New Part Day: Put An Alexa In Everything

The last great hope for electronics manufactures is smart home assistants. The Alexas and Siris and OK Googles are taking over homes across the country. At its best, it’s HAL 9000, only slightly less homicidal. It will entertain your children, and you can order cat litter just by saying you want cat litter. This is the future, whether we like it or not.

In an attempt to capture the market, Amazon has released the Alexa Connect Kit. This is an Amazon-Echo-On-a-Chip — a piece of hardware that adds Alexa to microwaves, blenders, and whatever other bit of home electronics you can imagine.

The Alexa Connect Kit is the hardware behind Amazon’s efforts to allow developers easy integration with Alexa. The options for adding Alexa to a product up until now have been using Zigbee to connect an Echo Show or Echo Plus, or simply giving a device the ability to connect to an Echo through Bluetooth. The Alexa Connect Kit, however, is a pure hardware solution that puts Alexa in anything.

Unfortunately you can’t get one yet. Right now, the Alexa Connect Kit is just a preview, and if you want to get your hands on one — or get any specs on this bit of hardware — you’ll need to apply to the developer program. We’ve signed up and will share and juicy details that come our way as part of the program.

According to the Wall Street Journal (try Google referral link if you hit the pay wall), several companies are already working on integrating the Alexa Connect Kit into their existing product lines. Hamilton Beach and Procter & Gamble are both working on something, although the press doesn’t say what kind of device will now be loaded up with a voice assistant. Amazon, however, has a microwave using the technology that the owner can, “command the microwave to do things like defrost a half-pound of chicken, or set it up to automatically reorder a favorite type of popcorn on Amazon”.

Despite the sparse details, this is relatively game-changing when it comes to the world of homebrew electronics. We’ve seen dozens of projects using hacked Raspberry Pis and other microcontrollers to at Alexa to hacked coffee machines, to shoot Nerf darts, and to control a projector. If you can actually get one of these Alexas-on-a-chip, all those projects could be done with one simple piece of hardware.

53 thoughts on “New Part Day: Put An Alexa In Everything

  1. Please don’t let regular appliances go the way of the smart TV. You can’t really buy regular ones any more and the smart ones tend to be not secure, badly supported and unpleasant to use in general.

    1. I hope so too. This adtech filth isn’t as interesting as it’s made out to be. Technology should enhance human curiosity and adventure, not enable laziness at the expense of dignity and privacy.

      Home assistant usage is slumping, so I bet their next move is to shove it into every single appliance and make it integral to their function so people are forced to use it. It’s a pretty obvious little contrivance these companies are all setting up for us.

  2. This will kill competition. It’s dangerous. This “Big Brother’s Ear” will transform all of us in laboratory mice. I sincerely hope that the future will be IPV6 and direct connection pair-to-pair between our smartphones and our home devices, without any “cloud” or any “Giant Data Collector” in the middle.

  3. Reminds me of 1950’s commercial’s where technology will make life easier for everyone. I’m guessing robots or automatic food dispensing machines would be the next step with mail order sorting from the mailbox. Can have the system deliver directly to the desk or wherever located (Entertainment center, gaming station, computer, workshop, ???).

  4. Why in gods name would anyone want a device that monitors conversations in their house. If I was invited to someone’s house and that POS was there, I’d break it and leave.

    I don’t get modern geeks who seek to give up all aspects of personal privacy so they can have some device that is out of Orwell’s 1984.

      1. In the early days of the telephone system, the male operators listened in on the connections that they made. So the phone company hired women, they wouldn’t gossip? The phones we all used had a Hook Switch. They were Off except when in use. I need to get a hockey stick for those puck shaped things. A baseball bat for the beer can shaped ones. Goal! Home run!

    1. Better not carry a smartphone with you then and never use popular services like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and so on…. Or to be super secure don’t use the internet at all.

      1. Yeah, that shit is a problem too. I never get this mindset. “why bother trying to make things right if so much else in the world is broken?” That’s exactly the point. It needs to start somewhere.

        Adtech is fucking up our civilization. These kinds of ultra-advanced, seamless, almost imperceptible persuasion engines are a far more serious problem than most people realize. It’s not about what it can do today. It’s about what it can do in the future when it’s universally adopted and normalized.

    2. All your info is already leaked from Target, Bestbuy, etc (All companies that have had security breaches).
      They can’t listen to everyone at once. Even if they could record and go back, who cares that I talk about useless bs. Most conversations are chitchat any how. I’m with Orwell X2. (I got 2 alexas)
      You know I signed up.

  5. “Amazon, however, has a microwave using the technology that the owner can, “command the microwave to do things like defrost a half-pound of chicken,”

    Heh, this presumes that a microwave outside of a manufacturer demo can defrost chicken without starting to cook it or rubberising it. What’s next, thinking that toasters have an automatic setting between warm bread and burnt ?

    1. After people got cell phones no one any longer knows how to use a calculator or a microwave with buttons. If we let ALEXA be added to this the art of intelligible speech will soon be a skill of the past.

      1. I dont agree with that, having voice commands means that people need to enunciate the words correctly and not use a lot of slang in order to use the device, meaning they must learn to communicate in a standard way.

    2. I don’t get this one bit. You already have to interact with the microwave to open the door and put stuff inside. Just push the button. This smart assistant spyware bullshit helps nobody.

  6. I have 2 Echo Dots and that’s 2 too many. I’d rather have an open source project that does the speech recognition on my own hardware in my own house. And if I want to control a Microwave, I’d rather it be z-wave. Or at the very least have a esp8266 or esp32 in it that is accessible and includes Arduino source code. That way I can decide how I want the interface to work, if it has a local API or goes through a MQTT server I setup.
    We’re going to live to regret this era of letting companies exfiltrate our voice for processing on their servers.

    1. People’s blase reaction to these sort of things these days really reminds me of attitudes in the nineties, when most laypeople didn’t understand why computer security mattered and they thought the internet was nothing important. People just thought it was this silly thing for nerds and it could be safely ignored.

      All my early adopter friends who bought AI assistants have since unplugged them and left them shamefully sitting on an end table amongst the dust. Now in a few years it’ll probably be next to impossible to buy a new appliance without one. This is a big fuck-up. We’ll definitely live to regret it.

  7. Ignoring Alexa and just looking at it in terms of subsidized hardware, I wonder if it will follow the pattern of the Dash buttons of shipping with debug headers included and being largely hackable to start with and only getting locked down in later generations. Or have they learned their lesson and will be shipping from the start with debugging fuses locked down and programming pins left inaccessibly unrouted from the BGAs on the PCB.

    If it can be hacked the Echo Auto looks interesting for $25: 8 microphone array, an MT7697 (Cortex M4, WiFi, BT, SDK available without NDA) and Quark S1000 (LOL). It’s only available “by invitation” though.

      1. Oh, the Voice AI accelerator thing with the tensilica “DSP”s! Thanks for pointing that out. I’d read about that when it was announced but didn’t think of anything else except the x86 chips when I saw “Quark” on the amazon page. That makes a ton more sense why it’s on there.

        I suppose the microphones will be connected directly to the Quark, then. I wonder how much of a blackbox it is, it looks like Intel’s ($500!) “Speech Enabling Developer Kit” is about the only public presence for the chip and doesn’t detail manipulating the chip at all in its documentation. It’s all just about how to get a raspberry pi hooked up to amazon’s alexa service with the S1000 handling the microphone array and wake word detection. That kind of dampens my excitement about the hardware.

  8. No listening devise in my home that sends stuff out for sure. Stupid to allow this without any regulation, oversight nor insight into use of data. Sure to be a favorite future control and surveillance system for your average dictator, religious zealots or one party political system.

    1. Regulatory lag in tech is fatally slow. These are incredibly powerful systems we’re building; they can and will harm people. I’m not just talking about Alexa or whatever, but the entire adtech hydra that’s slowly gestating out there. It’s a veritable Manhattan project for human surveillance and persuasion, and it’s being utterly ignored.

  9. It’s stuff like this that shows why we need open source hardware and software to be pervasive, so WE can determine our own actions and not some corporate or worse yet government nanny. Just say no to Alexa, “OK Google” and anything else that is constantly listening to (and archiving) every sound you make. Keep your smart TVs and other proprietary devices off the net but if you must do it, never put them on the same net as your computer or any holder of sensitive information. Give them their own quarantined network and regard them as untrustworthy hostile agents, because they very well may be.

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