Thomas Burns, a YouTube creator dedicated to exploring vintage electronics and technology, has hacked together a CRT TV and a pair of moving eyes to give Amazon’s smart assistant, Alexa, a more engaging presence. While most devices with built-in smart assistants provide some kind of visual feedback, Burns believes that users are more inclined to feel like they’re actually engaging with a creation that is self-aware when they can see a moving mouth producing the sounds it’s creating.
Instead of engineering a pair of animatronic lips, Burns repurposed a compact CRT television to display a waveform that correlates to the sounds of Alexa coming from a speaker. This provides a visual source for the smart assistant’s responses. Additionally, Burns turned to animatronics and 3D-printed a pair of animated eyes using Will Cogley’s design that relies on just six micro servo motors to create lifelike movements. The final build is a retro-futuristic creation that looks like something either E.T. would have cobbled together in Elliott’s shed or a grade school science fair project featured in an ’80s after-school TV special that would eventually gain full sentience and try to take over the world.
While the build is creative, it is also somewhat creepy. The addition of a user-tracking sensor allows the animatronic eyes to focus on the nearest user, making Alexa feel a little more personable. However, the overall effect is not for everyone, and some may find it more unsettling than engaging.
The hack by Thomas Burns highlights the potential for creative solutions to enhance the user experience of smart assistants like Alexa. While the build may not be for everyone, it is a testament to the power of imagination and innovation. As technology continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see what other creative hacks emerge to push the boundaries of what is possible. In other news, Elon Musk has announced the launch of xAI, his new AI-focused company, with the goal of understanding “the true nature of the universe.”