Amazon’s Echo device is slowly but surely catching on as a popular voice-control appliance. To help sales grow, Amazon has been partnering with a variety of other companies producing connected home devices so Echo can be integrated with those systems. Like all things digital, modifying a device like Echo to work in new, perhaps unexpected way, is not limited to official partnerships between big corporations. Sometimes a single hacker can do some pretty amazing stuff, like a recent proof of concept showing how an Amazon Echo could be used to control a power wheelchair.
For his project, Bob Paradiso decided to use the Echo’s “Alexa, turn on ____” and “Alexa, turn off ____” commands. Normally these would be used to specify a device like lights. Paradiso also had to overcome some other limitations connected to the limited commands available at present and the fact that commands are uploaded to Amazon. To get around those limitations, he decided to insert a Raspberry Pi in the process and use it to run a Hue Bridge Emulator. This makes the Echo think it is controlling Hue light bulbs, but the commands are intercepted, processed and delivered to the wheelchair.
The end result is the ability to issue a command to the wheelchair that combines a direction with a number of seconds that it should be activated. For example, “Alexa, right four” would cause the wheelchair to rotate to the right for four seconds.
Paradiso notes that the implementation is far from being useful for deployment, especially for someone that requires the use of a motorized wheelchair. There are no safety features currently implemented and issues with voice recognition and delays would likely cause challenges for actual use. The project does serve as a sort of proof of concept though and as Paradiso notes, “something to frame a discussion around.”
You can check out a video of the Echo-controlled wheelchair in action below.