Plane Spotting with Pi and Amazon Alexa

Plane spotting, like train spotting, is a hobby enjoyed by many a tech enthusiast. Nick Sypteras has built a voice-controlled plane identifier using a Raspberry Pi and an Amazon Echo Dot.

“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superm- hang on…it’s definitely a plane.”

What plane is that?

There’s a great write-up on Nick’s blog describing how he went about this. In addition to the Pi and the Echo, all he needed was a radio receiver to pick up signals from individual planes. So he bought an RTL-SDR USB dongle to pick up ADS-B broadcasts.

Alexa Plane Spotting Skill

Demonstrating an Alexa skill for identifying what planes are flying by my window. Ingredients: – raspberry pi – amazon echo dot – rtl-sdr dongle Explanation here: https://www.nicksypteras.com/projects/teaching-alexa-to-spot-airplanes

With the help of open-source software he can convert aircraft broadcasts into JSON data, which is stored on the Pi. Included in the broadcast is each passing plane’s unique ICAO code. Using this identifier, he looks up model, operator, and registration number in a data set of possible aircraft which he downloaded and stored on the Pi as a Mongo database.

Where is that plane going?

His Python script, with the help of the Beautiful Soup package, parses the FlightRadar24 website to find out the origin and destination of each plane. Nick also created a Node.js server in which all this data is stored in human-readable language to be accessed by Alexa.

Finally, it was a matter of setting up a new skill on the Alexa Skills Kit dashboard so that it would query the Pi in response to the right voice command.

Pretty neat, huh?

Plane spotting is serious business

Nick has made all his code available on GitHub, so head on over if this make has piqued your interest. He mentions that the radio receiver he uses picks up most unencrypted broadcasts, so you could adapt his build for other purposes as well.

Boost your hobby with the Pi

We’ve seen many builds by makers who have pushed their hobby to the next level with the help of the Pi, whether it’s astronomy, high-altitude ballooning, or making music. What hobby do you have that the Pi could improve? Let us know in the comments.