Amazon Alexa is a smart speaker that can be programmed to control home automation devices via voice commands. For example, Stuart Hinson wanted to be able to control his wirelessly controlled blinds simply by verbally asking Alexa to close or open them. Stuart's blinds could already be controlled via a 433 MHz remote control, so he decided to replicate the control signals on an ESP8266 with 433 MHz transmitter, and interface that with Alexa. The ESP8266 is a cheap and small WiFi capable microchip which many people are using to create IoT devices.
Fortunately replicating the signal was quite easily as all he had to do was record the signal from the remote control with his RTL-SDR, and use the Universal Radio Hacker software to determine the binary bit string and modulation details. Once he had these details, he was able to program the ESP8266 to replicate the signal and transmit it via the 433 MHz transmitter. The remaining steps were all related to setting up an HTTP interface that Alexa could interface with.
If you're interested, we've also previously posted about another Alexa + RTL-SDR mashup which allows Alexa to read out ADS-B information about aircraft flying in your vicinity.
Amazon Echo is a smart home device which is essentially a hands free speaker that responds to voice commands in a similar way to ‘Okay Google’ and Siri does on your phone. With voice commands you can ask it to do things like play music, make a call or send a message, answer any question, control smart home devices like fans and locks and order items from Amazon.
The Echo skill gathers the live local ADS-B plane data via dump1090’s json output which runs on a networked Raspberry Pi with RTL-SDR dongle attached. The data is loaded into a database, which is then queried for the closest plane to the Echo’s location. Finally the program scrapes the closest flights departure and arrival data from FlightRadar24 before speaking it through the Echo’s speaker. Nicks code is freely available over on his GitHub page.
Alexa Plane Spotting Skill
This project reminds us of a previous post where we posted about Simon Aubury’s work in creating a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR based aircraft camera tracking system. Simon’s system used live ADS-B data to point a camera directly at aircraft as they passed over his house.
It also reminded us of this British Airways video billboard that was popular a few years ago. The ad featured a young boy who would point directly at passing aircraft with text displaying the flight information. They used a commercial networked ADS-B device to gather live ADS-B data (internet based ADS-B data from sites like flightradar24.com has a time lag, so it is not suitable for time sensitive applications like this), and whenever a passing British Airways aircraft was detected the ad would play.
Cannes Lions Grand Prix 2014 Direct Lion British Airways Magic of Flying Ogilvy One, London