Say Hello to This Cortana Hologram

Halo’s Cortana enters the real world with this internet appliance. [Jarem Archer] has built an amazing “holographic” home for Cortana of Halo and Windows fame. The display isn’t really a hologram, it uses the age-old Pepper’s ghost illusion. A monitor reflects onto 3 angled half mirrored panels. This creates a convincing 3D effect. Cortana herself is a 3D model. [Jarem’s] wife provided gave Cortana her moves by walking in front of dual Kinect depth-sensing cameras. This motion capture performance drives the 3D Cortana model on the screen.

The brain behind this hack is the standard Windows 10 Cortana voice assistant. Saying “Hey Cortana” wakes the device up. To make the whole experience more interactive, [Jarem] added a face detection camera to the front of the device. When a face is detected, the Cortana model turns toward the user. Even if several people are watching the device, it would seem as if Cortana was “talking to” one person in the audience.

The cherry on top of this hack is the enclosure. [Jarem] 3D printed a black plastic stage. An Arduino drives RGB LEDs whenever Cortana is activated. The LEDs project a blue glue that works well with the Pepper’s ghost illusion. The result is a project that looks like something Microsoft might have cooked up in one of their research labs.

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Siri Controls Your PC Through Python and Gmail

Voice-based assistants are becoming more common on devices these days. Siri is known for being particularly good at responding to natural language and snarky responses. In comparison, Google’s Assistant is only capable of the most obvious commands, and this writer isn’t even sure Microsoft’s Cortana can understand English at all. So it makes sense then, if you want voice control for your PC, to choose Siri as your weapon of choice. [Sanjeet] is here to help, enabling Siri to control a PC through Python.

The first step is hooking up the iPhone’s Notes app to a Gmail account. [Sanjeet] suggests using a separate account for security reasons, as you’ll need to place the username and password in a Python script. The Python script checks the Gmail account every second, looking for new Notes from the iPhone. Then, it’s as simple as telling Siri to make a Note (for example, “Siri, Note shutdown”) and the Python script can then pick up the command, and act accordingly.

It’s a quick and easy way to get Siri to do your bidding. There’s other fancy ways to do it, too — like capturing Siri’s WiFi data on your home network.

How Has Amazon Managed To Make Hackers Love Alexa?

Our hackspace has acquired an Amazon Dot, courtesy of a member. It mostly seems to be used as a source of background music, but it has also spawned a seemingly never-ending new entertainment in which the hackspace denizens ceaselessly bait their new electronic companion with ever more complex and esoteric requests. From endless rephrasing and careful enunciation of obscure early reggae artists to try to settle a musical argument to hilarious mis-hearing on the part of our silicon friend, the fun never stops. “Alexa, **** off!” it seems results in “I’m sorry, I can’t find a device of that name on this network”.

amazon-dot-always-listeningThat is just the experience of one hackspace, but it evidently does not end there. Every other day it seems that new projects using Alexa pass through the Hackaday timeline, so it looks as though Amazon’s online personal assistant has been something of a hit within our community.

Fair enough, you might say, we’re always early adopters of any new technology. But it’s a development over which I wonder; am I alone in finding it surprising? It’s worth taking a moment to look at the subject.

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How To Control Siri Through Headphone Wires

Last week saw the revelation that you can control Siri and Google Now from a distance, using high power transmitters and software defined radios. Is this a risk? No, it’s security theatre, the fine art of performing an impractical technical achievement while disclosing these technical vulnerabilities to the media to pad a CV. Like most security vulnerabilities it is very, very cool and enough details have surfaced that this build can be replicated.

The original research paper, published by researchers [Chaouki Kasmi] and [Jose Lopes Esteves] attacks the latest and greatest thing to come to smartphones, voice commands. iPhones and Androids and Windows Phones come with Siri and Google Now and Cortana, and all of these voice services can place phone calls, post something to social media, or launch an application. The trick to this hack is sending audio to the microphone without being heard.

googleThe ubiquitous Apple earbuds have a single wire for a microphone input, and this is the attack vector used by the researchers. With a 50 Watt VHF power amplifier (available for under $100, if you know where to look), a software defined radio with Tx capability ($300), and a highly directional antenna (free clothes hangers with your dry cleaning), a specially crafted radio message can be transmitted to the headphone wire, picked up through the audio in of the phone, and understood by Siri, Cortana, or Google Now.

There is of course a difference between a security vulnerability and a practical and safe security vulnerability. Yes, for under $400 and the right know-how, anyone could perform this technological feat on any cell phone. This feat comes at the cost of discovery; because of the way the earbud cable is arranged, the most efficient frequency varies between 80 and 108 MHz. This means a successful attack would sweep through the band at various frequencies; not exactly precision work. The power required for this attack is also intense – about 25-30 V/m, about the limit for human safety. But in the world of security theatre, someone with a backpack, carrying around a long Yagi antenna, pointing it at people, and having FM radios cut out is expected.

Of course, the countermeasures to this attack are simple: don’t use Siri or Google Now. Leaving Siri enabled on a lock screen is a security risk, and most Androids disable Google Now on the lock screen by default. Of course, any decent set of headphones would have shielding in the cable, making inducing a current in the microphone wire even harder. The researchers are at the limits of what is acceptable for human safety with the stock Apple earbuds. Anything more would be seriously, seriously dumb.

Hackaday Links: Sunday, April 14th, 2013

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We figure we have to start off this week’s links post talking about PETMAN. Boston Dynamics shows off the humanoid robot donning a full chemical suit. It’s a lot scarier than when we first saw it as a couple of legs a few years ago [Thanks Joshua].

Seeing something like that might drive you back to smoking cigarettes. But since that’s pretty bad for your health perhaps you just need a mechanical chain-smoking machine to take the edge off. That thing can really suck ’em down! [Thanks Mike]

Last week’s links included a bit about the Raspberry Pi 2.0 board version’s reset header. [Brian] wrote in to share a link for adding reset to a 1.0 revision board.

Speaking of RPi, [Elvis Impersonator] is using it to automate his garage door with the help of Siri.

In shop news, [Brad] needed to sharpen a few hundred pencils quickly and ended up melting the gears on his electric sharpener. Transplanting the parts to his drill press gave him more power to get the job done in about six minutes.

And finally, you can forget how to decipher those SMD resistor codes. Looks like surface mount resistors might be unmarked like their capacitor brethren. We were tipped off by [Lindsey] who got the news by way of [Dangerous Prototypes and Electronics Lab]

Siri controlled Arduino using Ruby

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This snippet of Hello World code lets [Nico Ritschel] turn the Pin 13 LED on his Arduino on and off using Siri, the voice-activated helper built into iPhones. The trick here is using the Ruby programming language to get Siri Proxy talking to Arduino via the USB connection. He calls the project siriproxy-arduino.

On one end of the hack resides SiriProxy, a package not approved by Apple which is capable of intercepting the Siri messages headed for Apple’s own servers. The messages are still relayed, but a copy of each is available for [Nico’s] own uses. On the other side of things he’s building on the work of [Austinbv’s] dino gem; a Ruby package that facilitates control of the Arduino. It includes a sketch that is uploaded to the Arduino board, opening up a Ruby API. The collection of code seen above defines the pin with the LED connected and then listens for a specific Siri commands to actuate it.

Take a look at [Nico’s] explanation of the module in the video after the break.

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Garage door opener using Siri and Raspberry Pi

Screenshot from 2012-12-11 09:54:36

[DarkTherapy] wrote in to tell us about his garage door opener that works with Siri and a Raspberry Pi. It’s pretty hard to find a picture that tells the story of the hack, but here you can see the PCB inside the housing of the garage door opener. He patched the grey wires into the terminal block. On the other end they connect to a relay which makes the connection.

On the control side of that mechanical relay is a Raspberry Pi board. This seems like overkill but remember the low cost of the RPi and the ability to communicate over a network thanks to the WiFi dongle it uses. We think it’s less outrageous than strapping an Android phone to the opener. To make the RPi work with Siri he chose the SiriProxy package. We’ve seen this software before but don’t remember it being used with the Raspberry Pi.

There is certainly room to extend the functionality of a system like this one. It would be trivial to add a combination lock like this one we build using an AVR chip. It would also be nice to see a sensor used to confirm the door is closed. Even if you don’t need to control your garage this is a great reference project to get the RPi to take commands from your iOS devices.

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