Recently I was at MinneHack in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was a pretty short hackathon (only 19 hours of hacking!), but it was a great time! We hacked together a project called Twitter Assistants. It was one of the hackiest hacks we ever hacked, but it’s certainly pretty interesting.

The Project

Twitter Assistants is a twitter bot that lets you ask questions to Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant at the same time. You could tweet a question to @Assistants_MH, your question is sent to each of the assistants, and then they send back a reply to your tweet. We have a Python twitter bot running that periodically checks Twitter to see if there are any new tweets to the Assistants account. If it finds a new tweet, it gets passed to a Node.js server that coordinates the three voice assistants. When the server receives a new tweet, it forwards the question to three Mac servers that interface with an assistant simultaneously. Each Mac spawns an instance of their voice assistant and speaks the question using Text to Speech (specifically, the macOS say command piped through a digital audio input). Siri is spawned by launching the built-in macOS Siri.app, Alexa is spawned using a sample app from the Alexa Voice Assistant (AVS) device SDK, and Google Assistant is spawned using a sample app from the Google Assistant SDK.

After the question is spoken to the assistant and they start speaking an answer, their response is recorded to a file on disk. Once they finish speaking, the recording is uploaded to IBM Watson’s Speech to Text API. The final text answer from Watson is then sent back to the Node.js server, which in turn uses the Twitter bot to post the answer as a reply to the original tweet.

There’s a lot of pieces in play here, so this diagram can help make some sense out of it all:

We really struggled to get this working in 19 hours (more like 13 hours when you include sleep). We had a good bit of domain knowledge from building Siri Query, but we were still very low on time. We had to set up a pretty fragile audio piping scheme using an app called Loopback, and the assistants were kinda flaky, so the chance of something breaking on any given run was pretty high. We did have a few flawless runs, though, which were super cool to watch.

The Team

I travelled to Minneapolis with my friends Nate and Jake. Nate and I went to high school together, and Jake and I were roommates in our first two years at Georgia Tech. For all of us, this was our first time in Minneapolis. It was COLD all the way up there, but we had tons of fun. Super Bowl LI was in Minneapolis the next weekend, so downtown was buzzing with activity. Other highlights include hanging out on the Mississippi riverfront, and riding some indoor roller coasters at the Mall of America.

I’m working part time at MailChimp this semester, so I probably won’t have time to travel to any other hackathons until the Fall. I’m glad we found the time to go to this one, though!