Home Automation and Voice Control

HAL-9000 (Space Odyssey), Mother (Alien), The Matrix, Jarvis (Iron Man), KITT – who doesn’t know them? And since a few days there’s Jasper, voice control for the Raspberry Pi.
An RPi, microphone, speaker and network connection is all you need (and the Jasper software package of course).

Interacting with computers by voice has always been a very appealing feature to have in my Home Automation System. There’s a button on the touchscreen in the living room which controls a light bulb – when you press that button, you hear Darth Vader saying “Yes, Master“. My son and I liked it; it was funny. But there had to be more…

So when 2 Princeton students released ‘Jasper’ a few days ago, I was triggered to revisit the subject ‘voice control’ once again.

My first thought was to give Jasper a try as soon as I had the time – but after I read some parts of the API documentation I became a bit hesitant – stuff like defining the words that the user is allowed to speak (or better: which will be recognized and processed further by Jasper) in the code is not how I’d like to do things. Another thing I didn’t like is that it would become a more or less isolated ‘sub-system’ to my HA system – answering questions, controlling Spotify and such. Create a module for every type of hardware here in our house? Neh. No chance.

Maybe it’s better to revisit Voicecommand, a tool developed by Steven Hickson and his PiAUISuite which I read about a year ago or so. Voicecommand (at least, the demo-videos are) seems to be made primarily to initiate actions (playing video, music, start the browser) on the local computer(/Raspberry). But why not try to extend it, remove some of the (local) action initiation parts of the code and replace that with a MQTT client?

That would make it a perfect fit for my HA system – this way I can let my rules engine receive the voice commands and let the rules engine be the definition of what has to be accepted as valid command and what actions should be executed.

So I ‘freed’ a Raspberry Pi and downloaded the PiAUISuite. The first problem was that I didn’t have a USB microphone – ahh, but our kids do, for things like Skype, online gaming and other things I never do. I found an old speaker set in the garage and I was good to go.

After some tinkering with the Voicecommand tool as-is, it’s configuration, trying different keywords and stuff like that, it was time to change some things.

First thing I wanted to change was the language. Voicecommand uses the Google Speech API, so using Dutch as language should not be a problem; all I had to do was change lang = “en” to lang = “nl”. Done! It improved the voice recognition quite a bit too! 😉

I also wanted to change the response (“Yes, Sir?”) in to a simple short beep. This would significantly shorten the duration of the whole conversation which was a bit too long for my taste. I searched for a ‘beep’ MP3 on the internet that was short and loud enough to be noticed, searched the Voicecommand code for Speak(response) and replaced that call with Play(beep), a new function that I added to the code.

Another thing I changed was the matching of spoken command with a list of predefined commands (and their associated actions) in the ~/.commands.conf. Right now, I just send every word to my HA system and let my system decide if the spoken command contains something useful.

The last thing I did to do get communication between Voicecommand and my HA system going was building the Mosquitto MQTT client on the Raspberry Pi and call that client (mosquitto_pub) with the right parameters from Voicecommand with a system() call. It’s a bit of a quick & dirty trick to get things going though; it would be much better to incorporate the MQTT protocol in the Voicecommand code, but that’s too much work for now – first I want to see how this works out in practice with a better microphone and some useful commands & rules…

The only rule I have right now is this one, for controlling a small night lamp in the office:

rule office_test_light {
  when {
    m1: Message m1.t == 'voice' && m1.contains('licht');
  then {
    if (m1.contains('aan')) {
      publish("command",'{"address":"B02", "command":"ON"}');
    } else
    if (m1.contains('uit')) {
      publish("command",'{"address":"B02", "command":"OFF"}');
    } else {
      log('Snap het niet');

Voicecommand has, for as far as I can see now, one drawback: no Internet connection means no Voice Control. The (very!) big plus is that the TTS voice is superior to what I’ve heard with Jasper.

Future plans:

  • sending textual (MQTT) messages to Voicecommand and let it speak them;
  • returning an error message when the rules engine was not able to process the command;
  • adding the RPi hostname to the message that goes to my HA system, which can be useful when having multiple Voicecommand Rpi’s throughout the house – cause a “light off” command in the garage implies a different action than “light off” in the kitchen.. 😉

Right now, after a few hours of tinkering, I think I’ve got something that’s worth spending more time on. We’ll see! Here’s a video of what I’ve accomplished so far:



AngularJS and Primus, a perfect couple

Some time ago I shut down my old Home Automation system and the current one is doing just fine. All User Interfaces have had their updates and are working better than before after I started using Primus. Now the time has come to give my website a face-lift.

And as the title of this post suggests, the combination of AngularJS and Primus seemed like a good choice to accomplish that. But first I’d like to see it working with my own data – closer to reality, without the data that has to be displayed defined inside the Controller but preferably delivered by Primus with my Home Automation system as source.

I’m using Primus for a couple of months now and it’s working great. An example of that is a very cheap Android tablet that’s located on the 2nd floor as a User Interface (UI) to control the usual stuff like the roller shutters, lights, front door and security system from there. This tablet loses its Wifi connection about 2 or 3 times a week resulting in a disconnected websocket and hence all the buttons on the UI are ‘dead’ when this happens. Refreshing the page brings back the websocket connection of course, but it was annoying having to do that. Since I implemented Primus, its built-in reconnect feature makes this tablet ready for use 24/7 without having to refresh. Cool. Couldn’t have done it better 😉

I also switched to another reverse proxy in the process. This used to be Apache running on a Linux VM but since a week or so I’m using nginx, currently running on a Raspberry Pi.

On to AngularJS. AngularJS “lets you extend HTML vocabulary for your application” as the website says. It came to my attention in the summer of 2013 and it has been on the to-do list ever since. I saw some examples and immediately knew I had to learn how to use it.

The last couple of days I tried to do so. After initially ‘wrestling’ with some new terminology like Controllers, Services, Providers and Directives I bought the ng-book and made my first (almost) self-made web-page. Great.

But as already mentioned above, I wanted to see Primus and AngularJS working with my data and I wanted to see some ‘building blocks’ (like grids, charts, labels) of my website being turned into dynamically updating components – without any refresh triggered by a button or time interval. Yuck… what I see, must always be the latest information available.

Now all I needed was some way to make Primus, the real-time data transporter and AngularJS cooperate. For that I found angular-primus. And I had some extra demands: I should be able to create a chart ‘pre-loaded’ with the history of x minutes/hours and grids should also contain all the items right away. And I should be able to highlight changing values to may them more noticeable. And ….

After fiddling with Angular, Primus, Providers, Directives, Controllers for a couple of evenings I came up with this (click the image to go to the live web-site) :


Brilliant… every value displayed is being updated automagically – the Smart Meter data, the line chart (with the help of HighCharts, BTW), the Temperature column values in the upper grid and new events being added to the lower grid. Just take a peek and see everything changing & moving.. just what I always wanted! The first item I built was the hardest, the ones after that were done much quicker.

Now that I finally see what AngularJS and Primus can do with my data, I think it’s safe to say that those 2 make a perfect couple for me!