Teaching Alexa to 3D Print

Sometimes a gadget like Alexa or Google Home is a solution looking for a problem. Then the problem you’ve been looking for hits you square in the face. I’ve confessed before that I have an oscilloscope problem. I also have a microcontroller development board habit. It appears now I have too many 3D printers. I recently finished building my latest one, an Anet A8 I picked up on Black Friday. While calibrating it, I found myself juggling a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and trying to operate the thing all at one time. I realized I had to come up with a better way.

I don’t know if it qualifies as an addiction yet, but I also have an Alexa in every room (although I call it “Computer” because I’m a Star Trek fan) and a Google Home device almost everywhere. Why can’t I get one of these assistants to operate my printer for me? What are assistants for, after all, other than telling Dad jokes?

You’d think adding voice control to a 3D printer would a bit difficult. With the right tools, it is actually pretty easy. Luckily those tools aren’t anything special… if you want a set up like mine, where Alexa controls your 3D printer, read on.

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Amazon Echo Dot Upgraded to Retro Futuristic Look

It takes a surprising amount of planning and work if you want something to look old. [vemeT5ak] wanted the Echo Dot sitting on his desk to fit a different aesthetic motivated by a 1940s Canadian radio. Armed with Solidworks, a Tormach CNC, and some woodworking tools at Sector67 hackerspace, he built a retro-futuristic case for the Amazon Alexa-enabled gadget. Future and past meet thanks to the design and material appearance of the metal grille and base molding wrapping the wood radio case. The finishing touch is of course the ring of blue light which still shines through from the Echo itself.

A short USB extension cable connects the Echo Dot to the back of the enclosure, and the cavernous inside plus ample holes provide a nice rich sound.

It took about 15 hours of modeling, scaling, and tweaking in Solidworks with an interesting design specification in mind: single-bit operation. This single-bit is not in the electrical sense, but refers to the CNC milling operation. All pieces are cut with a 1/4″ end mill, without any tool changes. Metal pieces were milled from 6061 aluminum and the hickory case (with burgundy stain) was mostly cut on a table saw, but the holes were CNC machined.

What looks like an otherwise perfect build has a single flaw that eats up [vemeT5ak]’s soul; the Echo Dot has a draft angle that wasn’t considered during modeling, and the hole is ever so slightly too wide, meaning it didn’t press fit perfectly flush. Fortunately it’s not noticeable behind the metal grill, and unless you knew (please help keep his dirty little secret), you would think everything turned out perfectly.

It turns out building a case for the Echo Dot is challenging for a few reasons; the rubbery material on the bottom doesn’t allow anything to stick to it, and the sides are smooth and featureless with a taper that makes it difficult to lock it in. Many cases resort to clipping over the top to hold it in place. Others install it into a fish or a furby.

Classic Furby plus Alexa Equals… Furlexa

[Zach Levine] wrote in to share a project just completed: a classic Furby packing a Raspberry Pi running Alexa: he calls it Furlexa.

The original Furby product wowed consumers of the 90s. In addition to animatronic movements, it also packed simulated voice learning technology that seemed to allow the Furby to learn to speak. It wasn’t like anything else on the market, and even got the toy banned from NSA’s facilities in case it could spy on them. Elegantly, the robot uses only one motor to move all of its parts, using a variety of plastic gears, levers, and cams to control all of the robot’s body parts and to make it dance.

Over the past twenty years the Furby has earned the reputation as one of the most hackable toys ever — despite its mystery microcontroller, which was sealed in plastic to keep the manufacturer’s IP secret. [Zach] replaced the control board with a Pi Zero. He also replaced the crappy mic and pizeo speaker that came with toy with a Pimoroni Speaker pHat and a better mic.

While classic Furbys have a reputation for hackability, the new ones aren’t immune: this Infiltrating Furby is based on a recent model of the toy. Continue reading “Classic Furby plus Alexa Equals… Furlexa”

Haunting A Smart Mirror With Hue and Alexa

So, your smart mirror has been running for a while, but Halloween is coming up and you want to come up with some cool Halloween stuff to display on the mirror. If you’re looking for ideas, check out [Ben Eagan]’s cool Haunted Smart Mirror which connects the mirror via a Raspberry Pi with Amazon Alexa and Phillips Hue lighting.

[Ben] points to another of his blog pages for those readers interested in the nuances of setting up Alexa with a smart mirror, while concentrating on communication with the Hue bridge and creating the setup for a new Alexa command in this post. Dealing with the Phillips Hue API seems fairly straightforward: Get the IP address of your Hue bridge from your router and the ID of your lights from the Hue app and you’re set to send commands via HTTP. [Ben] includes a Python script to make the lights flicker, which you can modify for your own lights as you wish. Once that’s done, you’ll need to set up the intent that Alexa listens for, and then modify the AWS lambda function that sends commands to the Pi. When the command shows up in the queue on the Pi, any commands [Ben] wants to play are fired off – in this case, a video is played and the Hue lights start to flicker.

There’s no mention of security in the article, so that may be worth a little attention with Alexa and the Hue, but with Halloween coming up fast even if you haven’t built a magic mirror yet, if you’ve got Hue lights, this would be a great, quick, Halloween idea. Especially if you could combine it with your outside lights so that Trick-or-Treaters can join in on the fun. Maybe you’d prefer looking up passing planes using Alexa? Or how about getting your fish to talk?

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Alas, Poor Yorick! He Hath Not Amazon Prime

If you are looking around for a Halloween project, you might consider The Yorick Project from [ViennaMike]. As you can see in the video below, it marries a Raspberry Pi acting as an Amazon Alexa with an animatronic skull.

This isn’t the most technically demanding project, but it has a lot of potential for further hacking. The project includes a USB microphone, a servo controller, and an audio servo driver board. It looks like the audio servo board is controlling the jaw movement and based on the video, we wondered if you might do better running it completely in software.

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“Alexa, Make My ESP8266 Do Something”

The Amazon Echo and its diminutive Dot cousin have the handy feature of being able to control some home automation devices. If you own the right manufacturer’s hardware you can bend your home to your will using the power of your voice alone.

The trouble is, if your hardware isn’t on the list of supported devices or if you make your own, you’re out of luck.

[Xose Pérez] had been sidestepping this problem by using a server running a set of scripts emulating a Belkin WeMo device, which Echo supports. The server could issue commands to his microcontrollers, but he wanted more. Why not cut out the middle man to incorporate the WeMo emulation directly on the ESP8266 that did the work?

He took the Fauxmo Python WeMo emulator he had been using, and ported it to an ESP8266 library that can be incorporated in existing code to make it appear to the world as a WeMo device. With the code itself he has provided full instructions on its BitBucket page as well as on the page linked above.

He admits that he is not the first person to have achieved this aim, and points to this earlier project. However his requirement for a library to be incorporated in another piece of software were not satisfied by it, hence his work.

We like this project, but it’s probably worth reminding readers that Alexa does have an SDK in the form of the Alexa Skills Kit. You can use it to do all sorts of clever things with your Echo or Dot… or you can make it the brains of a Big Mouth Billy Bass novelty ornament.

Alexa Brings Back Singing Fish, This Time It’s A Good Thing

Remember Big Mouth Billy Bass? That’s the singing fish with which you could torture family members by having it endlessly perform a rendition of either “Take Me to the River” or “Don’t Worry Be Happy”.

Now [Brian Kane], a teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design, has connected Amazon’s Alexa to the fish. Speak the “wake word”, “Alexa”, and the fish’s head turns to face you. Then ask it any question you’d normally ask Alexa and Alexa’s voice answers while the fish opens and closes its mouth in time to the words. Want to know the weather? Ask the fish, which you can see [Brian] do in the video below.

[Brian] hasn’t given details on how he’s done it but he’s likely made use of the Alexa Skills Kit, an SDK from Amazon that let’s you use the Alexa voice recognition and speech service with your own hardware (wetware, aquaware?), just as Amazon does with their home assistant, Echo .

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