Talking to a Tesla through Google Home

The Google Home had the long awaited (at least by me!) UK release last week, and I was delighted to get my hands on one of the first. Since then I’ve gradually been linking it to more and more devices around my home (more blog posts on that subject to follow), but having played around with the Tesla API recently, I only had one integration on my mind! Sadly there’s nothing official that allows you to talk to your Tesla Model S or X through Google Home – although I hope something will be released in future – so I took it on myself to build something that would allow some basic back-and-forth conversations with my car.

While I’m continuing to work on the project, it’s now at the stage where hopefully others can expand and improve on it, so I’ve written up all the details on the TeslaVoice project page, and uploaded the associated files to GitHub.

Raspberry Shake: IoT for your boring appliances

My latest project (now I have some spare time again!) has been something quite simple – I’m terrible at putting the washing machine on, and then forgetting about it for the rest of the day, leaving a load of wet clothes inside to fester for hours on end. I know some washers and dryers come with alarms that beep at you when they’re finished, and I wanted to emulate this with an Internet of Things vibe.

So I came up with the Raspberry Shake – quite simply it’s an accelerometer connected up to a Raspberry Pi Zero with some LEDs to indicate status, all shoved inside a small box with some magnets attached, so it can cling to the side of any appliance. The Pi Zero runs a bit of Python code that checks for any movement, and sends notifications when the appliance starts and stops. I’ve made two so far, with plans for a third, and they’re working great!

You can see a full writeup and a video of the build on the Raspberry Shake project page

Talking to a LIS3DH via Python on a Raspberry Pi

For my latest project (details coming soon available here) I acquired a couple of LIS3DH triple-axis accelerometers. As most of the products available through Adafruit are fairly well used, I didn’t bother checking what libraries were available before buying, but unfortunately for me only a C++ library had been written. I didn’t feel like learning C just for the purpose of this project, and so the only option left was to write my own Python library!

Thankfully I had some excellent starting points with the aforementioned C++ library, as well as the Python I2C library that Adafruit have published. I found myself referring back to the manufacturer datasheet quite often as well, mainly to clarify what each register contained.

While the task initially looked rather daunting (having had zero prior experience with bit-bashing through registers) – I found that with some pre-existing code to crib from, the various functions took shape rather quickly, and within an afternoon I’d produced a library exposing all the basic functions I’m likely to need for this project. I’ve put my code on Github in the hope that people will contribute to filling in the gaps, and improving where necessary.

AlarmPi: The Raspberry Pi Smart Alarm Clock

When I left my previous job around 18 months ago, I promised myself I’d do something productive with the time I had between employment. During that time, I realised how much I hated my alarm clock going off every morning, and also how stupid and inflexible most alarm clocks are. I managed to achieve very little with that spare time between jobs, but this hatred of alarm clocks has been driven home even further since I’ve started working shifts in my new job – no alarm clock I could find had the ability to vary the alarm time based on a shift pattern (I suppose that’s a fairly niche feature!), and very few had decent internet radio connectivity to allow me to listen to music I like in the morning.

That productive feeling drew me to buy some parts from Adafruit and have a play with some electronics projects – the furthest I got was playing around with a LCD display as documented in this other blog post. More recently, my old alarm clock started to fail in rather interesting ways (ever been woken up at 3:27AM by a piercing screaming & static noise?), so I decided it was time to build my own, and the AlarmPi was born!

The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi connected up to a series of fairly basic components, all controlled by a Python script which takes input from all manner of sources, and shows information through the two front displays. I’ve put together a short video explaining some of the main features which can be viewed below, and you can read more about the AlarmPi on the project page

Using 20×4 RGB LCD over i2c with a Raspberry Pi

Now there’s a specialist blog post title if ever there were one…

Recently, I’ve been dabbling with electronics to fill the void of spare time I’ve found myself with while I’m between jobs. I’m currently working on a half-baked idea to create some sort of digital assistant who will take instructions in some form, and then read stuff back to me in a Siri-esque manner. Nothing sounds more awesome than having twitter @replies read out to you, right?! To kick off this project, and get me motivated to actually do something, I ordered a boatload of parts from Adafruit, and set about learning how to use them. First challenge – connecting up their 20×4 RGB backlight negative LCD screen to my Raspberry Pi.

In order to assist with this, I also bought the i2c / SPI character LCD backpack in order to save some GPIO pins for other uses. Due to my lack of attention while ordering, I failed to notice that the LCD backpack only has 16 pins, whereas the LCD screen I ordered has 18 (2 more for the extra background LEDs). Rather than giving up and being limited to only a single channel of control for the backlights, I decided to connect pins 14 to 18 direct into the Pi, and mash two separate libraries together to give myself full control. This is what I ended up with (click for big):

2013-05-02 21.36.11

Now, that looks like an absolute mess. That’s because it is. In an attempt to make that a bit more readable, here’s a Fritzing diagram of how it’s wired (again, click for big).


Now, that’s even more confusing as I couldn’t find a Fritzing library with the right parts – so I’ve fudged a few things. Imagine there are ports 17 and 18 on the LCD, and that the LCD itself is 20×4 rather than 16×2. Secondly, imagine the chip in the middle is actually the i2c backpack mentioned above, so everything on the bottom is connected straight to ports 1 to 16 on the LCD, and the VCC/GND/CLK/DAT are connected to the Pi. So, in terms of wiring we get:

  • LCD #1 to #14 -> i2c backpack #1 to #14
  • LCD #15 -> 5V0
  • LCD #16 -> Raspberry Pi GPIO 17
  • LCD #17 -> Raspberry Pi GPIO 27
  • LCD #18 -> Raspberry Pi GPIO 22
  • i2c backpack GND -> GND
  • i2c backpack VCC -> 5V0
  • i2c backpack CLK -> Raspberry Pi SCL
  • i2c backpack DAT -> Raspberry Pi SDA

Now that’s all set up, you can use the standard AdafruitLcd Python library (nice adaptation that I used can be found here) to control the text shown on screen, but we need something bespoke for our background lighting. For future projects, I wanted the ability to control each colour individually, so I can set arbitrary RGB values on the screen, and also brighten/dim appropriately. The latest version of RPi.GPIO will let you do software Pulse Width Modulation, which will achieve this quite nicely for us. To install the latest version (0.5.2a at the time of writing), you’ll need to run the following on your Pi (as root):

$ wget
$ tar xf RPi.GPIO-0.5.2a.tar.gz
$ cd RPi.GPIO-0.5.2a
$ python install

So, combining some standard example code for PWM on the Pi with the AdafruitLcd library, I developed my own little library for controlling a LCD wired up in this manner. To get up and running with the code I wrote, you will need (again, as root):

$ mkdir lcdtest
$ cd lcdtest
$ svn co .
$ git clone
$ touch RpiLcdBackpack/
$ python

Note: If you see IOError: [Errno 5] Input/output error when running, you may need to edit RpiLcdBackpack/ and change the line self.__bus=smbus.SMBus(0) to self.__bus=smbus.SMBus(1). This should only happen on newer versions of the Pi, where the i2c bus number changed to 1 from 0.

Note 2 (added 15/10/14): The version of my LCDControl library that you’re checking out with the above command is now out-dated, I’ve updated the library to use pigpio instead of RPi.GPIO, as the latter was causing me flickering problems when the Pi was under load. To get the latest version, remove the @889 from the svn co command, you will need to have pigpio installed and running for this to work.

Once you run, you should see the screen flash a series of colours, followed by some messages appearing on the screen. Yaaay – it works!

The LCDControl class I’ve written is pretty basic (I’m still learning Python… slowly!) but allows you to set RGB or individual colour values for the backlights, and also pass in any message without worrying about formatting. Currently (version 1.0 at the time of writing), the LCDControl.setMessage method will split by the newline character (\n) and do the logic regarding line numbers for you (as the third display line on the LCD is actually carried over from the first line passed to the controller, and the fourth with the second) – future iterations of this code will allow you to do things such as full text wrapping, and scrolling text.

So there we have it – a 20×4 RGB LCD screen talking to a Raspberry Pi over i2c, retaining individual control over the background LEDs. As always, please leave a comment if you spot anything wrong with what I’ve written here, or have any feedback/suggestions/requests!

Using an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller with Raspberry Pi

As part of a project I’m working on at the moment (more information to come soon… more information here) I’ve been attempting to get my Xbox 360 Wireless Controller for Windows talking to my Raspberry Pi. Having spent a fair amount of time chasing various options around the internet, I thought I would share my eventual (and rather simple) solution here.

The first thing I found was PyGame – a python library that offers support for joysticks and gamepads, but primarily designed for game development. This post suggested that PyGame may solve the connectivity problems, and gives some example code for echoing out events, however I could not get this to work.

The Ubuntu wiki suggested a module called xpad, which is included by default on Ubuntu, but not on the Rasbian image I am using (Rasbian “wheezy”), although it is available through apt-get in the default repository. Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me either.

The eventual solution that worked for me came up in a blog post by Zephod about using an Xbox controller to run a remote control car, which suggested using Xboxdrv – a userspace driver for the Xbox controllers in Linux. There were suggestions on the Raspberry Pi forums that this would require building, but a simple `apt-get install xboxdrv` on the Pi worked for me. Once installed, execute the program (as root), and then re-sync the Xbox controller – this had me stumped for quite a while, and seemingly only needs to be done the first time you attempt to use the controller since the module was loaded. A re-sync for the wireless controller means holding the button on the reciever for ~3 seconds until it starts to flash, and then holding the button on top of the controller (to the right of where ‘Microsoft’ is written) until the lights flash. Once this has completed, you should see a new line in stdout for every event that happens on the controller – so press a button and see what happens!

This is the output I saw when starting up xboxdrv (having already done the sync) and pressing the “A” button on my controller – notice the A:1 changing to A:0 as I release the button (about 3/4 of the way across the terminal). Success! (Click for a larger image)

Zephod has written a small Python class to read from the output of xboxdrv and allow it to be read in a more usable format – I’ve not yet had chance to fully digest what it does and how it works (this is an exercise in me learning Python as well!), but it looks very promising, and I’m looking forward to continuing with my project!

Update 05/01/2013
I’ve had chance to play around with the file I linked above – and it works a treat! I’ve set up a quick test python script that you can use to print out events. In order to use it, do:

$ git clone legopi
$ touch legopi/
$ wget
$ sudo python

You may have to re-sync your controller as described above, and then once you start to move sticks/press buttons you should see a single line for each event! Magic!

Nuevasync update

Just been released! Provides support for multiple calendars on the phone (so they appear in different colours) and also for read-only ICAL files.

Well, that’s just put gCalCloud out of business! I shall be shelving the project tomorrow, but will post the source code for people to have a look at just how crap it was! Hehe

Anyway, cheers Nuevasync, you just saved me a project!