Amazon's Alexa - Quick and Dirty Voice Control

Posted on Tue 03 January 2017 in Home Automation

My plug socket is behind the TV. I have to do a little twisty jig with my arm to get to it. It kinda hurts.

Its rather awkward.

I wanted to remote control it.

So did, wrote out a little guide and made a video too Amazon Alexa Broadlink RF 433 Voice Activation

If I've a coat or bag, it becomes nearly impossible, if I'm needing to get out of the house quick, the entire media wall is staying on standby for the day. Not cool. Trees.

My TV is also rather old now. It's a very decent Samsung panel, I don't want to replace it till the picture goes completely. Problem is, it'll switch its self on whenever it feels like it. 2am, sound blasting is a favourite.

Hence the other need for ease of access to the hard off power socket.

I went to Maplin and got a little 433mhz remote controlled socket. Fiver. Quick setup, power on and off via remote control. Problem sorted. Click on, click off. No more twisty jig.

But I'm sitting there. Chuffed with my new RF control. I'm thinking, It's 433mhz. I've been playing with IR and RF and a Raspberry Pi lately. I've built a lil web page so I can switch my lamps on and off. Maybe I can include the "media wall" also?

IR with the Pi is easy enough. The range is however quite limited. You can build transformers but I'm no electrician and it took me an age to get an IR transmitter and receiver circuits working. 433 is slightly more complex to set up but seemes to work well, I wouldn't go as far as to say reliable but it worked. Again I think non-switches were possibly due to lack of range/power.

I needed a fully functioning thing that had both 433 and IR, quite powerful, programmable and accessible over the web. I have a Broadlink RM 2 Pro that has IR. Samsung dropped the IR out of the S7 (???) so I brought one to bring the functionality back to my mobile.

Using an app you click learn, point and click a remote at it and it repeats the signal when asked. Turns out it has 433 as well as IR. Awesome. The app lets you create remotes and scenes. Handy.

After a bit of Googlemashing I found an app that bridges the RM2, Alexa and Tasker on Android. Broadlink RM Tasker Plugin. It's able to emulate virtual Belkin wemo switches, host them on your network, thus enabling Alexa to discover and control them.

Side note, I remember looking into VAT a while back and seeing this app, I vaguely remember people citing security concerns. 
You may want to look up on this. 
The RM2 communicates over 4G, I haven't poked any holes in my firewall to allow this, which concerns me slightly too. 
I have no idea how these things are talking and I don't like that. 
I'll wireshark it soon and see what I can dig out. 
IOT / VAT poke holes in your network regardless. Secure what you need to, section off the rest.

To get all of this up and running you'll need:

  • Amazon Alexa
  • Broadlink RM2 Pro
  • e-control App
  • Android Tablet / Phone *
  • Broadlink RM Tasker Plugin
  • Something 433 and or IR

*The RM Tasker plugin clearly states that having an always hosting app open will drain your battery. My tablet (Onda v919 Air Core 8) is always plugged in. It's on the media wall rail so powers on and off regularly. It gets a few hours charge a day which keeps it running. Some phones and tablets don't like to be powered on all day. Batteries are known to bulge. That can be dangerous.

Assuming Alexa is setup, and the Broadlink has a few saved remotes or buttons already:

RM2 Pro

I use my phone mainly as a the RM remote, it's where all my buttons are saved. I'll be using my tablet as the remote in this guide.

From the Broadlink e-control app on the phone go in to the settings and share the config, from the tablet do the same but click receive. Buttons shared, tablet configured.

Tasker Plugin

This bit is still quite new to me. There's probably bits I'm missing. The app is £4 a year, subscription. Free for 7 days. I doubt I'll be using it more than a year.

  • Install the RM Tasker Plugin
  • Click the import data from eControl App. This will grab your shared buttons
  • Tick Alexa Bridge
  • Click device list and make sure your RM Pro is listed
  • Click Alexa Device List and Add a Device
  • Give your device a name, my power socket is called media. The word media is easily spoken and understood

I also have Fan, Speed (she struggles with this one), TV, Surround and Guide so far.

  • From your imported list, select a button, power on for example
  • Repeat, power off

Alexa

"Alexa, discover devices". With any luck she will find your devices. "Alexa, turn the TV on".

Remember she's only looking for two words, TV and on but you know, polite conversation and all.

Now you'll be able to walk in to the house and say lights on, TV on, things happen around me whilst I'm doing other stuff. The futures happening, man.

It's quick and dirty. It's cheap and messy. I've found the 433 to be almost rock solid. The IR can be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes she thinks about it for a good 10 seconds, other times she says it's not responding when it's already triggered.

Other times she flat out ignores me.

For the cost of a tenner and an old Android, I think the Voice Activated Technology's ease of operation, IOT integration and overall usefulness in the home was well wort it, albeit slightly rough around the edges.