Old is New

The World’s First Integration of Alexa with The Clapper

Jim Baldwin
Jan 4 · 4 min read

In 1985, Joseph Pedott introduced us to a device controlled by the use of sound. Almost 30 years later, Amazon introduced us to Alexa, a device controlled by the use of sound. Hmm.

Control

I’ve been experimenting lately with installing “smart stuff” in my home. My previous post described the daunting choices to be made, and the relative difficulty in retrofitting a house with devices that can be automated.

The natural follow-up post would be about how I integrated the switches I installed with Alexa or Siri or Google. But for some reason, I can’t bring myself to do it.

If you were an alien landing on Earth today, you might get the impression that home automation is all about voice control. “Big AI” (you know who they are) all make voice-control devices, and anyone making a “home automation” device today must integrate it with Alexa, Siri, or Google.

But I feel silly asking Alexa to do stuff for me. It’s cool technology, but so is the Segway, yet I don’t want my friends to see me riding one. Not only would I look like a rube, they’re dangerous.

The best thing to happen to walking since the sandal, or the best thing to happen to obesity since cake?

Convenience

But, I digress.

I realize there are times when I am alone, when no one will be there to judge me on my conversations with Alexa (if you assume this will never happen again). At those times, it might be fun to boss her around a little.

At the same time, my inner Bohemian really wants to create something new and innovative. Anyone can hook up their Alexa to a WeMo. Phfffft. I needed a real challenge, but there isn’t a controllable device on the planet that doesn’t already work with Alexa.

Or is there?

Clap, Clap

For Christmas this year, I gave everyone on my team the device known as The Clapper, because we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at IoT and automation lately, and also because it amazes me that this device is still on sale more than 30 years after introduction.

Look how happy they are!

To me, The Clapper is the original home automation device, letting you control a lamp from afar just by clapping your hands. (Or having your dog bark twice, or maybe coughing…)

So, I thought: what would it mean to integrate a modern audio response device (Alexa) with the oldest audio response device?

Thus, my project was born: to build what could be the first-ever (assertion based on a thorough two-minute Google search session) integration of Alexa and The Clapper™.

The Clapper™

For you millennials, The Clapper™ functions by detecting sudden, short bursts of sound. If two bursts are detected at a short interval, the device flips the state of an internal relay that controls the power going to the connected device.

My version of The Clapper™ also has an additional switched outlet toggled after three successive clapping sounds, allowing it to independently control two devices. How cool is that?

The Clapper™ can control two devices independently

But how might one control The Clapper™ from Alexa? Though this may be a future peripheral, Alexa does not currently come with hands. In the meantime, in order to activate a The Clapper™ device, Alexa is quite capable of emitting the sound of two hands clapping (not to be confused with the sound of one hand clapping) to command The Clapper™ to do its job.

This is great because you can now control your The Clapper™ when you’re drinking coffee, vaping, or playing guitar.

Here’s a diagram of what I set out to build:

System Schematic

The Skill

I’ll spare you the details on building the actual Alexa skill. If you’re interested, the code for the skill and lambda function I created, as well as a description of how it works, is available on GitHub here.

My only challenge in getting the skill certified involved educating the Alexa Skills Team about The Clapper™ (no, you don’t need an account on theclapper.com), and the details of how my skill works (yes, all my skill does is make clapping noises). This was made much easier by the fact that you can buy The Clapper™on Amazon, so a new generation is able to appreciate a bygone era of made-for-TV products.

Ship It!

Here’s the finished skill in action: https://youtu.be/OAs7cn9844Q

To install the skill on your own Alexa devices, just search for “Retro Home Automation” in the Alexa app on your phone, or you can add it on Amazon’s website here.

Until next time: Clap, clap!

Thanks to Gladys Wong

Jim Baldwin

Written by

CEO, Antimatter Research. Silicon valley veteran in hardware and software for consumer products.

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