Wall of video games

Consoles, Consoles On The Wall, Can Alexa Help Me Play Them All?

If you’ve got a collection of classic game consoles, finding the space to set them all up can be a challenge. But the bigger problem is figuring out how to hook them all up to a TV that, at best, might only have two or three inputs. [odelot] recently wrote in to tell us how he solved both problems with his voice-controlled wall of gaming history.

To mount the systems to the wall, [odelot] designed and printed angled brackets that attach to specially shaped pieces of 3 mm MDF. They do a pretty good job of holding the systems at a visually interesting angle while making themselves scarce, with only the notoriously slick-bottomed Wii needing some extra clips on the front to keep it from sliding off. He also printed up a series of blocks and pipes, no doubt a reference to Mario Bros., to hold the power and video cables for each system.

Prototype version of electronics on breadboardAs to connecting them all up to his TV, [odelot] picked up an eight-device Extron VGA switch that features a serial port for remote control. After getting all the systems adapted over to the appropriate video standard, he then wired an ESP8266 to the switch and wrote some code that ties it into Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant.

By just saying the name of the system he wants to play, the microcontroller will flick the switch over to the appropriate input and turn on a ring of blue LEDs under the appropriate shelf to signify which console has been selected. There’s even an array of solid state relays that will eventually control the mains power going to each system, though [odelot] hasn’t fully implemented it yet. Currently the electronics for this project live on a fairly packed breadboard, but it looks like he’s in the early stages of designing a proper PCB to clean it all up.

Not content to simply control a commercial A/V switch? In the past we’ve seen truly dedicated console collectors design their own custom switches from the ground up, complete with a display to show the currently selected system’s logo.

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Alexa, Bring Me A Beer!

Voice controlled home assistants are the wonder of our age, once you’ve made peace with the privacy concerns of sharing the intimacies of your life with a data centre owned by a massive corporation, anyway. They provide a taste of how the future was supposed to be in those optimistic predictions of decades past: Alexa and Siri can crack jokes, control your lights, answer questions, tell you the news, and so much more.

But for all their electronic conversational perfection, your electronic pals can’t satisfy your most fundamental needs and bring you a beer. This is something [luisengineering] has fixed, an he’s provided the appropriate answer to the question “Alexa: bring mir ein bier!“. The video which we’ve also put below the break is in German with YouTube’s automatic closed captions if you want them, but we think you’ll be able to get the point of it if not all his jokes without needing to learn to speak a bit of Deutsch.

As he develops his beer-delivery system we begin to appreciate that what might seem to be a relatively straightforward task is anything but. He takes an off-the-shelf robot and gives it a beer-bottle grabber and ice hopper, but the path from fridge to sofa still needs a little work. The eventual solution involves a lot of trial and error, and a black line on the floor for the ‘bot to follow. Finally, his electronic friend can bring him a beer!

We like [Luis]’s entertaining presentational style, and the use of props as microphone stands. We’ll be keeping an eye out for what he does next, and you should too. Meanwhile it may not surprise you that this is not the first beer-delivery ‘bot we’ve brought you.

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Hackaday Podcast 111: 3D Graphics Are Ultrasonic, Lobotomizing Alexa, 3D-Printing Leaky Rockets, And Gaming The Font System

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams curate a week of great hacks. Physical displays created in 3D space are a holy grail, and you can make one with 200 ultrasonic transducers, four FPGAs, and a lot math. Smart speakers have one heck of a microphone array in them, it’s yours for the hacking if you just roll your own firmware. Hobby servos can be awful, but this week we saw they can be made really great by cracking open the DC motor to add a simple DIY position sensor. And lasers are making their way into car headlights; we illuminate the situation in this episode.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~60 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

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Roomba Gets Alexa Support With An ESP8266 Stowaway

The modern home is filled with plenty of “smart” devices, but unfortunately, they don’t always speak the same language. The coffee maker and the TV might both be able to talk to your phone through their respective apps, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the two appliances can work together to better coordinate your morning routine. Which is a shame, since if more of these devices could communicate with each other, we’d be a lot closer to living that Jetsons life we were promised.

Luckily, as hardware hackers we can help get our devices better acquainted with one another. A recent post by [MyHomeThings] shows how the ESP8266 can bridge the gap between a Roomba and Amazon’s Alexa assistant. This not only allows you to cheaply and easily add voice control to the robotic vacuum, but makes it compatible with the Amazon’s popular home automation framework. This makes it possible to chain devices together into complex conditional routines, such as turning off the lights and activating the vacuum at a certain time each night.

The hack depends on the so-called Roomba Open Interface, a seven pin Mini-DIN connector that can be accessed by partially disassembling the bot. This connector provides power from the Roomba’s onboard batteries as well as a two-way serial communications bus to the controller.

By connecting a MP1584EN DC-DC converter and ESP8266 to this connector, it’s possible to send commands directly to the hardware. Add a little glue code to combine this capability with a library that emulates a Belkin Wemo device, and now Alexa is able to stop and start the robot at will.

We’ve seen this sort of trick used a few times before to add backdoor Alexa support to various gadgets, and it’s always interesting to see what kind of unusual hardware folks are looking to make an integral part of their smart home.

“Alexa, Stop Listening To Me Or I’ll Cut Your Ears Off”

Since we’ve started inviting them into our homes, many of us have began casting a wary eye at our smart speakers. What exactly are they doing with the constant stream of audio we generate, some of it coming from the most intimate and private of moments? Sure, the big companies behind these devices claim they’re being good, but do any of us actually buy that?

It seems like the most prudent path is to not have one of these devices, but they are pretty useful tools. So this hardware mute switch for an Amazon Echo represents a middle ground between digital Luddism and ignoring the possible privacy risks of smart speakers.  Yes, these devices all have software options for disabling their microphone arrays, but as [Andrew Peters] relates it, his concern is mainly to thwart exotic attacks on smart speakers, some of which, like laser-induced photoacoustic attacks, we’ve previously discussed. And for that job, only a hardware-level disconnect of the microphones will do.

To achieve this, [Andrew] embedded a Seeeduino Xiao inside his Echo Dot Gen 2. The tiny microcontroller grounds the common I²S data line shared by the seven (!) microphones in the smart speaker, effective disabling them. Enabling and disabling the mics is done via the existing Dot keys, with feedback provided by tones sent through the Dot speaker. It’s a really slick mod, and the amount of documentation [Andrew] did while researching this is impressive. The video below and the accompanying GitHub repo should prove invaluable to other smart speaker hackers.

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Voice-Command Chess Board Powered By Alexa

Talking to computers used to be reserved for Star Trek and those with overactive imaginations. Now, it’s a regular part of daily life. [CodersCafe] decided to put this technology to work in a chess robot, with the help of Amazon’s digital assistant. 

The build relies on an Cartesian motion rig, built out of Lego Technics parts. The end effector is fitted with a magnet , fitted onto the Z-axis screw for engaging and disengaging with the pieces. A Mindstorms EV3 controller is used to run the show, hooked up over Bluetooth to an Amazon Echo. This allows the user to ask Alexa to move the pieces for the white player in natural language – by saying, for example, “move from B1 to C3”.

It’s a build that demonstrates how easy it is to create projects with advanced functionality by lacing together the correct off-the-shelf hardware. Other Cartesian-type motion platforms can make great chess robots, too. Video after the break.

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Alexa, Shoot Me Some Chocolate

[Harrison] has been busy finding the sweeter side of quarantine by building a voice-controlled, face-tracking M&M launcher. Not only does this carefully-designed candy launcher have control over the angle, direction, and velocity of its ammunition, it also locates and locks on to targets by itself.

Here comes the science: [Harrison] tricked Alexa into thinking the Raspberry Pi inside the machine is a smart TV named [Chocolate]. He just tells an Echo to increase the volume by however many candy-colored projectiles he wants launched at his face. Simply knowing the secret language isn’t enough, though. Thanks to a little face-based security, you pretty much have to be [Harrison] or his doppelgänger to get any candy.

The Pi takes a picture, looks for faces, and rotates the turret base in that direction using three servos driven by Arduino Nanos. Then the Pi does facial landmark detection to find the target’s mouth hole before calculating the perfect parabola and firing. As [Harrison] notes in the excellent build video below, this machine uses a flywheel driven by a DC motor instead of being spring-loaded. M&Ms travel a short distance from the chute and hit a flexible, spinning disc that flings them like a pitching machine.

We would understand if you didn’t want your face involved in a build with Alexa. It’s okay — you can still have a voice-controlled candy cannon.

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