The Future Looks Bleak For Alexa Skill Development

While the average Hackaday reader is arguably less likely than most to install a megacorp’s listening device in their home, we know there’s at least some of you out there that have an Amazon hockey puck or two sitting on a shelf. The fact is, they offer some compelling possibilities for DIY automation, even if you do have to jump through a few uncomfortable hoops to bend them to your will.

That being said, we’re willing to bet very few readers have bothered installing more than a few Alexa Skills. But that’s not a judgment based on any kind of nerd stereotype — it’s just that nobody seems to care about them. A fact that’s evidenced by the recent revelation that even Amazon looks to be losing interest in the program. In a post on LinkedIn, Skill developer [Mark Tucker] shared an email he received from the mothership explaining they were ending the AWS Promotional Credits for Alexa (APCA) program on June 30th.

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Screenshot of eBay listings with Gigaset IoT devices being sold, now basically useless

A Giga-Sunset For Gigaset IoT Devices

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, we have another company in the “smart device” business that has just shuttered their servers, leaving devices completely inert. This time, it’s Gigaset. The servers were shuttered on the 29th of March, and the official announcement (German, Google Translate) states that there’s no easy way out.

It appears that the devices were locked into Gigaset Cloud to perform their function, with no local-only option. This leaves all open source integrations in the dust, whatever documentation there was, is now taken down. As the announcement states, Gigaset Communications Gmbh has gotten acquired due to insolvency, and the buyer was not remotely interested in the Smart Home portion of the business. As the corporate traditions follow, we can’t expect open sourcing of the code or protocol specification or anything of the sort — the devices are bricks until someone takes care of them.

If you’re looking for smart devices on the cheap, you might want to add “Gigaset” to your monitored search term list — we’ll be waiting for your hack submissions as usual. After all, we’ve seen some success stories when it comes to abandoned smart home devices – like the recent Insteon story, where a group of device owners bought out and restarted the service after the company got abruptly shut down.

We thank [Louis] for sharing this with us!

Your Voice Assistant Doesn’t Have To Be Cloudy

Voice assistants are neat — they let us interface with computers without having to bother with touching them at all. Still, many decry the perceived privacy intrusion these devices present, as they’re always trucking data off to corporate servers for all kinds of opaque reasons. Building your own standalone assistant is a way to get around that, and that’s precisely what [Tristram] did.

The build is based on an ESP32 Lyrat development board. Unlike most devboards, this one has two 3 watt audio outputs and mics on board, making it perfect for a build like this one. The Lyrat was paired with some NeoPixel LEDs and a pair of Dayton Audio 1.5″ speakers to enable it to interact with the user both audibly and visually.

[Tristram] steps through not only how to set up the voice assistant, but also how to build it into a simple and attractive enclosure that won’t unduly stand out in the average house. The Lyrat simply has to be flashed with firmware that enables it to work as a voice aid with Home Assistant platform.

If you’re unfamiliar, Home Assistant is a smart home architecture that you can run yourself on your own hardware, without having everything live in the cloud of some murky corporation.

Home Assistant has grown in popularity in recent years as a less intrusive smarthome solution. You can even use it to monitor your hot tub! Video after the break.

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Haier Europe Eases Off On Legal Threat And Seeks Dialogue

After initially sending a cease and desist order to [Andre Basche] – the developer of a Haier hOn plugin for Home Assistant – Haier Europe’s head of Brand and IoT has now penned a much more amicable response, seeking to enter into dialogue in search of a solution for both parties.

This latest development is detailed both in the ongoing GitHub issue, as well as the Takedown FAQ and Timeline document that [Andre] created to keep track of everything that’s going on since we last checked in on the situation. As things stand, there is hope that Haier Europe may relent, especially as the company’s US division has shown no inclinations to join in on the original C&D.

In the confusion following the initial C&D announcement demanding the take-down of [Andre]’s hOn-related repositories, it was not clear to many which Haier was involved. As it turns out, Haier Europe as a separately legal entity apparently decided to go on this course alone, with Haier US distancing themselves from the issue. In that same Reddit thread it’s noted that GE Appliances (part of Haier US) has had a local API available for years. This makes Haier Europe the odd one out, even as they’re attempting some damage control now.

Amidst this whirlwind of developments, we hope that Haier Europe can indeed reach an amicable solution with the community, whether it’s continued API usage, or the development of a local API.

Haier Threatens Legal Action Against Home Assistant Plugin Developer

Appliance manufacturer Haier has been integrating IoT features into their newer products, and as is so common these days, users are expected to install their “hOn” mobile application to access them. Not satisfied with that limitation, [Andre Basche] reverse engineered the protocol used by the app, and released a Python library and associated Home Assistant plugin to interface with a wide array of Haier appliances, which includes brands like Hoover, Candy, GE Appliances and others.

Unfortunately, it looks like his efforts have gotten him into a bit of legal hot water. In an issue recently opened on the project’s GitHub page, [Andre] explains the circumstances and legal options that have led him to consider pulling the repositories completely — mostly due to the cost of mounting a legal defense to the cease & desist from Haier Europe.

What’s ironic here is that Haier has been part of the Connectivity Standard Alliance (CSA) since 2022, whose goal is to ‘promote universal open IoT standards’, including Matter.

It’s possible that a legal defense will be mounted against this C&D from Haier within the coming days. Yet regardless of the outcome here, it remains problematic that these IoT-enabled Haier appliances are connected to the Haier servers. Ideally they would be controlled locally, which is the goal of projects like [Miguel Ángel López Vicente]’s ESP Haier, that uses an ESP8266 to connect Haier AC units to the local WiFi and e.g. HA instances, all without requiring internet access.

This is sadly just one more example of why building your own off-line smart home can be such an incredible struggle.

Thanks to [Ar3itrary] for the tip.

How To Build A Fully Offline Smart Home, Or Why You Should Not

So-called ‘smart home’ appliances and gadgets have become an ever-more present thing the past years, with nary a coffeemaker, AC unit or light bulb for sale today that doesn’t have an associated smartphone app, cloud service and/or subscription to enable you to control it from the beach during your vacation, or just set up automation routines to take tedium out of your busy schedule. Yet as much as [Calvin Wankhede] loves home automation, he’d very much like for it to not stop working the moment his internet connection goes down, or the company running the service goes bankrupt. This is where his journey to create an off-line alternative smart home based around Home Assistant and other (open) software began.

Although Home Assistant (HA) itself has become significantly easier to use, what becomes readily apparent from [Calvin]’s journey is that setting up and managing your own smart home infrastructure is a never-ending project. A project that involves finding compatible hardware that can tie into HA, whether or not without reflashing the firmware, resolving configuration issues and other assorted fun. If you are into this kind of thing, it is of course a blast, and it’s a good feeling when it finally all works.

Unfortunately, interoperability across smart home and similar IoT devices is still a far-off dream, even with the introduction of Thread and Matter (which incidentally are among the worst product names to search for, period), as Matter’s uptake is pretty abysmal. This thus leaves off-line smart homes mostly as the domain of the tech-inclined in search of a hobby.

Does Getting Into Your Garage Really Need To Be Difficult?

Probably the last thing anyone wants when coming home from a long day at work or a trip is to be hassled at the last possible moment — gaining entrance to your house. But for some home automation enthusiasts, that’s just what happened when they suddenly learned that their own garage doors had betrayed them.

The story basically boils down to this: Chamberlain, a US company that commands 60% of the garage door market, recently decided to prevent “unauthorized usage” of their MyQ ecosystem through third-party apps. Once Chamberlain rolled out the change, users of Home Assistant and other unauthorized apps found themselves unable to open or close their doors with the apps they were accustomed to.

Those of us with custom smart home setups can relate to how frustrating it is when something disturbs the systems you’ve spent a lot of time tweaking and optimizing. It’s especially upsetting for users who both Chamberlain hardware specifically because it was supported by Home Assistant, only to have the company decide to drop support. This feels like false advertising, but we strongly suspect that buried in the EULA users must have agreed to at some point is a clause that essentially says, “We can do anything we want and tough noogies to you.” And if you read through the article linked above, you’ll get an idea why Chamberlain did this — they probably didn’t like the idea that users were avoiding their ad-spangled MyQ app for third-party interfaces, depriving them of ad revenue and the opportunity for up-selling.

We feel the frustration of these users, but rather than curse the darkness, perhaps this will light a candle of righteous rage that leads to a clever workaround. The Home Assistant blog article mentions a dongle called ratgdo, which should allow any door with plain old dry contacts to work via MQTT or ESPHome. It’s extra work that users shouldn’t have to put in, but maybe getting one over on The Man would be worth the effort.

Thanks to [KC] for the tip; please keep us posted on your workaround.