Sunday, November 27, 2016

Playing with Alexa and Echo

After my first tests with the Raspberry Pi and Alexa it was time to try an Echo.
Since now is available a more cheap version, the Echo Dot, I bought one of these and started to play.
Here some notes about.

Is it good ?

Yeah :) It is good.
Of course is not perfect, there is a huge space for improvements, but it is already something, especially when I was able to link it with my HA system.
But let see some details.

What it can do

Well, like the things I tried with the Raspberry Pi  you have the usual activities, asking the time, setting timers, creating lists, emulating Eliza :)
Other than that, the big advantage of Echo Dot is the possibility to ask and listen music, podcast, etc.
Of course to have decent results is better to pair it with an external bluetooth speaker.

Then, with some plugins and extra work, is possible to interface Alexa with different things, like my HA system (based on X10) and other appliances.
Now is really nice to turn on/off/dim the lights of my house simply asking Alexa to do it.

Yeah, nothing really new, already 20 years ago it was possible something like that, but the cost to set up a system capable to respond to vocal commands was huge and the system was surely less responsive and less easy to use.
Alexa really is impressive and all considered is easy to set up.

Well, OK, easy relatively speaking.
For example, in order to connect Alexa to my HA system I had to do some vodoo :)

Interface Alexa with X10

As I said, my HA system is still based on the old, glorious X10 protocol.
Why ? Well, I had around tons fo X10 modules and the newer systems, like Zigbee or Zwave, are still quite expensive.
I would love to migrate on Zigbee for example, but I still have a lot of still good X10 working modules.
I hate to trash away something that still work.

I have a server running Heyu that controls the lights and it handle some macros and timer.
So the natural question was, is it possible to interface Alexa with my server ?
A quick search with google said yes !

I found a very nice and detailed article from Corey Murnaghan : Amazon Echo X10 Home Control.
From there actually there was a link to an update : UPDATED Amazon Echo X10 Home Control

The two articles (I strongly suggest to use the updated version) discuss about how to interface Alexa with a Raspberry Pi running Heyu.
I already had a server running Heyu, with the glorious Ubuntu 16.04, so I used that article as main guideline, changing things here and there and in the end, voila', everything worked just nice.

The main differences from the Corey's article were about of course the Heyu installation and setting, since I already had that done years and years ago :)
In the end I just installed the Ha-bridge and configured little bit differently, also because my server hosts some websites, so it was impossible to follow some suggestions like erase the /var/www/html directory.

I had to change also some ports, since I was already using the port 80.
At least my version of Echo/Alexa requires to use the port 80 to recognize the Ha-bridge>
In order to have Alexa recognizing the server, I had to change the UPNP IP Address, forcing to use the one of the server.
Of course I had also to modify some firewall configuration for security reasons, to make the HA system local to my network and not be accessible from outside.

But in the end, I have now a very nice and useful way to control my lights :)

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