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 It’s all unpublished by Amazon, but it is possible to poll the todo list for random key phrases.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

22 thoughts on “Home Automation With The Amazon Echo

      1. The point is that everything that can be used from the authorities to spy on citizens will be used one day, from cellphones to drones. It’s how power works.
        Therefore we better make sure those devices we put in our homes cannot be used against our will. This requires the devices to be 100% open source, some review by the community and a minimal set of skills by the user to use them properly.

        1. you are making a lot of assumptions. what you should be asking, instead of assuming, is ‘can this be used without connecting/while blocking amazon’s servers/services. if so, how can i/we create a compatible and ‘open’ backend we can run locally and gain full control’.

          go make these, tinfoil hat, ‘omg privacy, everyone is stupid for using this’ posts on a NON-hacker board.

          1. Why would you go to the effort of hacking the device to block access to amazon and redirect to your own use when you could just start with something that isn’t closed to begin with? There’s nothing special about a microphone array and speaker in a tube.

  1. I do this with Siri and my own home-grown home automation. I have it send a text message to a Google account, which forwards to my home server. Then it’s just a matter of parsing the message for the subjects, nouns, objects, etc and linking it to scenes.

    1. personally I am not a big fan of allowing google employees to listen in on my personal conversations

      i bet there is an internal mailing list at google where they pass around amusing video and audio clips of their customers doing stupid stuff, just like the ones they have at the NSA.

  2. Is it only usable as a bluetooth receiver ? Or as bluetooth transmitter too? I d like some home automation device that routes audio to my av receiver when its on and uses its own speaker when the av receiver is off.

  3. For those interested I posted some (hacky) code to retrieve the Echo API here https://github.com/noelportugal/AmazonEchoApi.

    As far as privacy goes, we already carry small computers with microphones and network connectivity that could potentially be used by evil carriers/governments/etc. to listen to our conversations right? The Amazon echo has an on board chip that is always listening to the wake word and THEN it will transmit a few seconds of audio captured (including “fraction of a second of audio before the wake word.” – according to http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201602230). I have a Moto X phone that does the same and there are other devices too (xbox).

    I guess what I’m saying is that if anyone is to paranoid for this technology then it should avoid most of upcoming technology with voice capabilites. And by the way, I will never condone any carriers/governments/etc to use my voice recordings in any way.

  4. For you other owners out there, I’ve started a little phpBB so that we can share experiences, at http://www.piettes.com/echo . In particular I want to hear about all of the other Easter eggs that everyone else has found! I’m posting what I learn as I hack on it as I go along. Right now I’m learning about WebSockets so we don’t have to poll every 15 seconds. :) Very nice work, Noel.

  5. “The Amazon Echo is the answer to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and [Orwell]’s Telescreen ”

    No mention of Googles Voice commands?

    Theres a lot there, sounds like way more then this Amazon thing, and (I think) any device able to run Android 4.1 will support it just fine.

    That said, doesn’t help with the privacy stuff. Even though Android can trigger a lot client-side, and the OS is open source, the processing for the speech is all done at Googles servers.

    1. That’s pretty much the whole issue. Natural language processing currently requires data centers to process spoken language to commands, hence Echo, Siri, Cortana only work when connected online. Xbox One has some local capability with the Kinect, but probably not be able to do the actual Cortana pieces that are to be coming soon.

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