Author Topic: Alexa + JMRI  (Read 2164 times)

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Ed Kapuscinski

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Alexa + JMRI
« on: March 14, 2018, 10:39:18 AM »
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We recently got an Alexa device and some smart outlets.

So, of COURSE I've got our Alexa setup to turn layout power on. It's fun to yell, as I'm going down the steps to the basement "Alexa, turn the trains on" and have everything blink to life.

This got me thinking, of course, that one of the biggest annoyances with DCC controlled turnouts is the user experience of actually throwing them when just casually running. You either need to wire up buttons, walk over to a control panel, or mess around with the buttons on the throttle (which is unsurprisingly annoying). I was thinking "Wouldn't it be nice if these were voice controlled? I bet it'd be possible to develop an Alexa skill to do this."

Well, Mark Underwood, the genius behind Virtual Sound Decoders, has done just that. Check it out.

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Now if only I can get Alexa to answer to "Dispatcher".

TLOC

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2018, 10:50:34 AM »
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Very neat and a great idea. My Alexa though seems this week to have a mind of her own. During a movie the other night she started laughing. Last night she just came on and started defining some process. She has been removed from the cave and banished to the kitchen. I am not sure I’d trust her to be throwing turnouts on the layout.

TomO

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2018, 10:58:26 AM »
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"Alexa, ask JMRI to emergency stop!"

"Do you want to emergency stop or power off?"

"EMERGENCY ST... <crunch!> ...never mind."

  :facepalm:

I could easily see this as practical in my situation for master power and effects lighting control. "Alexa, ask DMX to start sunset." Question there is scripting the DMX controller, which is not open-source like JMRI. Definitely NOT layout control, even if response time is improved.
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Maletrain

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2018, 11:17:15 AM »
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Let me know when Alexa can regauge wheels and turnouts. :P

But, seriously, considering the "hack" potential for things like "smart" houses, it seems like this could become a control nightmare. 

However, if the device was really "stand-alone" instead of being connected to the Internet (and reporting everything to Big Brother Google or whoever), such a device as an extension to a DCC controller would be interesting. 

Still, a train crew did really need to do something at a switch unless it was controlled by a tower operator or CTC, so I don't really mind throwing a toggle on a panel or a ground throw on the layout when I am "crewing" a train.  But, I agree with Ed that I don't like looking for a macro on my throttle to get a turnout thrown. So, if I can ask an AI dispatcher to do that with my voice, that would be nice - so long as it doesn't need to go all the way to Google and back to get activated.  The technology is already available, but who knows when it will become available to small consumers like model train operators as stand-alone configuration.

jdcolombo

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2018, 12:05:22 PM »
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You actually can probably do this without Alexa, and just use the voice control already built-in to Windows or Mac OS.  JMRI is all command driven; I'm sure you could set up Cortana or Siri to execute JMRI commands.  Of course, you'd have to have your computer on, but if you're running JMRI, you'd have to have your computer on anyway.

When I first got Alexa on a curiosity lark, I figured I'd never use it for much except maybe checking the news headlines at breakfast.  Wrong.  The thing insinuates itself into your life.  News headlines, yes, but we also have come to depend on it for making grocery lists; checking the weather; and all sorts of stuff that I previously used my iPhone for (and the iPhone isn't as elegant).  I use Alexa for lighting control in my family room where we have our home theater setup.  I will have to say that it's really convenient to sit down with the lights on, turn the theater system on, and then say "Alexa, turn off family room lights" to watch a movie or TV show.  No getting up and walking across the room to the light switch.  I could set up Alexa to control my entire A/V system if I wanted, but I haven't gotten to that level of laziness yet (plus I have a programmable remote that does all this).

I never thought I'd use voice control in a car, either, but with a navigation system, it's almost essential.  Unfortunately, the car manufacturers haven't yet mastered the "plain English" approach of Alexa; you still often have to use very structured voice commands to get what you want.  Except for Tesla - in my friend's Tesla, you just say "Navigate to X (address, landmark, whatever) and off you go.

So . . . using this to control a model RR isn't surprising at all, and I expect that in a decade, it may be ubiquitous.

John C.

DKS

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2018, 12:06:59 PM »
+2
 :facepalm:

Philip H

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2018, 12:28:01 PM »
+1
Not everything that can be done should be done.
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Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2018, 12:30:01 PM »
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But, seriously, considering the "hack" potential for things like "smart" houses, it seems like this could become a control nightmare. 

You know, given the attack surface, I imagine that someone hacking the Alexa service to mess with JMRI would be pretty far down the list. I'm not that paranoid about it. I'd be more concerned about it messing with other much less frivolous things and don't see security as a reason to ignore the model railroad possibilities.

Ed Kapuscinski

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2018, 12:30:54 PM »
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Not everything that can be done should be done.

True. But have you tried throwing a switch using a DT400?

I'd love a better solution for casual running. This looks like it.

Remember when we were actually excited about technology making our lives better and easier?

Philip H

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #9 on: March 14, 2018, 12:32:39 PM »
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True. But have you tried throwing a switch using a DT400?

I'd love a better solution for casual running. This looks like it.

Remember when we were actually excited about technology making our lives better and easier?
I don't generally run Digitrax ... but when I do I usually work off a hasty crib sheet of which key and ID I need. And much of technology does make our lives better.  But for me Digitrax doesn't, and I have no interest in the IOT.
Philip H.
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DKS

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #10 on: March 14, 2018, 01:35:19 PM »
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But have you tried throwing a switch using a DT400?

No, and I don't ever expect to be. Nothing personal, but this smacks of an overindulgence in/overreliance on technology that's robbing the current generation of their ability to think/function on their own.

Not everything that can be done should be done.

Could not have said it better.

You know it's sad when someone walks into their room and says, "Alexa, lights," and if there's no response, they're clueless how to address the problem (and this is thing!)...

Just sayin'... :trollface:

peteski

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #11 on: March 14, 2018, 02:38:59 PM »
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I find it amusing how people (including my GF) refer to the Amazon Echo and Dot as "her".  It is not a human - it is an "it".  It is a computer machine.
While I don't know all the ins and outs of it I suspect that its high level of natural speech recognition and its "intelligence" is due to the fact that it is not a standalone device, but it is just a front-end interface to a large AI program running on very powerful Amazon servers.  It has the horsepower and network capabilities to reach vast amounts of information.  However it is just an "it" with cleverly created (by real humans) programming which makes it seem almost human.  But it is not.
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Chris333

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2018, 02:42:56 PM »
+1
I find it funny that people want to "talk" to stuff. I shut off and removed all voice command apps on my phone.


DKS

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #13 on: March 14, 2018, 02:58:51 PM »
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I find it funny that people want to "talk" to stuff. I shut off and removed all voice command apps on my phone.

Thank you. And I despise having to talk to phone answering systems that are voice-driven. I wind up saying "yes" or "no" multiple times before they get it, and sometimes even then they don't. I know a machine is considerably cheaper than a human, and... well... you get what you pay for.

...While I don't know all the ins and outs of it I suspect that its high level of natural speech recognition and its "intelligence" is due to the fact that it is not a standalone device, but it is just a front-end interface to a large AI program running on very powerful Amazon servers.  It has the horsepower and network capabilities to reach vast amounts of information....

And one of the significant "outs" is when internet service goes down. You can't even get into your own "smart" house.

Sorry to hijack the thread, but, well...

/rant

Dave V

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Re: Alexa + JMRI
« Reply #14 on: March 14, 2018, 03:16:10 PM »
+1
As with everything there are some who will embrace certain technologies and some who will shun them.  This is not unlike what happens whenever the subject of Facebook comes up.  To each his own and we don’t need to judge one another.

We use Alexa and “she’s” not without “her” flaws, but “she” isn’t in a position to deny us entry to our own home.  We find it very convenient and fun, but that’s just us.  We’re a very techy geeky family.
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