Something Fishy about Alexa…?

The Billy Bass wall display was a perennial feature in bars and restaurants (and a few home-built bars and domestic snugs) throughout the nineties and noughties. An amusing, mounted fish that appeared to “sing” a popular song, the rubber-coated mechanism was guaranteed to inspire smiles. Or groans.

Fast-forward a decade, and few Billy Bass fish exist. However, those that are left are proving particularly popular with makers. Why? Well, at some point, someone decided to try and integrate a Raspberry Pi Zero with Billy Bass, install the Alexa Voice Service, and start talking to it. (In fact, some people are actually stripping the insides from an Echo Dot and using this instead!)

After all, what could possibly be more amusing than a Billy Bass that can report the news and weather, tell jokes, and do web searches, as well as play music like the original?

As some makers are finding out, however, it isn’t a straightforward build. While installing the Raspberry Pi and its Alexa software might turn out okay, moving the Billy Bass mechanism when audio plays may prove challenging. The answer here is with a Python script (such as this example by Albert Armea), which opens and closes an animatronic mouth connected to a GPIO pin.

When applied to an existing Alexa Pi Billy Bass build, the result should look something like the video above. But it isn’t only Billy Bass that can be rebuilt with an Alexa-connected Raspberry Pi controlling the insides. Pretty much any motor-controlled, dancing decorative ornament can be hacked in this way. For instance, Halloween decorations could be reconfigured to talk back. And if you’re keen to amuse and entertain at Christmas, there is a whole host of crazy snowmen, Santas and Christmas trees you could level up with some Alexa-flavoured magic.

Looking for help? This guide from Armea details what you need to do to get such decorations upgraded with some modern hardware. While it focuses on a Christmas tree (complete with a new, appropriate hot word!), the same principles can be used on Billy Bass or any other chatty, sound-and-motion device you picked up for amusing decorative purposes.

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