Home Automation History Month

May 22, 2011 16:06 by docbliny 

It’s May which equates to Home Automation month. OK, I just made that up, but it is somewhat fitting since Google announced Android@Home this month, and the last version of VoiceShell for the Commodore Amiga I published is dated May 2nd, 1996.


VoiceShell was my speech recognition application that could be trained to understand up to 60 different phrases and run a different command for each. With the magic of ARexx, a scripting language that allowed communication between applications, I was able to send commands to other applications. It also allowed me to switch vocabularies to both extend the available number of commands, and to maximize the recognition accuracy (today I can simply construct a hierarchy of commands using SRGS XML files).

Here’s the description from the Hyperlinked documentation:


This program is a 'replacement' for VCLI. It doesn't have the fancy graphics etc. but it seems to eat less CPU time and should be faster overall. It also has some extra options.

"So what is VCLI?" I hear you ask. VCLI is a program by Richard Horne that uses his voice.library to recognize speech. With VCLI and VoiceShell you can start programs by saying the program's name. You can teach VoiceShell 60 (VCLI allows 48) different words. You also have the possibility to load a new set of words, thus giving limitless possibilities. The more words you teach, the less accurate the result will be. Thus having more than one project might be a good idea. All you have to do to get started is to set the correct preferences, teach some words, set the commands and away you go!

Of course, like everything I wrote back then, this was written using assembly language for the Motorola 68000 series CPU. The application had an installation utility, hyperlinked documentation, support for startup arguments for both Command Line Interface (CLI) and Workbench icons, ARexx scripting interface, and hotkey support. I know it got published in at least one Amiga magazine on their floppy disk (I believe in the U.K., but I’d need to dig up the copy they sent me) and was available on the Internet as early as 1993. I had at least 26 releases with incremental feature additions and bug fixes.

I was contacted by Alex C. last year to get a copy of the source code and there is a thread on AmigaWorld.net discussing adapting it for the current crop of emulators and Amiga OS versions. It’s amazing how code will live on!


Of course, VoiceShell was only part of the picture. CompleteControl was the software part of the automation suite that controlled devices via relays. It comprised of a set of ARexx scripts, sounds, images, and an application that would run on a MS-DOS PC. These applications, along with an Input/Output board and a custom power strip, would allow me to turn on and off devices such as lamps. I even rigged a relay into my bedroom light switch, so that I could turn it on and off.

It was a total hackfest with a lot of moving pieces: Custom PCBs, two computers (an Amiga and a PC), sound sampler dongle, a custom power strip, custom DB9 cables, an I/O card, voice recognition, custom sound samples for responses, and hardware control software. But hey, it actually worked!

Present Day

There have been many iterations on the same basic premise over the years. I’ve cobbled together various X10 and ZWave solutions with PCs using custom and off-the-shelf software over the years. The current project is named “Remoat” and it’s in a prototype stage controlling lights in the whole house along with supporting media playback. It’s a labor of love that has had to take the backseat over the past several years, but the goal is to evolve it further and make available online.


Screenshot of the VoiceShell Application

Screenshot of the VoiceShell application

VoiceShell Hyperlinked Documentation

VoiceShell hyperlinked documentation

PCB Board Image Opened In DeluxePaint

PCB Board Image Opened In DeluxePaint