A Smart Speaker That Reminds You It’s Listening

[markw2k9] has an Alexa device that sits in his kitchen and decided it was time to spruce it up with some rather uncanny eyes. With some inspiration from the Adafruit Uncanny Eyes project, which displays similar animated eyes, [markw2k9] designed a 3d printed shell that goes on top of a 2nd generation Amazon Echo. A teensy 3.2 powers two OLED displays and monitors the light ring to know when to turn the lights on and show that your smart speaker is listening. The eyes look around in a shifty sort of manner. Light from the echo’s LED ring is diffused through a piece of plexiglass that was lightly sanded on the outside ring and the eye lenses are 30mm cabochons (a glass lens often used for jewelry).

One hiccup is that the ring on the Echo will glow in a steady pattern when there’s a notification. As this would cause the OLEDs to be on almost continuously and concerned for the lifetime of the OLED panels, the decision was made to detect this condition in the state machine and go into a timeout state. With that issue solved, the whole thing came together nicely. Where this project really shines is the design and execution. The case is sleek PLA and the whole thing looks professional.

We’ve seen a few other projects inspired by the animated eyes project such as this Halloween themed robot that is honestly quite terrifying. The software and STL files for the smart speaker’s eyes are on Github and Thingiverse.

Thanks [markw2k9] for sending this one in!

20 thoughts on “A Smart Speaker That Reminds You It’s Listening

    1. Another slight design fault is that it’s only monitoring what Google *wants to tell you* about it’s listening habits. I.e. the ring is a digested indicator of that Alexa is listening. But it’s listening much more often than it tells us through the ring. I would have expected some network monitoring device, to check when Alexa is actually sending some large amount of audio data to Google. Because basically that’s what it really does when it’s listening.

      Now it seems like nothing more than an extension of the functionality of the light bar. But it doesn’t show when Google is listening to the sounds in your house, to determine if someone is saying something that should trigger a response.

      1. RetepV, I can see how the title of the Hackaday article might have led you to think that, but you are correct… this project is essentially just an extension of the light bar. I intentionally did not make any modifications to the Echo Dot itself – this ‘eye module’ simply sits right on top of and doesn’t involve any changes to the Amazon Alexa device.

  1. This is a really fun and neat build! Given the light ring gives an indication of the voice direction, I wonder if the next version could utilise a few more photoresistors to make the eyes look in the direction of the speaker? That would creep me out! (in a good way)

    1. Exactly. And as if I’m gonna ever believe it’s not listening. I know about the CIA’s old (horrifyingly-named) weeping angel project, and nobody should believe it ever ended.

      Nobody needs these toys, unplug them and cannibalize what you can from them

  2. I’ve used Amazon Echo (Alexa) ever since the first generation. I’ve talked out loud about travel to destinations i would never seach for on the internet. Discussed purchasing odd things I would not actually search for. Never have I experienced any indication of my verbal discussions in the presence of Alexa. No emails or online suggestions or any reason where I would suspect anyone or anything listening to my private conversations. No FBI agents have visited my house based on my private rants in my living room. Victoria Secrets has not sent me any advertising based on my bedroom pillow talk.

    My browser, on the other hand, especially Chrome (when I’m logged into my Google account), is a total immersion in keeping track of my browsing habits. Purchase suggestions, emails, ad pop-ups, etc. all relating to things I’ve looked at online and sites I’ve visited. I like using Google apps for various things, and I still like Chrome, but it all has a cost. Anyone using my computer would certainly know about my hobbies, likes, dislikes, and political leanings.

    Too much attention is getting paid to “listening” devices and nobody seems to care about their browsing habits. All devices and all browsers are data loggers for the world of sales, human monitoring, government, etc. Maybe people should pay more attention to their fingers than their tongues?

    1. People have lost their minds in general about privacy. I remember all the internet etiquette and safety practices in the 90s and 00s and to see people just slip and accept all the atrocious bastardry we have today is very disappointing. This stuff will have consequences a lot worse than most people imagine it will. Like at some point our abilities to surveil and doctor people’s data and lives will make a perfect, eternal dictatorship possible that the people could never organize and rise against and somebody is going to seize that opportunity. That and AI weapons so they don’t have to trust human enforcers anymore. It’s weird that people don’t think that could happen soon.

  3. What I would like, and planning to do, is a proxy-like device for those things. The proxy would wake up to the magic word, enable the microphone, and play the “Alexa” or “Google” sound to the smart speakers. Otherwise, it would make them deaf after some time of inactivity. I’ve set all my smart speakers on switched plugs, so they are turned off most of the time, until a better solution comes along.

    1. There is actually a product like that, a hood you put over your spydevice of choise that has it’s own wake word, and plays noice into the spy device at all other times.

      A better solution is to not pay for and install spydevices in your own home.

      The old russian and east german secret services could never get people to do that, they had to run the wires themself…

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