From the DIY drawer: Tasker remote voice control wristband

Lately I’ve researched smartwatches quite a bit, and even gotten my hands on an old (and useless) Sony Ericsson LiveView. My concerns with smartwatches are similar to what several readers commented in yesterday’s smartwatch article, namely that they don’t add much functionality, because you could just take your phone out of your pocket. Most (all?) smartwatches are information display centered, meaning that they’re all about displaying information. I initially loved the idea of having my wrist warn me about emails, but then discovered that in practice, having a custom, strong vibrate pattern for incoming emails (using Tasker of course) basically did the same job. 

The more interesting aspect of smartwatches for me is therefore the ability to remote control my phone, at least to such a degree that smartwatches can do that. I managed to get my LiveView to trigger Tasker tasks remotely, but it wasn’t exactly built for that kind of use. There are a couple of situations where I would really love to be able to activate Tasker tasks from my wrists, including activating timers while in the kitchen, and activating the LED light at night.

You don’t really need a screen-equipped battery-draining device to act as a remote control though, which got me thinking about alternatives. I really only need to be able to send my phone very simple commands wirelessly, which could be done with the Bluetooth keyboard profile, or even Bluetooth headset profile, using voice. My idea is to have what’s essentially a wrist-mounted Bluetooth headset capable of sending voice data to my phone, triggering tasks that way.

I had an old Bluetooth headset lying around, and stripped it down to its main components. I replaced the ear piece with a speaker, though the output from the headset is barely enough to make the audio output audible.I also replaced the existing button with one that’s bigger, and then modified that one to be harder to press. I then made what’s essentially a sweat band out of a sock, sowing the Bluetooth headset into the thing. Finally, I made holes for the charging port and button, and merged those to the sock using hot glue. The result is…well, let’s face it, it’s half a sock with a charging port and a button. Aesthetics aside though, it’s a wrist band Bluetooth headset.

The software end was a bit harder to figure out than I thought, because no software really worked exactly the way I wanted it to. Voice Control (which is an app, just one with a very generic name) is the closest I’ve come so far, as it supports Bluetooth headsets properly, has customizable commands (allowing me to say only the name of the Tasker task, not any activation command), and supports Tasker natively. It has some bugs and other issues though, and the slow response due to it wanting to inform you what it’s doing makes the whole system seem a lot slower than it could be. It also misinterprets what I say more than other voice apps I’ve tried, though the fact that I have a cold certainly doesn’t help the case right now.

The result is what you see in the video above. I can tie this to any Tasker setup I want, but those three features are the ones I’ve set up specifically for it so far. This system is actually a heck of a lot more stable than anything you’ll get with a smartwatch, because it uses the standard Bluetooth headset profile instead of the profiles used by smartwatches, which are infamous for causing problems on some devices. So far it has connected and disconnected only when told to, and generally seems as stable as you’d hope something like this would be.

Right now I’m still testing this for usefulness, like I do with everything I make – be it software or hardware. My initial reaction is that it’s a very useful thing to have, however my prototype is a bit too big to sit on my wrist unnoticed. Ideally, this would be a commercial Bluetooth headset bracelet, but I haven’t been able to find such a thing (with one exception), simply because one doesn’t normally need a wrist mounted Bluetooth headset. From a technical point of view those, the parts needed here are small enough that you could easily create something the size of this or this and still fit a mic and a small speaker inside there. Bluetooth headsets connect fairly quickly (and automatically) to the host device when turned on, so in theory you could have a more or less normal bracelet/wrist band that just happened to have the ability to be turned on and used to remote control your phone.

I will have to test the prototype out a bit more, but I might end up making a version 2 in the future, and actually eBay some parts to make it as compact as possible.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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