I bought an Alexa back in 2014 when it was originally released. It sits in my kitchen and we chat every day (most often about the weather). Since those early days, I've wanted it to show me things, not just talk about them. I don't want a fancy touch screen or anything like that; I just want a little more information to go with what it's telling me.
Then in November 2016 a friend introduced me to the Electric Object's EO2 - a 23" flat screen picture frame you hang on your wall and use to display art. But hidden inside this frame is the Chromium browser, and suddenly making Alexa show me things became possible.
This diagram outlines the basic software architecture for Picture, Picture (the two green objects are the only physical components required):
The basic operation goes something like this:
When the EO2 boots up, it loads the URL of the Picture Picture app via the API Gateway. The actual web app is hosted by an AWS Lambda function acting as an ExpressJS web server. This web app, once loaded, displays the default image and subscribes itself to Amazon's IoT service.
A person later triggers the Picture Picture Alexa Skill using the phrase "Alexa, tell me ....". This skill understand various commands, and sends the appropriate "Intent" to the same Lambda function (the Lambda function differentiates an incoming Alexa call from an incoming HTTP request - so only one Lambda function is necessary). The function acts on the intent and creates the speech which it sends back to the calling Alexa. It also generates a corresponding image and, using the AWS IoT service, pushes the image's URL to the EO2 frame. The web app on the EO2 received this push message, and displays the URL on the screen.
The Electric Objects EO2 picture frame is design to show art. It hangs on your wall and, in glorious 23" color, it can show you something good each day. I'm clearly perverting that - sorry. So how to get it to show other things?
Initially it looked like I could only send images to the frame. That'd work but I wanted something a little more animated, especially in terms of transition between the "art" and the "information". After a little research it appears that, under the hood ,the EO2 runs Chromium - and if it runs a web browser then there's hope that it comes with all the lovely trappings of what that can do. All I needed was access.