Building Alexa into a Rotary Phone

How I built an Alexa-powered rotary phone with a Raspberry PI and some LEDs

Mike Dodge

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TL;DR — I built Alexa into a rotary phone and setup the rotary dialer to trigger actions on my other Alexa devices.

1956 Western Electric Model 500, powered by Alexa

Parts required

  • an old rotary phone
  • a Raspberry PI 3
  • a bread board (used in development)
  • a USB mic (dismantled and rewired)
  • a 1/8" mono patch cable (rewired)
  • a couple of LEDs
  • three 10k resistors

How it came to be

Our family uses Alexa on a daily basis for things like playing music, getting the weather, and setting timers so the kids don’t fight over toys. For a handful of tasks, we prefer it to our mobile phones.

But there’s still some points of friction with the way she fits into our household:

  1. I hate yelling at her

With a two young boys at home, there’s never a shortage of chaos and clamor in our open living room / kitchen where Alexa lives. I hate yelling over all that noise from across the room, especially when she’s already talking or playing music.

2. I hate it when she yells at me

There’s been too many occasions when I’ve been heading to bed and asked Alexa to, “Turn off the living room lights”, only to have her unexpectedly yell, “Ok!” and wake up the kids because, unbeknownst to me, they had a dance party to Up Town Funk and left Alexa at volume 10.

3. Not everyone needs to know (or cares)

I started to notice that whenever anyone asks Alexa something, the whole room inevitably feels like they need to pause and wait for her to finish. She kind of demands your attention in that way. What’s worse, not everyone in the room cares what Alexa has to say.

The Idea

Build Alexa into a telephone in order to facilitate 1:1 voice interactions.

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Mike Dodge

As Principal Design Technologist in Alexa Voice Shopping at Amazon, I design and build prototypes that define the future of voice and multi-model shopping.