Google and Amazon are constantly improving the capabilities of their voice AIs, but there are some issues that technology giants have little incentive to fix. For example, from the branding standpoint, it does not make sense to let people change their "Ok Google" or "Alexa" wizard hotword to anything else – even if that's what users want (and definitely it's definitely ). It is this consumer desire, coupled with the issue of user privacy, that led designers Bjørn Karmann and Tore Knudsen to create a hack Google Home / Amazon Echo called Project Alias.
The open source project basically boils down to putting a foil cover on your digital assistant device. The lid, created using a Raspberry Pi, two speakers, a microphone and a 3D-printed cover, looks and acts like a parasitic fungus. After placing it on the speaker, the home attendant is deaf with inaudible static noise, rendering it useless. However, you can train the little gadget with the local machine learning to listen to your custom hotword – it can be "Merlin", "Zoidberg", "Voldemort" or whatever you want. Once the Alias device hears its hotword, it deactivates the static and silently says "Hey Google" or "Alexa" to activate the wizard. From there, you can operate the wizard as usual, and when done, the static will return.
Of course this is not the most elegant solution. Breaking the shell and making an internal hardware adjustment would be more graceful (though it would not be a simple task). It also seems pretty obvious from the Project Alias video that you will have to deal with a longer delay before the actual device starts listening, making the commands awkward. What's more, looking at the demolitions of Home and Echo, it seems the Alias will clog distant sensitive field mics, which would mean that you would have to be close to the wizard to hear – and it is not clear how The Microphone Array Project Alias recommends a comparison with the Echo or Home array in terms of quality.
All that being said is still a relatively simple (and grossly) effective hack – and in addition, it's good to see creative communities creating creative ways to hack hardware that is becoming ever more ubiquitous in our homes. Here's hoping there will be more sheet metal equivalents in our future.