It is never too early for Halloween, and for a self-described aspiring roboticist, what better way to start decorations early by making Amazon's Alexa digital assistant speak out of a creepy skull?
The Yorick Project by Mike McGurrin, who also goes by the name ViennaMike, chronicles how he was able to switch out the Amazon Echo speakers with a skull. For those with the necessary knowledge and tools, you might even be able to do the same.
How To Make Alexa Talk Out Of A Skull
McGurrin posted all about The Yorick Project on Hackster.io, where he narrated his love for Halloween decorations, including the various talking skeletons that he said he has set up over the years.
McGurrin's wife gave him a gift of a three-axis talking skull for Christmas of 2015. The skull, which also had moving eyes, was used to upgrade one of his skeletons that previously only had a moving jaw.
According to McGurrin, the inspiration for The Yorick Project came from the Alexa Billy Bass, which used a talking fish in place of Amazon Echo speakers for Alexa to utilize. If a fish can be used for that purpose, why not a skull?
The Yorick Project, named as such in reference to the skull of a court jester in Shakespeare's "Hamlet", details all the materials and the process used by McGurrin, though he warns that it is an expensive undertaking due to the cost of the three-axis talking skull.
The components of The Yorick Project, in addition to the skull, include a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and the AlexaPi software, which would turn the mini-computer into an Alexa client device. McGurrin also used an audio servo controller to transform audio output into servo commands for the skull's jaw, along with a servo controller to control the eye, nod, tilt, and turn servos of the skull.
The project also utilized powered speakers, as the Raspberry Pi releases very little volume through its audio jack, a microphone through which users can input their voice commands, and other miscellaneous components such as optional LEDs, a PVC pipe to prop the skull on, and a box to contain all the other materials once completed.
McGurrin also noted that other models of the Raspberry Pi should work with The Yorick Project, as long as the model offers Wi-Fi support.
The process is detailed in the Hackster.io page for The Yorick Project, including all the custom script and code that other users would need if they would like their own Alexa-powered talking skull.
Horrors Of Amazon's Alexa
The result of The Yorick Project is awesome or unsettling, depending on who you ask. Alexa's disembodied voice, combined with an animated skull, makes for a great Halloween item, even in the middle of March.
Unfortunately, a talking skull is not the only source of horrors regarding Amazon's digital assistant. In January, the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo caused numerous orders for dollhouses across San Diego due to a TV report mentioning its name. Users have also complained about how the smart speakers power up when people with similar names to Alexa are called.
Besides, with Amazon making further improvements on Alexa, perhaps the digital assistant itself would take over the world someday. Who knows?