Vintage Rotary Phone Turned Virtual Assistant

Like many of us, [Zoltan Toth-Czifra] has completely embraced 21st century living. His home is awash in smart gadgets and dodads, from color changing light bulbs to Internet-connected cameras. But he’s also got a soft spot for the look and feel of vintage hardware, like the rotary phone he keeps kicking around to remind him of the old days. He recently decided to bridge these two worlds by turning the rotary phone into a modern voice controlled assistant.

The first piece of the puzzle was getting the old school phone connected to something a bit more modern, namely a Raspberry Pi. He didn’t want to hack the vintage phone apart, so he picked up a Grandstream HT801, an adapter that’s used to convert analog telephones to VoIP. [Zoltan] says this model specifically fit the bill as it had a function that allows you to configure a number to dial as soon the phone is lifted off the hook. This allows the user to just pick up the phone and start talking without having to dial anything manually. If you’re looking to pull off a similar setup, you should check to make sure the adapter has this function before pulling the trigger.

With the rotary phone now talking a more modern protocol, [Zoltan] just needed to get the Raspberry Pi side sorted out. He installed a SIP server so it could communicate with the HT801 adapter, and then got to work putting together his virtual assistant. Rather than plug into an existing system, he rolled his own by combining open source packages for controlling his various smart devices with the aptly named SpeechRecognition library for Python.

Right now he’s only programmed a few commands that his system can respond to for controlling his lights and music, but mentions that the system is modular enough that he can add new functions easily. He’s put the source for his virtual assistant framework up on GitHub, which he notes was written in less than 200 lines of original code by virtue of utilizing existing libraries for a lot of the heavy lifting. Open source is a beautiful thing.

In the past we’ve seen rotary phones go mobile thanks to GSM upgrades and dragged kicking and screaming onto the modern phone network with a built-in Raspberry Pi. But we think there’s something especially appealing about the approach [Zoltan] took which preserves the phone’s original hardware.

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Voice Controlled Stereo Balance With ESP8266

A stereo setup assumes that the listener is physically located between the speakers, that’s how it can deliver sound equally from both sides. It’s also why the receiver has a “Balance” adjustment, so the listener can virtually move the center point of the audio by changing the relative volume of the speakers. You should set your speaker balance so that your normal sitting location is centered, but of course you might not always be in that same position every time you listen to music or watch something.

[Vije Miller] writes in with his unique solution to the problem of the roving listener. He’s come up with a system that can adjust the volume of his speakers without having to touch the receiver’s setup, in fact, he doesn’t have to touch anything. By leveraging configurable voice control software running on his computer, his little ESP8266-based devices do all the work.

Each speaker has its own device which consists of a NodeMCU ESP8266 and X9C104 digital potentiometer inside of a 3D printed case. The audio terminal block on the gadget allows him to connect it inline between the speaker and the receiver, giving [Vije] the ability to adjust the volume through software. The source code, which he’s posted on the Hackaday.io project page, uses a very simple REST-style API to change speaker volume based on HTTP requests which hit the ESP8266’s IP address.

The second part of the project is a computer running VoiceAttack, which lets [Vije] assign different actions based on what the software hears. When he says the appropriate command, the software goes through and fires off HTTP requests to the nodes in the system. Everything is currently setup for two speakers, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to expand to more speakers (or even rooms) with some adjustment to the software.

It’s not the first voice controlled speaker we’ve ever seen, but it does solve a very specific problem in a unique way. We’d be interested in seeing the next logical step, which would see this technology integrated into the speaker itself.

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Alexa And Particle Modernize Coffee Machine By One Iota

When [Steve Parker]’s girlfriend got a tea kettle that takes voice commands, he suddenly saw his fancy bean-to-cup coffee machine as a technological dinosaur. It may make good coffee, but getting the DeLonghi going is inconvenient, because it runs a self-cleaning cycle each time it’s turned on or off.

Thus began [Steve]’s adventure in trying to turn the thing on with Alexa via Particle Photon. Because of the way the machine is designed, simply adding a relay wouldn’t do—the machine would just turn off and back on, only to start the self-clean again. Once inside, he found it’s controlled by a PIC18LF2520. Further research indicated that it is powered by an off-line switcher that combines a power MOSFET with a power supply controller. [Steve] figured out that the buttons are read via square wave and interpreted by a multiplexer.

The project went into the weeds a bit when [Steve] tried to read the signals with a knock-off Saleae. As soon as he plugged it in, the control board fried because the DeLonghi evidently has no reference to Earth ground. While waiting for a replacement board to arrive, he tried replacing the mux and shift register chips, which actually fixed the board. Then it was more or less a matter of using the DeLonghi’s status LEDs to determine the machine’s state, and then to interface with the Photon and Alexa. Cycle past the break for a ristretto-sized demonstration.

[Steve] didn’t do all this to actually make coffee, just turn the machine on with a voice command. The Photon is totally capable of making coffee, though, as we saw with this closed-loop espresso machine.

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AlterEgo Listens to Your Internal Voice

Recent news reports have claimed that an MIT headset can read your mind, but as it turns out that’s a little bit of fake news. There is a headset — called AlterEgo — but it doesn’t actually read your mind. Rather, it measures subtle cues of you silently vocalizing words. We aren’t sure exactly how that works, but the FAQ claims it is similar to how you experience reading as a child.

If you read much science fiction, you probably recognize this as subvocalization, which has been under study by the Army and NASA. However, from what we know, the positioning of sensor electrodes is crucial and can vary not only by speaker, but also change for the same speaker. Perhaps the MIT device has found a way around that problem. You can see a video of the system, 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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Siri Controls Your PC Through Python and Gmail

Voice-based assistants are becoming more common on devices these days. Siri is known for being particularly good at responding to natural language and snarky responses. In comparison, Google’s Assistant is only capable of the most obvious commands, and this writer isn’t even sure Microsoft’s Cortana can understand English at all. So it makes sense then, if you want voice control for your PC, to choose Siri as your weapon of choice. [Sanjeet] is here to help, enabling Siri to control a PC through Python.

The first step is hooking up the iPhone’s Notes app to a Gmail account. [Sanjeet] suggests using a separate account for security reasons, as you’ll need to place the username and password in a Python script. The Python script checks the Gmail account every second, looking for new Notes from the iPhone. Then, it’s as simple as telling Siri to make a Note (for example, “Siri, Note shutdown”) and the Python script can then pick up the command, and act accordingly.

It’s a quick and easy way to get Siri to do your bidding. There’s other fancy ways to do it, too — like capturing Siri’s WiFi data on your home network.

Talking Arduino Tells GoPro What To Do

It’s 2017 and even GoPro cameras now come with voice activation. Budding videographers, rest assured, nothing will look more professional than repeatedly yelling at your camera on a big shoot. Hackaday alumnus [Jeremy Cook] heard about this and instead of seeing an annoying gimmick, saw possibilities. Could they automate their GoPro using Arduino-spoken voice commands?

It’s an original way to do automation, for sure. In many ways, it makes sense – rather than mucking around with trying to make your own version of the GoPro mobile app (software written by surfers; horribly buggy) or official WiFi remote, stick with what you know. [Jeremy] decided to pair an Arduino Nano with the ISD1820 voice playback module. This was then combined with a servo-based panning fixture – [Jeremy] wants the GoPro to pan, take a photo, and repeat. The Arduino sets the servo position, then commands the ISD1820 to playback the voice command to take a picture, before rotating again.

[Jeremy] reports that it’s just a prototype at this stage, and works only inconsistently. This could perhaps be an issue of intelligibility of the recorded speech, or perhaps a volume issue. It’s hard to argue that a voice control system will ever be as robust as remote controlling a camera over WiFi, but it just goes to show – there’s never just one way to get the job done. We’ve seen people go deeper into GoPro hacking though – check out this comprehensive guide on how to pwn your GoPro.