Build Alexa yourself: Exciting project for all handicraft fans

Whether Google Home or Amazon Echo: Smart speakers are populating more and more households. But is that also possible without Amazon, Google & Co. in the background? The freeware Mycroft makes it possible to build your own smart speaker.

“Alexa, turn on the light. Alexa, play my favorite playlist. Alexa, when is my next dentist appointment?” – A lot of conversations in households now sound like this or something similar. Smart speakers that can manage everything from lights to calendar to phone calls are on the rise. But the devices are practical, but who wants to send all the conversations in the household to Amazon or Google?

But Amazon and Google are not the only providers when it comes to smart speakers. With a Raspberry Pi, the popular and affordable single-board computer, and a few other tools, you can easily build your own smart speaker. The free open source tool Mycroft has everything you need for this.

Mycroft: The voice assistant can do that

In fact, Mycroft was already available as a complete language assistant – but it is no longer available. The successor, Mycroft Mark II, is currently in development and can be reserve with a deposit of one dollar. It is not known when it will go into production. But that’s not so bad – because there are plenty of ways to build your own Mycroft.

The assistant works very similar to Amazon’s Alexa and has a lot of skills. Sure, the mass of skills that you have at Amazon is unfortunately not available here. But many of the features that Google Home and Amazon Echo have are also available on Mycroft. If you then want to have specific skills, you can try to program skills yourself thanks to easy-to-understand tutorials.

Your own Alexa: You need these items

In order to use Picroft, i.e. Mycroft on the Raspberry Pi, you need a Raspberry Pi 3 or 4, a USB microphone and a speaker – preferably a conference speaker that has both in one. A list already tested hardware is available on the installation page. Not officially supported, but still functional with a little patience are various Bluetooth speakers, which can then be connected wirelessly to Picroft.

Alternatively, Mycroft can also be installed on a Linux system. This is particularly attractive if you just want to test the voice assistant without spending any money first. With a virtual machine in VirtualBox and a lightweight Linux like Linux Lite, you can set up the wizard in minutes, even on Windows 10. The complete instructions are available on the Manufacturer’s GitHub page.

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Mycroft: That’s how it works

Once setup, Picroft looks like this.
Once setup, Picroft looks like this.

Image: CHIP

Picroft is based on the widespread Raspbian Buster and can therefore be easily written to an SD card using Etcher. Once it is in the Raspberry Pi and this is connected to the microphone, loudspeaker monitor and USB keyboard, you can start. In the first-time setup, you need to configure audio input channel and output channel and test the hardware. Mycroft is then set up – here you should answer all questions with yes in order to achieve the most stable result.

At Mycroft Home you manage all your devices.
At Mycroft Home you manage all your devices.

Image: CHIP

After the setup comes the pairing – for this you need a Mycroft Home account and have to enter the device using the issued code. Here you can specify what the picrft should be called and change various settings. The speaker is then ready for use and already brings some basic skills with, for example, a Wikipedia function, an alarm clock and a weather report. Other skills include the Marketplace available and can be installed by command. If you know Python, you can also program your own skills.

By default, however, Mycroft only speaks English and listens for the command “Hey, Mycroft”. If you prefer to talk to your language assistant in German, you have to adapt some components of the system. You can find out how to do this in the official documentation. It’s also a pity that Mycroft uses Google’s engine for speech-to-text and vice versa by default – so you can’t get away with that for the time being. However, the configuration files can be opened and changes can be made using the mycroft-config command. Because Mozilla, for example, also provides such an engine.

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