened up their SDK (confusingly called a “Skills Kit”) and that folks have started working with it already. This newest development is Amazon’s “official” hello-world demo, for what that’s worth.

There are also open source alternatives, so if you just want to get something up and running without jumping through registration and licensing hoops, you’ve got that option as well.

Whichever way you slice it, there seems to be a real interest in having our machines listen to us. It’s probably time for an in-depth comparison of the various options. If you know of a voice recognition system that runs on something embeddable — a single-board computer or even a microcontroller — and you’d like to see us look into it, post up in the comments. We’ll see what we can do.

Thanks to [vvenesect] for the tip!

Ridiculously Automated Dorm Room

Take three NRF24L0+ radios, two Arduino Nanos, and a Raspberry Pi. Add a bored student and a dorm room at Rice University. What you get is the RRAD: Rice Ridiculously Automated Dorm. [Jordan Poles] built a modular system inspired by BRAD (the Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm).

RRAD has three types of nodes:

  • Actuation nodes – Allows external actuators like relays or solenoids
  • Sensory nodes – Reports data from sensors (light, temperature, motion)
  • Hub nodes – Hosts control panel, records data, provides external data interfaces

Continue reading “Ridiculously Automated Dorm Room”

Industrial Automation in Action: Steam Controller Assembly

Right up front, we’ll cop to the inevitable “not a hack” comments on this one. This video of the Steam Controller assembly plant is just two minutes of pure robotics porn, plain and simple.

From injection molding of the case parts through assembly, testing and final palletizing of packaged controllers for the trip to distributors, Valve’s video is amazingly detailed and very well made. We’d wager that the crane shots and the shots following product down conveyors were done with a drone. A grin was had with the Aperture Labs logo on the SCARA arms in the assembly and testing work cell, and that inexplicable puff of “steam” from the ceiling behind the pallet in the final shot was a nice touch too. We also enjoyed the all-too-brief time-lapse segment at around 00:16 that shows the empty space in Buffalo Grove, Illinois being fitted out.

This may seem like a frivolous video, but think about it: if you’re a hardware hacker, isn’t this where you want to see your idea end up? Think of it as inspiration to get your widget into production. You’ll want to get there in stages, of course, so make sure you check out [Zach Fredin]’s 2015 Hackaday Superconference talk on pilot-scale production.

Continue reading “Industrial Automation in Action: Steam Controller Assembly”

Robots Are Coming For Our Jobs. Just Not All of Them.

There is a lot to be said for replacing certain kinds of jobs with robots. Most people would agree that replacing physical human labor with automation is a good thing. It’s especially good to automate the dangerous kinds of labor like some facets of factory work. What about automation in fields that require more mental labor, where physical strain isn’t the concern? Is replacing humans really the best course of action? A year ago, a video called Humans Need Not Apply set forth an explanation of how robots will inevitably replace us. But that narrative is a tough sell.

Whether it is even possible depends on the job being automated. It also depends on how far we are able to take technology, and the amount of labor we are willing to offload. Automation has been replacing human workers in assembly and manufacturing industries for years. Even with equipment and upkeep expenses, the tireless nature of robotic workers means dramatically lower overhead for businesses.

Many of the current forms of factory automation are rather dumb. When something goes wrong and their task is compromised, they keep chugging away. That costs time and money. But there are companies out there producing robots that are better on many levels.

May Your Robot Overlords Be Cute and Cuddly

baxter-heroIn 2013, Rethink Robotics started filling orders for a new line called Baxter. They are a class of general purpose robot that can be programmed to do many kinds of manual tasks. Baxter bots have vision, and they can learn how to do a job simply by watching. They don’t need to be programmed in the traditional sense.

Baxter even has a face – a screen that shows different expressions depending on his state. When he’s in the midst of a task, his eyes are cast downward. If something goes wrong, he stops what he’s doing. His cartoon face appears sort of shocked, then sad. He goes into safe mode and waits to be fixed.

Continue reading “Robots Are Coming For Our Jobs. Just Not All of Them.”

Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo

[ZPriddy] was looking for a way to control his Nest thermostats with Amazon Echo. He didn’t want to settle for using AWS or some other hosted service. [ZPriddy] wanted something that he could host and manage completely on his own. The end result is what he calls EchoNestPy.

[ZPriddy] started by learning how to use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). ASK is the official SDK that allows enthusiasts to add functionality to their Amazon Echo. Unfortunately for [ZPriddy], most of the example code he found was designed to be used on Amazon Lambda, but that didn’t stop him. After finding a few examples of Amazon Echo requests and responses, he was on his way.

[ZPriddy] chose to implement a simple web server using Flask. The web server listens for the Amazon requests and responds appropriately. It also Oauth2 authentication to ensure some level of security. The server is capable of synchronizing the temperature of multiple Nest devices in the same home, but it can also increment or increment the temperature across the board. This is accomplished with some simple voice commands such as “Tell Nest that I’m a little bit chilly”. If you like Amazon Echo hacks, be sure to check out this other one for controlling WeMo devices. Continue reading “Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo”

Alarm Notifies the Office When the Coffee is Ready

[Stian] thought it would be nice if his coworkers could be electronically notified when the latest batch of coffee is ready. He ended up building an inexpensive coffee alarm system to do exactly that. When the coffee is done, the brewer can press a giant button to notify the rest of the office that it’s time for a cuppa joe.

[Stian’s] first project requirement was to activate the system using a big physical button. He chose a button from Sparkfun, although he ended up modifying it to better suit his needs. The original button came with a single LED built-in. This wasn’t enough for [Stian], so he added two more LEDs. All three LEDs are driven by a ULN2003A NPN transistor array. Now he can flash them in sequence to make a simple animation.

This momentary push button supplies power to a ESP8266 microcontroller using a soft latch power switch. When the momentary switch is pressed, it supplies power to the latch. The latch then powers up the main circuit and continues supplying power even when the push button is released. The reason for this power trickery is to conserve power from the 18650 li-on battery.

The core functionality of the alarm uses a combination of physical hardware and two cloud-based services. The ESP8266 was chosen because it includes a built-in WiFi chip and it only costs five dollars. The microcontroller is configured to connect to the WiFi network with the push of a button. The device also monitors the giant alarm button.

When the button is pressed, it sends an HTTP request to a custom clojure app running on a cloud service called Heroku. The clojure app then stores brewing information in a database and sends a notification to the Slack cloud service. Slack is a sort of project management app that allows multiple users to work on projects and communicate easier over the internet. [Stian] has tapped into it in order to send the actual text notification to his coworkers to let them know that the coffee is ready. Be sure to watch the demo video below. Continue reading “Alarm Notifies the Office When the Coffee is Ready”

Hope it’s real: 3D Printing Houses with Bricks

You’ve just got to go with the hype on this one, because it’s obviously not ready for prime time yet. But a few days ago murmurs started circling the net that an Australian inventor had developed a robot capable of building complicated structure from brick all by itself.

bricklaying-robotBefore you go off your rocker… we’re definitely not calling this real. It’s a proof of concept at best, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting excited. How long have you been waiting for robots that can build entire structures on our behalf? We were excited at the prospect of extruding walls of concrete. But this is more like LEGO buildings in the real world. The beast cuts brick to length, conveys each brick along the telescoping arm, and butters them as it lays them in place. At least that’s what the rendered video after the break shows.

We’re hearing about this now because FastBrick Robotics, the company [Mark Pivac] founded and has spent ten years developing the Hadrian project at, was just sold to a company called DMY Capital Limited. Of course they’re going to want to get some press out of the sale.

There is an image of the brick feeder on an existing excavator that frankly looks photoshopped. And some real images like the one seen here and another of the “print head” holding some bricks. But it’s enough to think there’s potential here.

The idea is that the base of the robot is fixed with the arm long enough to reach any part of the structure being built. Precise positioning is achieved by a fixed marker in a different position from the robot. The head triangulates its position using laser range-finding with the marker (having said that we now assume there needs to be more than one marker).

So what do you think? Are we ever going to see this incredibly complicated bucket of awesome producing structures in our neighborhood which the Big Bad Wolf simply cannot blow down?

Continue reading “Hope it’s real: 3D Printing Houses with Bricks”