In what can be taken either as cloud platform rainmaking or continued refusal to take hardware seriously, Google has introduced AIY Projects, do-it-yourself endpoints of spit and string for jacking into the Chocolate Factory's brain candy machine.
The first such project, Voice Kit, promises artificial intelligence – a term that here means access to voice recognition and natural language APIs – from a Raspberry Pi 3 circuit board wrapped in a cardboard box. It amounts to a handcrafted homage to Google Home, at something less than Home's $114 price tag.
Google's relationship with hardware, apart from Chromebooks and Chromecasts, has not gone very well. It first foray into bare metal, the Google Search Appliance, is being phased out this year after 15 years. Its Google Mini met its end in 2012. Its 2011 $12.5bn fling with Motorola ended in a breakup.
Google's pricey Pixel phones have sold poorly. Other Google hardware has fared even less well: the Nexus Q streaming media device, the Nexus Player set top box, and Google Glass have all bombed. The Chromebook Pixel has been discontinued and the Pixel C, despite some nice reviews, remains a curiosity.
So perhaps there's some wisdom in some assembly required.
Featuring the same bespoke design aesthetic as the Google Cardboard VR goggles, Voice Kit consists of a Voice Hardware Accessory on Top (HAT) module, a speaker, sensors, and wires. Once connected to a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, it can communicate with cloud services or operate locally.
Developers can use the device with the Google Assistant SDK (which powers Google Home) or Cloud Speech API, among other cloud services. They can also avail themselves of the more extensive Android Things SDK for IoT devices.
Billy Rutledge, director of AIY Projects at Google, suggests the device can be used to interact with appliances by voice rather than through physical buttons, display screens, or smartphone apps.
He also sees it as a way to route voice commands to robots that can accept programmatic instructions.
For a glimpse of what the truly dedicated can accomplish with its Assistant SDK, Google and development shop Deeplocal built an automated drink mixer called the Mocktails Mixer.
The Voice Kit is being made available to MagPi Magazine subscribers. Those interested in assembling the necessary components can do so through the AIY Projects website. For the lazy or time-constrained, the kit can be bought through Barnes & Noble in the US and UK retailers Asda, Sainsbury's, Tesco, and WH Smith. ®