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Control Your Computer with Your Voice, Alexa, and FLIRC

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

In a recent Youtube video, Paul Hibbert showed off a novel use of the FLIRC USB receiver. For most of us, FLIRC is great for controlling a media center or a Pi, or maybe expanding control on an Android box with a more powerful remote.

But for Paul, that simply wasn’t enough. His channel focuses on automation and voice control, and he wanted to turn his PC into a full fledged Echo Show, and just like on a Fire TV, he wanted to be able to launch apps with his voice.

The first part of this process was simple enough: Alexa is actually an installable app for your Windows 10 PC, and it can respond to the Alexa wake-word just like any Echo device. This works great for tasks like playing Amazon music, using Alexa smart skills, or maybe controlling lights around the house.

But why stop there? This is a fully fledged PC. Why not control the rest of it with your voice too? Oh, sure, a person could shut down Alexa and go back to controlling things the old fashioned way with a mouse, but what if this PC is in the living room? Old fashioned controls are so awkward from the couch!

Enter FLIRC.

Or more correctly, enter FLIRC, the Broadlink RM Blackbean, and EventGhost. Here’s where things get WILD. With Alexa, you can tell the Blackbean to send IR blasts of any kind. And with FLIRC, you can translate those blasts into any standard keyboard command or keyboard combination, like control+shift+5. Then, with the app EventGhost, whenever the FLIRC USB dongle sends that special key command, you can launch any app of your choice, like Steam, or Minecraft, or anything else! You can even navigate those apps, if they’re something like Plex.

To see how it works, check out Paul’s video:

Paul and super voice control!

We were so impressed with this idea that we sat down with Paul to talk about how he came up with it all.

What came first, the idea or the FLIRC? More broadly, how long have you had your FLIRCs and when did you get the idea to use them this way?

A year or so ago I started looking into ways of controlling my NVIDIA Shield with Alexa, but was sorely disappointed at the lack of functionality, so I figured I would start looking for a way to control the shield with infrared so that I could marry it up with a Broadlink RM pro.  Initially I just wanted to be able to control the shield for navigation and Alexa didn’t have a way to do this natively.  I knew the RM pro could send infrared using Alexa so I did a quick google search to see if there was any way to convert the Nvidia shield to Infrared.  I thought it would be a lost cause, but I was amazed when I found FLIRC!  I then realised I could create keyboard shortcuts on the Shield to do all sorts of things using button remapper, and if I paired this process with the Aberto Sonorus skill I could open individual apps too and have total control!  I made a video about that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjDMfY348rU

Had you used Eventghost before?

I actually cut my teeth on two pieces of Windows software when I first started my home automation journey.  One was Vox Commando, which is an incredibly powerful piece of voice software, and Eventghost.  I linked the two together before Alexa even existed so that I would be able to control Kodi (which back in those days was called XBMC).  Vox Commando was incredible for that, but it couldn’t control my lights.  That’s where Eventghost came in; I had a USB dongle called a Tellstick that could blast RF frequencies to turn my RF light switch on and off.  I used Vox commando to broadcast a request to Eventghost which then sent the Tellstick request using an eventghost plugin, I was probably literally the only person in the world using their voice to control an RF switch because at that point everyone was using X10, which was way too nerdy and expensive for me.  Very few of us were using our voice at that point.  
I was lucky enough to witness the birth of the modern smart home and it was a really exciting time.  I did some pretty crazy things with Eventghost considering I have no clue how to code!

Have you ever used Flirc for any other kind of home automation tasks?

Just the Nvidia shield project at this point.  I have two Flircs now, one connected to my PC, and one connected to the Shield.  I have recommended them to people for their Playstations though.  It really is a remarkable little stick.  The simplicity of it really appeals to me as a non-coder.  I’m always looking for ways to cheat myself out of learning how to code hahaha.

When interacting with Alexa or other voice agents, are there some things you find yourself preferring to do by voice and other things you prefer to do using physical controls like a keyboard, mouse, or remote?

Definitely.  When Neesha is asleep she would kick my ass if I even whispered to Alexa!  I have a button by the side of the bed from a company called Xiaomi, and that links to a Homey hub which in turn sends a http request to my Nvidia shield which is listening using a piece of software called the RM plugin which in turns tells my Broadlink RM pro to turn my plug sockets off.  Insanely convoluted, but it’s flawless!  It’s actually one of very few ways to control a Broadlink RM pro locally without connecting to Broadlink’s server, at least without a raspberry Pi.

I also use a button by a company called Flic in my studio to turn my studio lights on and change the main lights from warm white to cool white for filming.  The button is preferable to voice simply because it’s mindless, I don’t have to think of a phrase I just mash a button next to my camera.

From your videos, it’s pretty clear you’re a big fan of home automation and gadgets that can be used in that way. Any especially great suggestions for home media center users this holiday?

Without trying to desperately plug my own videos I would definitely suggest checking out the Nvidia shield video if you’re an Alexa fan, it’s the cheekiest of hacks and yet it’s so simple.  I’m a bit of a rebel at heart, and I love anything that breaks the rules.  Somebody somewhere doesn’t want you to have proper control of your Nvidia shield with Alexa (probably google) and this is just a little rebellion on my part.  I love that it’s just a little hole in their plan that anyone can crawl into without having to part with hardly any cash.

Thanks to Paul for agreeing to chat with us, and if you’d like to roll your own version if this trick, see the links below to pick up the necessary tools!

Broadlink RM mini:
UK: https://amzn.to/3515cNm
US: https://amzn.to/3lKFyCd

FLIRC infrared receiver for PC:
UK: https://amzn.to/35cDbCv
US: https://amzn.to/2R4bvrf

Black Friday – Cyber Week Deals Live

Saturday, November 30th, 2019

Head on over to the flirc store and enjoy discounts up to 50% off today and through next week. Happy Holidays!

Cases Shipping

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Cases came in and we’ve started shipping them Monday. Orders are flying out, and customers should start getting email notifications with tracking.

Kodi cases are shipping to us this Friday, and will go out as soon as they arrive. Because both cases are so different, their manufacturing processes are also distinctly different. One had to be done before the other.

Orders were supposed to start shipping out about a week ago. However, as soon as I got the first units back, I did a lot of thermal testing.

This new pi runs hot. I started testing with various benchmark scripts, python, etc. But results were generally inconsistent across tests. Much depended on the initial starting conditions. Should the pi have started cooler, I’d see much different results than if I had it running idle. If I just finished a test, results were different as well.

I tried other tests and settled on cpuburn-arm.

Results were consistent. I felt like I saw the most consistent and highest power draw. Which means we could theoretically get temp as quickly as possible.

Without any case, in 26-27C ambient, I got a naked raspberry pi to nearly 90C in 5-10 minutes. Okay great. Now with the Flirc case, I get it to 80C in 25 minutes. I saw the temp hang around 80C +/- 2C for 30 minutes. Seems like we hit steady state, but I think we can do better.

So we started studying the design, the gap, and the thermal material, and simulated. I ordered some new thermal pads and did some more tests that looked great. I got some arctic cool pads off amazon with a much higher thermal conductivity, and started testing.

In my lab/warehouse 26-27C which is really hot, it took 90 minutes of cpu burn before it got to 80C. Ambient matters. I ran another test on Monday, where it was 24-25C, and in 3 hours, it never went above 77C.

But let’s talk about something important. cpuburn is meant to burn as much power as possible, it’s not realistic of any situation. Yes, cpu utilization could get up to 100%, but that doesn’t mean the processor is going to burn the same power. Cpuburn is meant to try and draw the most power. Depending on the software that’s running, power will not only be different, but it will be dynamic. Even running cpuburn, on stopping, I saw a 1C drop every second. So in actuality, a real load alleviates the stress on the cpu, allowing it breathing time to cool.

I’m confident in the case and the new pad. Confident in saying that any strenuous situation will be fine without the need for active cooling or worrying about overheating.

I got in touch with arctic directly, and were shipping with their pads.

New Shipping Service Coming

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

It’s not a secret how much I’ve been unhappy with USPS. Quite frankly, USPS has it’s benefits, it’s cheap, but it’s not reliable. International shipments are where things really fall apart. There are notices all over the website and customer emails, international shipments take anywhere from 3-8 weeks. Why? Because of customs. USPS first class has the lowest priority through customs, and it’s held up for weeks, sometimes 2 months. It’s not fair to customers, but I’ve been stuck between a rock and a hard place, until last week.

I’m partnering with DHL-Express E-Commerce where domestic reliability will triple. On top of that, International shipments will also dramatically improve. I’m told international shipments take anywhere from 4-8 days. We’ll see if we hit those marks when we enter into the program, however, I’m confident as I exclusively use DHL-Express for all distributor international shipments where speed and reliability is unmatched.

Rates should also decrease as well. Sounds to good to be true, we’ll find out if it is.

Flirc Amazon FBA in Canada

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve updated the blog, and that’s going to change this year. Huge transformations coming to both the company, products, and roles. I’ll say more about this later as well as what’s been happening behind the scenes.

That being said, this announcement was a significant effort. Flirc is now a registered to do business in Canada, and as such, Flirc products are live on Amazon.CA as part of their prime program.

Here is a link: https://www.amazon.ca/s/ref=bl_dp_s_web_2404990011?ie=UTF8&node=2404990011&field-brandtextbin=FLIRC

No more waiting 6 weeks for US shipping, and enjoy all the benefits of purchasing on Amazon.

Checkout with Amazon and New Blog Design

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Quietly released was our new blog theme that closely matches our new beautiful website design. Extremely happy with the refreshing design by Malte and the execution by Towerhouse Studio.

Also released is our new checkout with amazon plugin. Very excited about this one as it makes the checkout and payment process super easy. Thanks Towerhouse Studio.

Memorial Day Sale

Monday, September 1st, 2014

http://flirc.tv/products/

http://www.amazon.com/FLIRC-Dongle-Media-Centre-Raspberry/dp/B00BB0ETW8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409561699&sr=8-1&keywords=flirc

Father’s Day Weekend Sale

Friday, June 13th, 2014

 

 

 

 

In honor of Father’s day, I’m having a sale this weekend on the Flirc Store Front and on Amazon.

Happy Father’s Day
Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 7.04.34 PM

Tron Disk Hacked

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

A friend of mine was invited to a disney themed party. The girl hosting it required all her invitee’s wear a disney costume, however, it had to be self made. Naturally, he wanted to do something as ‘cool’ as possible, so he chose Tron. He then ran over in my direction and said, ‘hey Jason, you gotta help me with my tron costume, I want to hack up an off the shelf tron disk’.

Here is the original disk we used.Tron Disk OriginalHere is a link to a video demonstration (this is not me doing the review)

You can see it’s a pretty cheesy disk, it’s just a kids toy. There are plenty of mods online, but this will put most of those to shame.

Here is our final modification, it’s a video link, CLICK it!

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 4.15.42 PM

It’s got two lithium ion batteries, a usb charger for the batteries, a boost convertor to run the led’s, magnets installed so he can wear it on his back, it uses 1.2Amps off 12V (because of the 20 LED segments), and the microcontroller is running a poor man’s scheduler to get pwm output on all those led segments. All the code has been posted, and a schematic have been shared which demonstrates how we hooked everything up.

There is nothing on the inside that was saved. We threw away all the wires, all the circuits, and my friend even had to dremel away the plastic walls on the inside so everything would fit. The only thing we used was the enclosure. I wasn’t at the party, but apparently he was a hit and they asked him to turn it off because it was blinding everyone. Assuming they were in a dimly lit bar and drunk.

It’s open source, head to my github repo and you can check out the firmware, a little commandline application for kicking the device into the bootloader, and a very rough schematic.

Here are some more pictures of the process and his final costume.

Original Guts:

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LED strip we used.

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Some of the lights that will be used on the actual suit.

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The costume was made out of a scuba diving suit.

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Coming together:

20130311_104212

20130406_075412

 

He didn’t want his face on the internet.

outfit1 outfit2

Final Costume:

outfit3

outfit4I unfortunately don’t have any images of the disk progress, and I can’t open it right now. There is so much in there, it takes me about 45 minutes to get it closed.

v1.0.0-rc.3 Released For Testing

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Release Notes

Forums