Making An Alexa Raspberry Pi

Last week, I ordered all of the bits and pieces I needed to get a Raspberry Pi configured to become an Alexa device.  It was incredibly easy, the tutorial was very straightforward, and I ended up with something that can do this:

What You Need

If you want to try this, here’s what you’ll need (links and prices from Amazon):

Optionally, you might want to protect your Raspberry Pi if you plan to take it anywhere.  They make a very nice, inexpensive case for it:

Finally, there are a few things you’ll need to get it running, but these are things I assume you probably have.  If you don’t, I’ve recommended some with the links.

  • USB keyboard & mouse (Logitech MK270 Wireless USB keyboard and mouse – $19.95)

    keyboard
    I like this one because it’s small, compact, and easy to travel with.  Most travel keyboards are garbage, so I tend to lean towards smaller, full-function keyboards instead.  (My primary keyboard is a Das Keyboard, much bigger and clickier.)

  • HDMI monitor (there are way too many options here, any monitor will do. I’m hunting for a tiny one I can travel with.  Like 5″ or smaller.  But in a secure case, since it will likely see the bottom of my backpack occasionally.)
  • Micro-USB Charging Cable (you literally have 100 of these in a drawer. Any of them.)
  • 3.5mm audio cable
  • Literally ANY speaker that can take a 3.5mm audio cable as input (I used the Nokia MD-12 for mine, but you can certainly find cheaper speakers if you need one.)

    nokiamd12

The How-To

I would normally give you a run-down of the steps I took, and the issues I faced, but there simply isn’t much point in that.  I followed the provided tutorial on GitHub, and it was one of the smoothest experiences I’ve ever had setting something like this up.

https://github.com/alexa/alexa-avs-sample-app/wiki/Raspberry-Pi

My Takeaways

I’m working on a few things to enhance the experience, but here’s my takeaways:

  1. If you ONLY want an Alexa device, this is probably not the project for you.  The Echo Dot is $49.99, and doesn’t require any setup to work.  This project, at a minimum cost, is about $53.15.  That being said, having an Alexa device that can also run some other services is really compelling.  Adding a touchscreen to it would allow you to see the “cards” that Alexa skills produce at http://alexa.amazon.com, for example.
  2. Each time you power up the Raspberry Pi, you have to manually start all of the services again.  I’m hoping that with some creative effort, this might not always be true, but there’s some authentication that happens that requires your monitor, mouse, and keyboard every time you power it up.  (This is why I’m looking for travel keyboards and monitors.)
  3. This was one of my first experiences in the Raspberry Pi ecosystem, and I’m very excited by what I found.  There are tons of accessories to enhance and protect your device, and I’m looking forward to seeing where I can take this project forward.

 

 

 

Blitzball Strike Zone

A couple of years ago, I played a few rounds of whiffleball with my friends Ryan and Travis Lowdermilk.  Travis went so far as to build a strike zone out of PVC and sheet metal, and it was an amazing amount of fun.

Since that time, I’ve seen all sorts of awesome things about the Blitzball, including the guys over at Dude Perfect.

This past weekend, I decided I needed to make one for myself.  This is the final product:

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The rest of this post is about how I built it, so if that sort of thing isn’t for you, here’s something fun to watch instead.

The Supplies

It’s a pretty affordable setup, made entirely of PVC, sheet metal, and zip ties.

Total cost?  $41.45 with 7.5% sales tax.

The Frame

I knew that I didn’t want to have to cut the sheet metal.  I’d do a poor job, and it was pretty close to the standard strike zone size, give or take an inch or two.  This meant that I needed to make a PVC frame that would hold a 24″ x 36″ piece of metal, with a little space to give.  I ended up setting my dimensions of the inside of the frame to be an inch larger in both directions, 25″ x 37″.

This meant cutting out these pieces:

  • 2 x 37″ (sides)
  • 1 x 25″ (top)
  • 2 x 4.25″ (bottom)
  • 1 x 12″ (bottom)

Because we’re using the Tee joints to connect to the base, I had to break the bottom up into three separate pieces, that’s why you see those cuts in the list.  The entire frame should be able to come from ONE of the 10′ PVC pipes.

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When it’s assembled, it looks like this:

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The Base

I know, I know, you’re all about that base.  I saw some photos of a strike zone that another person had built, and it had angled legs that reminded me of how a catcher sits behind the plate.  I decided to emulate that look, because it looks cooler.

The cuts you need for the base are here:

  • 1 x 23″ (front)
  • 2 x 16″ (sides)
  • 2 x 12″ (legs)
  • 2 x 7″ (connect to frame)

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When you assemble the base, it should look like this, where the legs tilt in towards the center a bit:

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Glue?

I would generally recommend using some PVC primer and cement at this point.  It will make your strike zone virtually indestructible.  That being said, I simply used a rubber mallet to make sure all of my pieces were completely connected, and that seemed to make it strong enough.

Put Them Together!

Once you’ve gotten the two sections cut and assembled, put them together!  Your strike zone should resemble the one below.  (See how much cooler the angled legs look?)

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Paint It!

At this point, you could say you’re done with the frame, but I highly recommend painting it.  Pick your favorite team colors, or just go with black.  Either way, a coat of paint will do wonders.

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Prepping the Sheet Metal

I also painted my sheet metal, but you certainly don’t have to.  The galvanized steel finish looks good on its own, but some color really makes it look finished.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of my sheet metal when I was painting it, but you can see what it looked like from the first photo at the top of this post.

Drill Your Holes

I’ve seen some folks that just hammer a nail through their sheet metal to make the holes for the zip ties, but I think that would result in some bends to the metal that I wanted to avoid.  I just used a simple drill bit that was slightly larger in diameter than the zip ties.

On the top and bottom (24″ edges), I punched holes at 3″, 12″, and 21″ across.  Especially on the bottom, these measurements are important, because you don’t want your drill holes to be over the Tees that connect to the base.

On the sides (36″ edges), I drilled holes at 6″, 12″, 18″ 24″, and 30″.  You can space these out however you’d like, but make sure they’re evenly spaced on both sides, or your sheet metal might hang slightly crooked.

Attach the Sheet Metal

Run the zip ties through each of the holes, and tighten.  I don’t recommend over-tightening them, because your PVC will just pull towards the center.  Hand-tightening should be plenty.

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Take Advantage of the Power of Magnets

You’ve got a magnetic surface, so why not add some flair?  I had a large Cleveland Indians logo hanging on a refrigerator in my basement that added the perfect finishing element to my PVC strike zone.  You can get one for just about any team on Amazon.

So, that’s it!  Time to get some pitching practice in!  Let me know if you build one…I’d love to see it!