Whether Google Home or Amazon Echo: Smart speakers are populating more and more households. But is that also possible without Amazon, Google & Co. in the background? The freeware Mycroft enables you to build your own smart speaker.
“Alexa, turn on the light. Alexa, play my favorite playlist. Alexa, when is my next dentist appointment?” – Many conversations in households now sound like this or something like that. Smart loudspeakers that can manage everything from lighting to calendars to telephone calls are now on the road to great success. But the devices are practical, but who wants to send all the household chats to Amazon or Google?
But Amazon and Google are not the only providers when it comes to smart speakers. With a Raspberry Pi, the popular and affordable single-board computer, and a few other tools, you can easily build your own smart speaker. The free open source tool Mycroft has everything you need for it.
Mycroft: The voice assistant can do that
In fact, Mycroft was already available as a completely finished voice assistant – but it is no longer available. The successor, Mycroft Mark II, is currently in development and can be reserved for a deposit of one dollar. It is not known when it will go into production. But that’s not so bad – there are plenty of ways to build a Mycroft yourself.
The assistant works very similarly to Amazon’s Alexa and brings a lot of skills with it. Sure, the mass of skills that are available at Amazon are unfortunately not available here. But many of the functions that Google Home and Amazon Echo have are also available at Mycroft. If you would like to have specific skills, you can try programming skills yourself thanks to easy-to-understand tutorials.
Your own Alexa: You need these items
In order to use Picroft, i.e. Mycroft on the Raspberry Pi, in addition to a Raspberry Pi 3 or 4, you also need a USB microphone and a loudspeaker – ideally a conference loudspeaker that brings both in one. A list of hardware that has already been tested is available on the installation page. Officially not supported, but with a little patience still functional are various Bluetooth speakers that can then be wirelessly connected to Picroft.
Alternatively, Mycroft can also be installed on a Linux system. This is particularly attractive if you just want to test the voice assistant without spending any money first. With a virtual machine in VirtualBox and a lean Linux like Linux Lite, you can even set up the wizard under Windows 10 in a few minutes. The complete instructions are available on the manufacturer’s GitHub page.
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Mycroft: That’s how it works
Picroft is based on the widespread Raspbian Buster and can therefore easily be written to an SD card using an etcher. Once it is in the Raspberry Pi and connected to the microphone, loudspeaker, monitor and USB keyboard, you can start. In the initial setup you have to configure the audio input channel and output channel and test the hardware. Mycroft is then set up – here you should answer all questions with yes in order to achieve the most stable result.
After the setup, the pairing follows – for this you need an account with Mycroft Home and have to enter the device using the code issued. Here you can define the name of the Picroft and change various settings. The speaker is then ready for use and already has some basic skills, such as a Wikipedia function, an alarm clock and a weather report. Further skills are available in the marketplace, among others, and can be installed by command. With knowledge of Python you can also program your own skills.
By default, Mycroft only speaks English and listens to the command “Hey, Mycroft”. If you prefer to speak to your voice assistant in German, you will need to adapt some of the system components. You can find out how to do this in the official documentation. It’s also a shame that Mycroft uses Google’s engine as standard for speech-to-text and vice versa – so you can’t get by with that for the time being. However, the configuration files can be opened and changes made using the mycroft-config command. Because, for example, Mozilla also provides such an engine.
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