“Alexa, what plane is that?”

We’ve all probably done it — gazed up at a passing jetliner and wondered where it was going and what adventures its passengers were embarked upon. While the latter is hard to answer, the former just got a bit easier: just ask Alexa what the plane is.

Granted, [Nick Sypteras]’s Echo Dot isn’t quite omniscient enough to know exactly what plane you’re looking at. His system benefits from the constraints offered by the window of his Boston apartment — from the video below, we’d guess somewhere in Beacon Hill or the West End — that offers a view of the approach to Logan Airport. An RTL-SDR dongle receives the ADS-B transmissions from all aircraft in the vicinity, and a Raspberry Pi does a lookup, picks the closest plane, and scrapes the departure and arrival airports from FlightRadar24. Alexa does the rest, but we have to confess that hearing “Boeing seven hundred eighty-seven” rather than “seven eighty-seven” would drive us nuts.

If you don’t have the limited view of an airport approach that makes [Nick]’s hack workable, maybe a plane-spotting robot camera would work better for you.

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Internet of Hungry Hungry Things

The Hippopotamus is the most dangerous large animal in Africa. The Internet of Things will kill us all. What do you get when you combine the two? Hungry hungry. [Mike] took the classic game Hungry Hungry Hippos and turned it into an amazing and amusing Internet of Things device with voice recognition and machine vision.

Hungry Hungry Hippos is a child’s (board?) game designed to teach children the virtue of gluttony. The board is surrounded by four lever-actuated plastic hippopotami, and the object of the game is to mash a lever and collect marbles in the mouths of these piggish pachyderms. [Mike] automated this game with four servos connected to these levers, with each servo controlled by a W65C265SXB single board computer. Yes, this project has code written in 6502 assembly.

Taking this a step further, [Mike] is using a Playstation 3 camera connected to a netbook for image processing. When the camera detects a marble in front of a particular hippo, that hippo becomes hungry hungry. Autoplaying Hungry Hungry Hippos. What a fantastic time to be alive.

The Internet of things connectivity? [Mike] also made these hippos controllable via Amazon’s Alexa with the help of an Electric Imp. To activate the blue hippo, all [Mike] needs to say is, “Alexa, tell game that blue hippo needs to eat.” It’s an Internet of Things computer vision AI hippopotamus. We all knew technology was eating us alive, but we never thought technology was hungry hungry.

You can check out [Mike]’s demo videos below.

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Amazon Echo Show

Back in May, Amazon announced the Echo Show, its new version of Alexa with a 7 inch touchscreen. The Echo Show is an interesting device, but will the great unwashed masses pony up $229 to buy the show? That’s $50 more than the original Echo, or $180 more than the Echo Dot. With 5.2 million units sold in 2016, Echo has been a resounding success. This has been in part due to Amazon’s open approach to the API. Anyone can build an Alexa compatible device using a Raspberry Pi. Google has (finally) followed suit with their Home device.

It’s not just the hardware that is accessible. Skills Kit, the programmer interface for extending Echo’s functionality, is also open. At CES this year, Alexa was the belle of the ball. Third party devices are being introduced from all corners, all of them connecting to Amazon’s cloud and responding to the “Alexa” keyword.

The Echo Show takes the family in a new direction. Adding a touch screen gives the user a window on the the world not available with voice interactions. Echo Show also includes a camera, which opens up a whole new set of privacy and security questions. Amazon touts it as a device for viewing security cameras, watching YouTube videos, and making video calls. This puts Echo Show dangerously close to the internet appliance category, essentially a barren wasteland littered with the corpses of previous devices. Does anyone remember when Palm tried this with the 3Com Ergo Audrey? How about the i-Opener? Will Alexa persevere and succeed where others have failed? A lot of it will depend on the third party developers, and how Amazon treats them.

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Alexa, Sudo Read My Resistor! A Challenge for Hackers

Nothing makes us feel more like we’re on Star Trek then saying “Computer, turn on desk light,” and watching the light turn on. Of course, normal people would have left the wake up word as “Alexa,” but we like “Computer” even if it does make it hard to watch Star Trek episodes without the home automation going crazy.

There’s a lot of hype right now about how voice recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) are transforming everything. We’ve even seen a few high-profile types warning that AI is going to come alive and put us in the matrix or something. That gets a lot of press, but we’re not sure we are even close to that, yet. Alexa and Google’s similar offerings are cool, there’s no doubt about it. The speech recognition is pretty good, although far from perfect. But the AI is really far off still.

Today’s devices utilize two rather rudimentary parts to provide an interaction with users. The first is how the devices pattern match language; it isn’t all that sophisticated. The other is the trivial nature of many of the apps, or — as Alexa calls them — skills. There are some good ones to be sure, but for every one useful application of the technology, there’s a dozen that are just text-to-speech of an RSS feed. Looking through the skills available we were amused at how many different offerings convert resistor color codes back and forth to values.

There was a time when building electronics meant learning the resistor color code. With today’s emphasis on surface mount components, though, it is less useful than it used to be. Still, like flossing, you really ought to do it. However, if you have an Amazon Alexa, it can learn the color code for you thanks to [Dennis Mantz].

Don’t have an Alexa? You can still try it in your browser, as we will show you shortly. There are at least eight similar skills out there like this one from [Steve Jernigan] or [Andrew Bergstrom’s] Resistor Reader.

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Sudo Google Assistant

A Raspberry Pi kicking around one’s workbench is a project waiting to happen — if they remain unused long enough to be considered a ‘spare.’ If you find you’ve been pining after an Alexa or your own personal J.A.R.V.I.S., [Novaspirit Tech] might be able to help you out — provided you have a USB mic and speaker handy — with an accessible tutorial for setting up Google Assistant on your Pi.

A quick run-through on enabling a fresh API client on Google’s cloud platform, [Novaspirit] jumps over to the Raspbian console to start updating Python and a few other dependencies. Note: this is being conducted in the latest version of Raspbian, so be sure to update before you get underway with all of your sudos.

Once [Novaspirit] gets that sorted, he sets up an environment to run Google Assistant on the Pi, authenticates the process, and gets it running after offering a couple troubleshooting tips. [Novaspirit] has plans to expand on this further in the near future with some home automation implementation, but this is a great jumping-off point if you’ve been looking for a way to break into some high-tech home deliciousness — or something more stripped-down — for yourself.  Check out the video version of the tutorial after the break if you like watching videos of guys typing away at the command line.

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Say Hello to This Cortana Hologram

Halo’s Cortana enters the real world with this internet appliance. [Jarem Archer] has built an amazing “holographic” home for Cortana of Halo and Windows fame. The display isn’t really a hologram, it uses the age-old Pepper’s ghost illusion. A monitor reflects onto 3 angled half mirrored panels. This creates a convincing 3D effect. Cortana herself is a 3D model. [Jarem’s] wife provided gave Cortana her moves by walking in front of dual Kinect depth-sensing cameras. This motion capture performance drives the 3D Cortana model on the screen.

The brain behind this hack is the standard Windows 10 Cortana voice assistant. Saying “Hey Cortana” wakes the device up. To make the whole experience more interactive, [Jarem] added a face detection camera to the front of the device. When a face is detected, the Cortana model turns toward the user. Even if several people are watching the device, it would seem as if Cortana was “talking to” one person in the audience.

The cherry on top of this hack is the enclosure. [Jarem] 3D printed a black plastic stage. An Arduino drives RGB LEDs whenever Cortana is activated. The LEDs project a blue glue that works well with the Pepper’s ghost illusion. The result is a project that looks like something Microsoft might have cooked up in one of their research labs.

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The Internet Connected Dog Treat Machine

[Eric] and [Shirin] have a dog called [Pickles], who is the kind of animal that if you are a dog lover you will secretly covet. They evidently dote upon [Pickles], but face the problem that they can’t always be at home to express their appreciation of him. But rather than abandon him entirely, they’ve applied technology to the problem. [Eric] has built an Internet-connected dog treat dispenser, through which they can dispense treats, and watch the lucky mutt wolfing them down.

The body of the machine has been made with lasercut acrylic, and the dispenser mechanism is a rotating hopper driven by a stepper motor. The whole thing — in all its transparent glory — is controlled through a Raspberry Pi, which plays a sound clip of [Shirin] calling [Pickles] for his treat, records his dining enjoyment with its camera, and emails the result to his owners. Behind the scenes it hosts an MQTT server, which can be triggered via an iPhone app, Alexa, or the adafruit.io site. Imagine for a moment: “Alexa, feed my dog!”. It has a ring to it.

He makes the point that this machine is not simply limited to dispensing treats, it could be used to engage [Pickles] in more activities. He hints at a future project involving a ball throwing device (have you ever seen such joy from a dog). There’s no substitute for being there with your dog, but maybe with this device they can make their dog’s life a little less of, well, a dog’s life.

You can see the machine in action in the video we’ve posted below the break.

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