DJ Harrigan Blends Reality with Fiction by Creating an Animatronic, Alexa-Powered GLaDOS

Inspired by the antagonist from Valve's Portal series, Harrigan has combined a custom-built animatronic and an Echo to create GLaDOS.

Gareth Halfacree
3 years ago β€’ Robotics / Home Automation / Gaming

Maker DJ Harrigan has blended two worlds with the creation of a voice assistant which combines Amazon's popular Alexa with Portal's fictitious but reasonably murderous artificial intelligence GLaDOS.

For the past seven months, Harrigan has been working to bring GLaDOS, the iconic artificially-intelligent testing-hungry antagonist from Valve's Portal franchise, out of the game world and into the real. Initially, the plan was relatively simple: "I'm building a scaled animatronic version of GLaDOS (as she looks in Portal 2)," Harrigan explained at the project's launch.

With little more than a painstakingly-created animatronic, an Amazon Echo, and a Raspberry Pi, GLaDOS lives. (πŸ“Ή: DJ Harrigan)

"For now, I'm going to be building her head and neck mechanism, but she'll be fully articulated as she is in game. Eventually, I'd love to build her full body, but I'll need a bit more space for that kind of build! This is going to be an ongoing project as she's a complicated robot, but that's the fun of the challenge."

Since then, the project has been coming along impressively well: An update from late last year showed off a redesigned wall mounting system and a new neck mechanism that offers full motion control. The only thing missing: a voice and some smarts.

Harrigan started the project seven months ago, and it appears to have finally reached its conclusion. (πŸ“Ή: DJ Harrigan)

Enter Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant platform β€” running on an Echo Dot hidden within the robot head. "How do we make Alexa and GLaDOS play nice together? Brute force," Harrigan explains.

"See, Mr. Luthor [Jeff Bezos] over here only allows you to wake up his robot waifu with a few predetermined words, which is no fun - so I'll use this Raspberry Pi and microphone to listen for my own keyword with some speech recognition code which will then activate a relay that basically actually presses the listen button on the Echo."

Harrigan has published some short videos of GLaDOS' new motion systems, and promises more detail to follow. (πŸ“Ή: DJ Harrigan)

The result is an animatronic GLaDOS that is easily integrated into Harrigan's home automation system, and which boasts full support for all Alexa features β€” yet is triggered by the custom wake word "GLaDOS" rather than a default option. As for how the rest of the build progressed in the three months since the last video: "I'll have a more in depth technical video next week," Harrigan promises.

The full video series can be found on Harrigan's Mr. Volt YouTube channel now.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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