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Open source, Echo-like gizmo is halfway to Kickstarter gold

Aug 20, 2015 — by Rick Lehrbaum — 1,092 views

[Updated: Aug. 31] — The “Mycroft” Kickstarter campaign is seeking funds for developing an open source, Snappy Core Linux- and Raspberry Pi 2-based alternative to Amazon’s Echo.

The ambitious Mycroft Kickstarter campaign is now halfway to its $99,000 funding goal for developing what it calls “the world’s first open source, open hardware home A.I. platform.” Like Amazon’s groundbreaking Echo, the Mycroft device will be a speech-recognizing wireless hub that implements a combination of Internet access, media streaming, and home automation functions.

MyCroft front view

As in the case of Echo, the Mycroft has a built-in speaker and microphone, and is WiFi enabled. Many of Mycroft’s planned features, such responding to a specific keyword trigger, streaming audio from the Web, performing voice-based searches, processing IFTTT logic, and brightening or dimming lights on command, mimic those of Echo. Additionally, the device offers unique features including an LED-based front panel display, an HDMI video output port, a group of GPIO signals, and an Arduino co-processor, and is open to substantial user customization.

Mycroft in the bedroom

Mycroft capabilities listed on its Kickstarter page include:
  • Manipulating IoT devices individually, or as part of “scenes”
  • Use as an intercom or PA system for two or more Mycroft devices
  • Recording audio, with capabilities for cloud storage and retrieval
  • Alarm clock / reminders with programmable IFTTT behavior
  • Calendar functions (based on Google Calendar or iCal)
  • Automating social network posts
  • Speaking information in response to voice inputs (weather, time, news, spelling, math, web searches, etc.)
  • Performing tasks based on pre-defined commands (can use regular expressions and shell commands)
  • Novelty (e.g “tells knock-knock jokes”)

The Mycroft devices will operate in conjunction with a Mycroft cloud service, user-installable apps, and an evolving set of supported third-party services. As suggested by images on the project’s Kickstarter page, initial support will include content sources such as Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, and Netflix; media rendering to Roku and Chromecast devices; and access and control of Philips Hue light bulbs and devices from Iris, NEST, SmartThings, and WEMO.

Mycroft services and devices ecosystem

In light of the daunting challenges of developing and cost-effectively producing a device with Echo-like features, we would be remiss in not noting that such an extensive project seems to exceed the capabilities of a small team of developers, such as the Mycroft’s, and therefore may be unattainable within the constraints of the Kickstarter funding goal. To supplement its own resources, however, the project has adopted Canonical’s new Linux-based, IoT-oriented, open source Snappy Core OS for the device’s embedded software platform, which will soon become a source of “snap-in” apps for many of the media streaming and home control functions required to implement the device. Furthermore, the team plans to release its source code under GPLv3, thereby potentially enlisting the support of an enthusiastic community of hackers.

Snappy architecture supports snap-in apps
(click image to enlarge)

On the hardware side, the use of a Raspberry Pi 2 SBC as the device’s embedded computing platform will greatly reduce hardware development costs and complexities, not to mention production costs. Additionally, an Arduino SBC “is being used to drive the screen, handle the rotary encoder, and control the volume,” explained Mycroft’s project founder, Joshua Montgomery, in an email to LinuxGizmos. The Arduino board “is connected to the Pi via serial so that the Pi doesn’t have to deal with real time input,” he added.

Mycroft and its Raspberry Pi 2 brain

It should also be noted that the Mycroft team directly acknowledges the limitations of its Kickstarter funding budget: “$99,000 isn’t enough funding to manufacture molds, purchase components, assemble the units, complete software development, and deploy our cloud infrastructure,” states the the Kickstarter page. As with all croudfunded projects: caveat emptor.

Summary of Mycroft specs

These specifications are listed on the Mycroft Kickstarter page:

  • Embedded computer (via Raspberry Pi 2):
    • CPU — quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 @ 900MHz
    • GPU — dual-core VideoCore IV Multimedia Coprocessor
    • RAM — 1GB LPDDR2
  • Networking — 10/100 Ethernet (RJ45)
  • Wireless — WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • Front panel display:
    • 32 x 8 pixel white LED array
    • 2 x 12 pixel RGB LED rings
  • Built-in speaker
  • Built-in microphone
  • Additional functions available on “Extendable” model, only:
    • HDMI out, up to 4k x 2k
    • Analog audio out
    • USB 2.0
    • 50-pin GPIO
  • Dimensions — 152 x 150mm footprint
  • Power — 5V @ 3A via 5mm barrel jack
  • Operating system — Snappy Core Ubuntu

Mycroft Kickstarter campaign video

Further information

Pledge packages include an early adopter Mycroft Basic for $99, an early bird Mycroft Extendable for $129, and production versions for $129 (Basic) and $149 (Extendable). (These prices do not include shipping.) Additional details may be found at the Mycroft Kickstarter campaign page.

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