"RoutineKicker" Makes Triggering Alexa Actions as Easy as Tapping a Card

Rather than commanding your smart home assistant to carry out some task, Ben Eagan's system allows it to be done with a set of RFID cards.

Coming up with the idea

Voice assistant interactions typically follow the same flow, where someone starts with a "Hey Alexa" shout and then proceeds to ask a question or tell it to perform an action, such as turning on the lights or unlocking a door. However, being forced to repeat this line every single time one wants to do a quick action can become very annoying and even problematic when talking isn't an option. In response, Ben Eagan sought to create a system that could trigger Alexa routines by simply tapping an RFID card onto a reader — no yelling necessary.

Building a card scanning device

The core of the system is comprised of an internet-connected RFID card reader than can get the ID and stored text of the tapped Mifare card, grab its associated action, and send it to the Alexa service. Eagen chose to use an RC522 RFID sensing module, which was subsequently connected to a Raspberry Pi 3's SPI bus. The mfrc522 Python package used in his script does most of the work in detecting the presence of a card and grabbing the information from it. With Eagen's RFID cards now able to be written to and read from, he moved onto the next step of connecting the information on each card to an Alexa action.

Alexa integrations

Amazon provides several ways to trigger certain events through their numerous Alexa APIs, and the one Eagen chose to use is the Alexa Event API for integration with routines. Whenever the Raspberry Pi 3 reads the saved event name from the RFID card, it triggers an API call to the Alexa Event Gateway containing the name of the event and the desired value. Once the custom Smart Home Skill has received this from the Event Gateway, it, in turn, triggers a predefined routine to be executed.

Routines and beyond

A routine is simply a way to group various actions that could normally be done in separate commands into a single shortcut. For Eagan, this included changing a smart light bulb's color, making the Alexa speaker say stored text, and even causing his DIY Alexa-enabled singing Billy Bass to start blaring out music. As seen from his demonstration video, the possibilities are limitless, and he even plans to swap the Raspberry Pi 3 for an ESP32 to bring the cost down to a mere $22.

Evan Rust
IoT, web, and embedded systems enthusiast. Contact me for product reviews or custom project requests.
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