A home made Amazon Echo with a Raspberry Pi
I’ve had this raspberry Pi for a wee while now and I initially got it for using with a camera to use for security for the house. About a month ago I saw a project online where you could use the Raspberry Pi to create your own home made Amazon Echo. That left me with a dilemma has to what I should do first with this tiny little computer. Whichever of these two projects I was going to do first time knew they were going to take some time to get working. On the webpage for this Raspberry Pi Amazon Echo project there are quite a lot of steps to be followed to get the job finished. It’s always a good idea to do a project like that when it is fairly freshly published. The reason is because things change over time and these projects don’t get updated to take account of changes made. What happens is, you get part way through the project find some inconsistency which leads to an enormous amount of head scratching. Just one small change can lead to damnation as far as a project like this is concerned. If everything does go to plan then it isn’t any bother at all to create your home made Amazon Echo. If it doesn’t go exactly to plan then you won’t find any help to get you around the problem that was created. I did run into a couple of difficulties along the way, but I did make it to the end. I now have a home made Amazon Echo I’ve been able to ask questions of. I’ve used it to set a timer and also to set an event in a calendar. I even persuaded it to tell me a joke. Not that it was terribly funny.
Why create a home made Amazon Echo?
Using and abusing and artificial intelligence through a stand-alone device which sits in your home seems to be the way things are going. Google has just announced it will be giving us a device called Google Home. Amazon have the Echo. New artificial intelligence software has recently been announced by the same group who made Siri. This new one is called Viv and we don’t really know yet how it’s going to be made available to us final users. Will Apple by it in the same way it bought Siri or will it be something that third-party developers will be able to integrate into their applications on whatever platform? It does seem quite appealing to have an artificial intelligence to do our bidding and all have to do is to talk to it. In just the same way as the Star Trek personnel talk to their computer or the astronauts from the old TV series Blakes Seven will be able to tell the computer system what to do. It doesn’t have to be something set in a spaceship it can also be like in the movie Back to the Future where Marty comes back home from work and talks to the computer. He tells the computer system of the house to turn on the television channels he wants to watch. We can do those sorts of things now by telling our virtual assistant residing in our artificial intelligence device was we want to have done. We can now have a smart home where we integrate our music and television services along with devices which measure temperature of the home. The smart home can control door locks and set up lighting scenarios and we can do this with devices from Amazon, Google and Apple. It is still early days and some parts of the system work better than others.
The Amazon Echo at the moment is only available in North America. It is possible to find a way around this to get one into Europe. If you do you don’t get the same amount of capabilities as you would by using it in America, but it is possible. I don’t think I’ll be using the Amazon echo system for too long as it is at the moment on my home made version of it. I find it too annoying to be given measurements in antiquated measuring systems like Fahrenheit and miles. I’d rather wait until we use the much more reasonable kilograms, centigrade and kilometres. Even so, it is well worth having a look at what can be done with this home made Amazon Echo. You can ask all sorts of questions and get answers as it hooks into various services. I’ve used it to give me the latest news from the BBC. I’ve even been able to get it to play audio from one of my Kindle books, even though it didn’t do a very good job of it.
Creating the home made Amazon Echo step-by-step
There’s not much point in me going over step-by-step what I did to create this home made Amazon Echo. Here is the link to the Raspberry Pi project. There are quite a lot of steps and you do have to learn how to do things like use the terminal. There are LINUX commands to put into the terminal which you don’t have to really understand. At least you don’t have to have a full understanding even when you hit some of the road blocks. I had to make some changes to a LINUX command to take into account a newer version of Java. You do need to know how to change directories using just the terminal. There were times I just found it easier to get to the directory I needed by doing a right click on the directory in the file manager. You can choose to open that specific folder in terminal.
Many of the LINUX commands involve telling the Raspberry Pi to download and install software. A couple of times I found that when running a command to get a service working it out to be done from within a specific folder or directory. Sometimes it was easy to get things done just by doing a copy and paste of the code for the command in the project details. There were a couple of occasions where I was scratching my head and thinking I might have to give up. What I did to get around this was to go back to previous steps in the project and to redo them. I think a couple of times I had done something correctly but the system has stopped working and I just need to go back and to restart it. The project can’t put in every piece of information to deal with all sorts of problems you could come up against. On one occasion I did resort to googling the command to find out where I was going wrong. Basically when it comes to it you do have to be quite tenacious and tell yourself that you’re not going to give up. At one point I decided to take a rest and grab a nice cup of tea (otherwise known as thinking juice) then go back in and check things again.
It pays to have a look at the sometimes quite verbose notifications in the terminal window of what’s being done. This is where you can see what’s going wrong. At least it will give you a clue here and there. This is how I found out that one of the services needed to run the home made Amazon Echo has stopped running. It was because of this that the following steps were not working as they should.
Limitations of a home made Amazon Echo
In order to get this home made Amazon Echo working you need to register for an Amazon developer account. It’s very easy to do this and you can see that Amazon expect people to do this sort of home made Amazon Echo project. Even though at times it seems like some devil-based hacking type of activity it has received the blessing from Amazon. The main limitation you’ll find when you’ve completed the device is that unlike the $179 Echo it is not allowed to listen continuously. So you’re not able to start the Echo working by saying the keyword Alexa. You have two press a button Within the software on the Raspberry Pi for it to start listening.I have also found that the listening can only last for a very short amount of time. For some of the questions I wanted to ask Alexa I didn’t have enough time. Something more complicated like getting it to make a change to an event I had used the home made Amazon Echo previously just didn’t work. The microphones in the Amazon Echo are going to be much better too. I connected my normal studio microphone which is good for near field listening. The real device can hear you when you are further away in the room.
The Amazon Echo versus Siri versus Google Home
For start off Google Home has only just been announced and is not available until later in the year. Only then will we be able to do a proper comparison with the Amazon Echo. Both of these devices have to be plugged in and so don’t have the advantage of the mobility you get with using an artificial intelligence available on your mobile device such as your iPhone or Android device. Google has its Google Now which makes an attempt at being your artificial intelligence assistant. Apple are coming up with something similar to what they have called Proactive. The Google one of these works the better of the two due to the lower privacy threshold than you have with Apple. Apple don’t want to mine your data to know what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. There are rumours that Apple will be coming out with a similar device to Google Now and Amazon Echo. I expect we will find out whether that is the case or not when WW DC takes place in June. It would be useful to have an electronic box from Apple that would contain everything for home kit and would also include all the stuff that the Apple TV can already do. I would love to have a device that could do all of that for controlling home and being my virtual electronic assistant. For the moment all I have is my home made Amazon Echo which is fun to experiment and play with. As I said at the beginning of this article it is early days yet with any of these sorts of artificial intelligence devices. This is the way the future is going and I’m looking forward to it.