A DIY, Visual Alexa

Talking to computers is all the rage right now. We are accustomed to using voice to communicate with each other, so that makes sense. However, there’s a distinct difference between talking to a human over a phone line and conversing face-to-face. You get a lot of visual cues in person compared to talking over a phone or radio.

Today, most voice-enabled systems are like taking to a computer over the phone. It gets the job done, but you don’t always get the most benefit. To that end, [Youness] decided to marry an OLED display to his Alexa to give visual feedback about the current state of Alexa. It is a work in progress, but you can see two incarnations of the idea in the videos below.

A Raspberry Pi provides the horsepower and the display. A Python program connects to the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) to understand what to do. AVS provides several interfaces for building voice-enabled applications:

  • Speech Recognition/Synthesis – Understand and generate speech.
  • Alerts – Deal with events such as timers or a user utterance.
  • AudioPlayer – Manages audio playback.
  • PlaybackController – Manages playback queue.
  • Speaker – Controls volume control.
  • System – Provides client information to AVS.

We’ve seen AVS used to create an Echo clone (in a retro case, though). We also recently looked at the Google speech API on the Raspberry Pi.

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Raspberry Pi Want a Cracker?

If you watch the old original Star Trek, you’ll notice that the computers on board the Enterprise don’t look much like our computers (unless you count the little 3.5 inch floppies that looked pretty close to the real thing). Then again, the Enterprise didn’t need keyboards and screens since the computers did a pretty good job of listening and speaking to humans.

We aren’t quite to the point where you can just ask the computer some fuzzy open-ended question like Captain Kirk did, but we do have things like Echo, Siri, and Google Now that do a fair job of listening to you and replying. In fact, Google provides an API that can do speech recognition and generation. [Giulio] used some common Python libraries to add speech I/O to a Raspberry Pi.

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Talking Star Trek

Speech generation and recognition have come a long way. It wasn’t that long ago that we were in a breakfast place and endured 30 minutes of a teenaged girl screaming “CALL JUSTIN TAYLOR!” into her phone repeatedly, with no results. Now speech on phones is good enough you might never use the keyboard unless you want privacy. Every time we ask Google or Siri a question and get an answer it makes us feel like we are living in Star Trek.

[Smcameron] probably feels the same way. He’s been working on a Star Trek-inspired bridge simulator called “Space Nerds in Space” for some time. He decided to test out the current state of Linux speech support by adding speech commands and response to it. You can see the results in the video below.

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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!

You Speak, Your Scope Obeys

We’ve been scratching our heads about the various voice-recognition solutions out there. What would you really want to use one for? Turning off the lights in your bedroom without getting up? Sure, it has some 2001: A Space Odyssey flare flair, but frankly we’ve already got a remote control for that. The best justification for voice control, in our mind, is controlling something while your hands or eyes are already busy.

[Patrick Sébastien Coulombe] clearly has both of his hands on his oscilloscope probes. That’s why he developed Speech2SCPI, a quick mash-up of voice recognition and an oscilloscope control protocol. It combines the Julius open-source speech recognizer project with the Standard Commands for Programmable Instruments (SCPI) syntax to make his scope obey his every command. You’ve got to watch the video below the break to believe how well it works. It even handles his French accent.

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Students Set Sights on DIY Eye Exams

What if you could give yourself a standard eye exam at home? That’s the idea behind [Joel, Margot, and Yuchen]’s final project for [Bruce Land]’s ECE 4760—simulating the standard Snellen eye chart that tests visual acuity from an actual or simulated distance of 20 feet.

This test is a bit different, though. Letters are presented one by one on a TFT display, and the user must identify each letter by speaking into a microphone. As long as the user guesses correctly, the system shows smaller and smaller letters until the size equivalent to the 20/20 line of the Snellen chart is reached.

Since the project relies on speech recognition, the group had to consider things like background noise and the differences in human voices. They use a bandpass filter to screen out frequencies that fall outside the human vocal range. In order to determine the letter spoken, the PIC32 collects the first 256 and last 256 samples, stores them in two arrays, and performs FFT on the first set. The second set of samples undergoe Mel transformation, which helps the PIC assess the sample logarithmically. Finally, the system determines whether it should show a new letter at the same size, a new letter at a smaller size, or end the exam.

While this is not meant to replace eye exams done by certified professionals, it is an interesting project that is true to the principles of the Snellen eye chart. The only thing that might make this better is an e-ink display to make the letters crisp. We’d like to see Snellen’s tumbling E chart implemented as well for children who don’t yet know the alphabet, although that would probably require a vastly different input method. Be sure to check out the demonstration video after the break.

Don’t know who [Bruce Land] is? Of course he’s an esteemed Senior Lecturer at Cornell University. But he’s also extremely active on Hackaday.io, has many great embedded engineering lectures you can watch free-of-charge, and every year we look forward to seeing the projects — like this one — dreamed and realized by his students. Do you have final projects of your own to show off? Don’t be shy about sending in a tip!

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Voice Command with No Echo

[Naran] was intrigued with the Amazon Echo’s ability to control home electronics, but decided to roll his own. By using a Raspberry Pi with the beta Prota OS, he managed to control some Phillips Hue bulbs and a homebrew smart outlet.

Prota has a speech application, which made the job simpler. He does point out though, that his project doesn’t replace the Echo’s ability to answer questions by searching the Internet. The advantage, though, is it is easily tailored to your specific application. Also, if you have a Raspberry Pi hanging around, you can’t beat the price. Continue reading “Voice Command with No Echo”