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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Bringing The Voice Assistant Home

For many, the voice assistants are helpful listeners. Just shout to the void, and a timer will be set, or Led Zepplin will start playing. For some, the lack of flexibility and reliance on cloud services is a severe drawback. [John Karabudak] is one of those people, and he runs his own voice assistant with an LLM (large language model) brain.

In the mid-2010’s, it seemed like voice assistants would take over the world, and all interfaces were going to NLP (natural language processing). Cracks started to show as these assistants ran into the limits of what NLP could reasonably handle. However, LLMs have breathed some new life into the idea as they can easily handle much more complex ideas and commands. However, running one locally is easier said than done.

A firewall with some muscle (Protectli Vault VP2420) runs a VLAN and NIPS to expose the service to the wider internet. For actually running the LLM, two RTX 4060 Ti cards provide the large VRAM needed to load a decent-sized model at a cheap price point. The AI engine (vLLM) supports dozens of models, but [John] chose a quantized version of Mixtral to fit in the 32GB of VRAM he had available.

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Google Nest Mini Gutted And Rebuilt To Run Custom Agents

The Google Nest Mini is a popular smart speaker, but it’s very much a cloud-based Big Tech solution. For those that want to roll their own voice assistant, or just get avoid the corporate surveillance of it all, [Justin Alvey’s] work may appeal. (Nitter)

[Justin] pulled apart a Nest Mini, ripped out the original PCB,  and kitted it out with his own internals. He uses the ESP32 as the basis of his design, since it provides plenty of processing power and WiFi connectivity. His  replacement PCB also interfaces with the LEDs, mute switch, and capacitive touch features of the Nest Mini, for ease of interaction.

As a demo, he set up the system to work with a custom “Maubot” assistant using the Matrix framework. He hooked it up with Beeper, a messaging client that collates all your other messaging platforms into one easily-accessible place. The assistant employs GPT3.5, prompted with a list of his family, friends, and other details, to enable him to make calls, send messages, and handle natural language queries. The demo itself is very impressive, and we’d love to try setting up a similar assistant ourselves. Seeing two of [Justin’s] builds talking to each other is amusing, too.

If you’re more comfortable working with Google Assistant rather than dropping it entirely, we’ve looked at that kind of thing, too. Video after the break.

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Smart Assistants Need To Get Smarter

Science fiction has regularly portrayed smart computer assistants in a fanciful way. HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey and J.A.R.V.I.S. from the contemporary Iron Man films are both great examples. They’re erudite, wise, and capable of doing just about any reasonable task that is asked of them, short of opening the pod bay doors.

Cut back to reality, and you’ll only be disappointed at how useless most voice assistants are. It’s been twelve long years since Siri burst onto the scene, with Alexa and Google Assistant following years later. Despite years on the market, their capabilities remain limited and uninspiring. It’s time for voice assistants to level up.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: A DIY Voice-Control Module

If science fiction taught us anything, it’s that voice control was going to be the human-machine interface of the future. [Dennis] has now whipped up a tutorial that lets you add a voice control module to any of your own projects.

The voice control module uses a Raspberry Pi 4 as the brains of the operation, paired with a Seeed Studio ReSpeaker 4-microphone array. The Pi provides a good amount of processing power to crunch through the audio, while the mic array captures high-quality audio from any direction, which is key to reliable performance. Rhasspy is used as the software element, which is responsible for processing audio in a variety of languages to determine what the user is asking for. Based on the voice commands received, Rhasspy can then run just about anything you could possibly require, from sending MQTT smart home commands to running external programs.

If you’ve always dreamed of whipping up your own version of Jarvis from Iron Man, or you just want a non-cloud solution to turn your lights on and off, [Dennis’s] tutorial is a great place to start. Video after the break.

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A futuristic bed headboard has a continuous light with a hexagonal grid overlaid on top of it that wraps around the bed, much like an ovoid MRI machine.

This Headboard Contains An Artificial Sun

Despite the proliferation of artificial lighting, humans are still highly dependent on sunlight for regulation of our circadian rhythms. Accordingly, [Sector 07] has built a futuristic headboard that can help with the waking up side of things whether you’re headed to space or just in the dead of winter.

The interior of the headboard includes custom 3D printed panels to mount the electronics and a light diffusion screen made of nylon fabric. The printed parts were all joined by “welding” the pieces with a soldering iron and extra filament. Besides the futuristic hexagon motif in the diffusion screen, the most eye-catching part of this build is the curved ends making it look like a set piece from Star Trek: TNG. [Sector 07] was able to get the unique shape by kerf bending the plywood ends before joining them to the flat sections with dowels and wood glue.

Since this build also includes an integrated coffee maker and voice assistant, there’s a bit more going on with the electronics than you might have in a normal circadian lamp. Powering the project are two Arduino Mega boards and a SpeakUp Click that handles the voice commands. Wake-up times are controlled via a keypad, and the voice assistant, Prisma, will ask if you are awake once the 30 minute sun simulation has completed before your alarm goes off. If you don’t confirm wakefulness, Prisma will escalate alarms until the system is sure you’re awake and then will ask if you want coffee. If you want a deep dive into the system’s functionality, be sure to checkout the video after the break.

We’ve covered artificial suns before, so if you’re interested in trying to build you’re own you should check out this Hugely Bright Artificial Sun, a Sunrise Alarm Clock Mounted Above the Bed, and this Artificial Sun Via Old Satellite Dishes.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Vintagephone Links The Past To The Present (and Future)

Brrrrrrrring! Movies and TV are one thing, but the siren song of a rotary phone ringing in the same room as you is one of those sounds you carry forever. Not old enough to remember them? Ah, so what? There’s no reason to lose these beauties to the annals of time. In fact, we think more old phones should be repurposed so that present and future generations can experience the finger-hookin’ good time of the rotary dial and the high-voltage peal of those brass bells.

That’s exactly what [Giulio Pons] has done with Vintagephone — turned a rotary phone into a digital assistant with an analog interface. He’s reused all the good bits like the rotary dial, the bells, the handset, and the hang-up switch and connected them up to a Wemos ESP8266 development board with a mini motor driver shield and a voltage booster to ring the bells.

When it’s all said and done, [Giulio] will be able to set an alarm by dialing in the time, ring a number to get the current time and date, and ring another number to get the weather forecast. Reminds us of our childhood pastime of calling Time and Temperature to get outside verification that time had, in fact, passed inside the house on those boring rainy days.

Follow along with [Giulio] as the Vintagephone comes to life in the logs, which already have some great instructions for doing a similar number to an old phone you may have lying around. You can find the code on GitHub.

Got some old tech lying around? Teach it some new tricks and enter the Reuse, Recycle, Revamp round of the 2022 Hackaday Prize!