Amazon Alexa is going to run/ruin my life
It was my birthday recently, just turned 28. As a gift to myself I finally decided to order an Amazon Alexa cause I’ve wanted one since I heard about it a few months ago. If you aren’t familiar it’s basically like a ‘siri’ or ‘cortana’ thing that is a stand alone personal assistant device that lives in your home. It’s always on and responds to voice commands from surprisingly far away. It can tell you the weather, check your calendar, manage your shopping list and all that kind of nifty stuff. However, it can do more, much more. Thanks to the ability to develop custom ‘skills’ (their name for apps) and out of the box If This Then That (IFTTT) integration you can quickly start making Alexa do just about anything. I’ve owned it only a day now and I’ve already taught it two new tricks.
Also, if you aren’t familiar with IFTTT it’s an online service that basically allows you to create simple rules that perform actions (hence the name, if this then that). They have the ability to integrate all kinds of different services so you no longer have to be an advanced programmer to automate much of your life. It’s a cool free service and I’d highly recommend checking it out.
You may remember a while back I did that whole write about about making an automatic door locking service software to lock and unlock my front door. I figured a good way to jump into making custom commands would be if I could to see if I could teach Alexa to do it for me upon request. Turns out it was surprisingly easy. Since I already had the web service up and running to respond to HTTP post requests, I simply needed to create an IFTTT rule to send a request when Alexa heard a specific phrase. You may recall that I had some problems with IFTTT not seeming to work for me before, but it seems to now, might have been an error on my part for all I know. Here is the rule as it stands currently.
Every command issued to Alexa starts with the ‘wake word’ in this case I’ve chosen Alexa (since you can only pick between Alexa, Echo, and Amazon). Second is the command to issue so it knows what service to route the request to. For this the command is ‘trigger’ so Alexa knows to send the request to IFTTT. Then you simple include the phrase to match, and what to do. I decided to make the phrase ‘lock the door’ which when that happens will send a post request to my web server is listening with the given JSON payload. Boom done.
The next thing I wanted to do, and this is still just a very rough outline of a final idea is Chromecast integration. Ideally I’d like to be able to say ‘Alexa trigger play netflix [moviename]’ but as of right now triggers created from IFTTT for Alexa can’t really contain variables aside from just the whole command itself. So I could do ‘Alexa trigger netflix bojack horseman’ and create a specific request just for that show, but there is no way to create a generic template kind of request and pass on the details to the web service that is listening. That aside, what I do have currently is a start.
I found a command line tool that can interact with the chromecast (check this guide for Command Line Chromecast), and then created a execute statment to call that from my web service. My door lock and unlock service already has logic for handling different commands so I just created a new one called ‘play’ that plays my test video.
So that turned out to be pretty easy. Small caveat being that castnow is more meant to be an application that is kept open and you interact with to control the video. Since it is being invoked via a web service call it doesn’t really get to ‘interact’ with it. I suppose you might be able to do some crazy shit like keeping open a web socket and continue to pass commands to it, but that’s for another day.
The IFTTT command is basically the same as the door lock one. Just change the command to trigger it, and change the JSON payload to have the action as “play” instead of “lock” or “unlock” and the command gets triggered. I also created a corollary rule and bit of code for stopping the casting of the current video by playing another empty video file (since there isn’t an explicit stop command in the castnow software).
There you have it, with Alexa, IFTTT, and a home web server you can start to do some pretty cool customized automation stuff. I think next up is getting it to order my favorite local pizza for me 😀