Google AIY Voice Kit Hacking — Part 1

I must say that I’m a great fan of Ironman movie since 2008. Smartphones started to have voice based assistance for quite sometime but they are surely not nearly anything like JARVIS. Google AIY Voice Kit has allowed the makers around the world to build a voice based assistant to be a bit closer to sci-fi world.

I’m super pumped about this wonderful technology and wanted to hack as much as possible. But before hacking, you need to build it. Follow my tutorial and build one on your own.

Read it in MEDIUM also.

Introduction

The Google AIY Voice kit is an incredible piece of technology that got released only few months back in 2017. To open up the limitless possibilities to all the makers around the world, Google made its Assistant voice recognition API compatible on Raspberry Pi 3.

On May 2017, Google offered this kit for free to Raspberry Pi magazine hard copy subscribers (The MagPi, issue no. 57). Unfortunately all the copies got sold out within few hours. I had to wait 3 more months before Google announced its second release along with Pi magazine (with limited editions). I booked it immediately and ordered it from UK pi store.

With this kit and the addition of a Raspberry Pi 3 you can construct a small cardboard cube that is capable of natural language recognition, similar to the Google Home devices. Since the kit is powered by a Raspberry Pi you can then add additional components and peripherals to design and build voice-activated products of your own.

In this article, we’d put together the kit and see how it’s interacting with its surroundings.

Where to Buy Google AIY Voice Kit

Initially Google offered this amazing kit with Raspberry Pi magazine hard copy. But now you can buy it from different vendors. The price has also come down slightly since then.

As of this writing the Google AIY Voice Kit can be purchased from the following distributors:

Note: The kit does not get shipped with Raspberry Pi3. Also you need few additional hardware and software before you start assembling it.

What’s Inside the Google AIY Voice Kit

  1. Voice HAT accessory board(×1) — The JARVIS of this project
  2. Voice HAT microphone board(×1)
  3. Plastic standoffs(×2)
  4. 3” speaker (wires attached)(×1)
  5. Arcade-style push button(×1)
  6. 4-wire button cable(×1)
  7. 5-wire daughter board cable(×1)
  8. External cardboard box(×1)
  9. Internal cardboard frame(×1)

Apart from these, you have to buy the following items which are NOT included in the Voice Kit:

  1. Raspberry Pi 3(×1) — think this as the Arc reactor of Ironman suite
  2. Micro USB Charger (2.5 A)(×1)
  3. SD card(×1)
  4. SD Card Holder with USB drive (×1)
  5. Size “00” Phillips screwdriver(×1)
  6. Scotch tape(×1)
  7. Ethernet cable(×1)

To boot the system, you need to connect the Raspberry Pi 3 to a HDMI monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. Since I did not have a spare desktop to use for the project, I tried to hack it and used my laptop instead. I’ll explain more on the hack on next part of this tutorial.

Once you have all the items gathered together, let’s start building this.

Be the Maker, assemble it all together

Take out all the components from the Google cardboard delivery package. I like the way the packaging is taken care of— plain and simple, just like Google. The concept of introducing a cardboard box with the most latest AI hardware & software assembled is simply awesome. See the official video.

Unboxing the Google AIY Voice Kit

Take out the Voice HAT accessory board (1) along with the plastic standoffs(3).

Left: Google HAT Accessory board, Right: Raspberry Pi 3

Insert the standoffs into the two yellow holes opposite the 40-pin box header on your Raspberry Pi 3. They should snap into place.

Once both spacers are in place push the Voice HAT down onto the Raspberry Pi headers, making sure there isn’t a gap and it sits firmly on the Pi. You should then be able to snap the two spacers into the HAT. Afterwards the entire thing should be pretty solid without any flex.

Google HAT & Raspberry Pi 3 integrated with plastic standoffs

Now find the speaker. It has two wires. They will be connected to the Voice HAT blue screw connector. Find the ‘+’ (+ve) sign on the connector and insert the red wire. Tight the wire with screw driver. Repeat the same for the black wire and insert it into ‘-’ (-ve) terminal.

Insert red wire into +ve connector and black wire into -ve connector

Once tied, check the wires by pulling them gently. Make sure the wires are not going to loosen up later.

Now find the metal harness — the 4-wire button cable: it has a white plug on one end and four separate wires with metal contacts on the other. This will be connected to the arcade button.

The other cable has two white 5-pin plugs, one at each end. This is the wiring for the small thin daughter board labelled “Voice HAT Microphone.”

Insert the 4-socket plug into HAT board

Go ahead and put both the plugs into the connectors one after one. There are white ridges on the side of the connector to guide you. There is only one way the plugs would get fit into the connectors. Try not to push hard. You will understand when the plugs get fit in there with a little click.

Plugging the other end of the cable into the Voice HAT Microphone daughter board.

See the 5 recipients points on top the microphone board. Now attach the other end of the 5-pin plug to Google Voice Hat microphone.

Building the cardboard box

The cardboard box has two layers — an inner cardboard box and a outer cardboard box. First we’ll fold the outer cardboard box. It is quite simple and straightforward. Follow the step by step guideline in the manual available in the package.

Once you have folded accordingly, the outer core will look like this.

Outer cardboard box folded — image credit Google

Now fold the inner box step by step. Place the Raspberry Pi 3 and Google HAT board at below and position the speaker and Google Microphone HAT board respectively. It will create a core support for the assembly.

Inner cardboard box folded with hardware placed — image credit — Alasdair Allan

Now we have to set the arcade lamp. This is most interactive part of the kit. The slow brightness change of the arcade lamp during voice interaction creates a magical effect.

Arcade lamp shell placed into cardboard lid -image credit — Alasdair Allan

The yellow button shell consists of the button itself, a spacer, and a nut.

Insert the shell into cardboard cover side, noted as ‘BUTTON Spacer first’.

Now you need to assemble the three components of spacer button – a lamp, the holder, and a microswitch.

The lamp, the micro-switch and the holder-image credit — Alasdair Allan

Because of the LED lamp, it is obvious that you have to set it up in one way only. Unfortunately. proper guidance is not given in the Google manual also.

If you look closely at the legs wound around the base of the plastic shell around the LED you should notice one of these is slightly longer than the other.

Arcade lamp assembled -image credit — Alasdair Allan

This is going to be the +ve leg (the anode), while the other will be the -ve leg (the cathode).

The cathode, the shorter of the two legs, is the one that should go to ground.

Next insert the microswitch. The holder has two pins that correspond to the two holes near the edges of the microswitch, it seems to be easiest to slip the bottom pin into corresponding hole on the switch, and then pry the top of the holder slightly backwards and push the microswitch down so that the second pin and hole line up.

When they do it should all snap securely together, but it can take some force to make that happen.

Place the arcade lamp within the lamp shell — image credit — Alasdair Allan

Insert the completed button into the lamp shell. There are two plastic flanges. Push the button down a bit and twist a bit until it locks down within the shell.

Once the arcade lamp is in place, now it’s time to place the microphone HAT board. Unfortunately, the cardboard box doesn’t have any slot for the microphone to get fit. Just below the arcade lamp, you have to place the microphone board and glue it via tapes to the lid of the cover.

The solder from the microphone board spikes out from the plane. It causes quite a problem to glue the board to the cardboard lid. I had to push it a bit hard to pin the solders slightly into the cardboard. Google instructions do not say about this. This needs to be corrected for better assembly.

During closing the box, due to wire torque & tension, the tapes can loosen up. You might need to glue it multiple times to place the board in place. This part is also not highlighted in the google instructions.

Tape the Google Microphone HAT board to cardboard lid

So finally all the components have been connected together. Place the internal cardboard shell within the outer shell.

Inner and outer cardboard shell with all hardware assembled
USB, mini-USB and other ports associated — nice cut for the ports

Now put the inner frame within the outer cardboard layer. Place the speaker facing the perforated side of the cardboard. The whole set up will look like the above picture.

Close the lids. Now your Google AIY Voice Kit is complete. But it is just the hardware assembly. It needs to be booted in order to run Google API to make it functional. I’ll cover them in next tutorials. During assembly, you can also follow Google online instructions.

That’s it! It is done.

The finished project kit for Google AIY Voice Kit

Google AIY Voice Kit Hacking — Part 2

coming soon…

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About Swapratim

Blog Writer in Medium for Chatbots Magazine - world's biggest chatbot magazine. Also he writes in Bot Publication and Chatbots Journal on regular basis (https://medium.com/@swapratimroy). Experienced in IT development & support pursuing different roles & responsibilities. He has worked on several innovative projects. Android apps developed by him – In Time SMS, AndroLogic which are freely available in Google Play Store. He has several in house tools built available for free usage on internet. Apart from this, he likes to share his learning with everyone which he had learned over years. Sole purpose of this blog is to share the author's knowledge in IT, passion for travel and recent trends with you. Hope you will enjoy his contents.
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