Saturday, 30 March 2019

Whose Turn Is it? An OpenHAB / Google Home / Hack (part 2)

So in the first part of this "life-automation" mini-series, we set up some OpenHAB items that kept track of whose turn it was to do a chore or make a decision. That's fine, but not super-accessible for the whole family, which is where our Google Home Mini comes in.

First, (assuming you've already configured and enabled the OpenHAB Cloud service to expose your OpenHAB installation at we add our MovieNight to our exposed items going out to the MyOpenHAB site. To do this, use the PaperUI to go to Services -> MyOpenHAB and add MovieNight to the list. Note that it won't actually appear at until the state changes ...

Next, using an HTTP client such as Postman, we hit (sending our email address and password in a Basic Auth header) and sure enough, we get back Charlotte.

Unfortunately, as awesome as it would be, the Google Home Assistant can't "natively" call a RESTful API like the one at MyOpenHAB, but it *can* if we set up a custom Action to do it, via a system called Dialogflow. This can get very involved as it is capable of amazing levels of "conversation" but here's how I solved this for my simple interaction needs:

So over in the Dialogflow console, we set up a new project, which will use a webhook for "fulfillment", so that saying "OK Google, whose turn is it for movie night?"* will result in the MovieNight "Intent" firing, making a webhook call over to a lambda, which in turn makes the RESTful request to the MyOpenHAB API. Phew!

I've mentioned before as the next-generation Heroku - and until now have just used it as a React App serving mechanism - but it also has sleek backend deployment automation (that's like Serverless minus the tricksy configuration file) that was just begging to be used for a job like this.

The execution environment inside a lambda is super-simple. Define a function that takes a Node request and response, and do with them what you will. While I really like lambdas, I think they are best used in the most straightforward way possible - no decision-making, no state - a pure function of its inputs that can be reasoned about for all values over all time at once (a really nice way of thinking about the modern "declarative" approach to writing software that I've stolen from the amazing Dan Abramov).

This particular one is a little gem - basically proxying the POSTed webhook call from Google, to a GET of the OpenHAB API. Almost everything this lambda needs is given to it - the Basic authentication header from Google is passed straight through to the OpenHAB REST call, the URL is directly constructed from the name of the intent in the webhook request, and the response from OpenHAB gets plopped into an English sentence for the Google Assistant to say. The only real snag is that the body of the POST request is not made directly available to us, so I had to add a little helper to provide that:

'use strict';

const bent = require('bent');

// Helper function to get the body from a POST
function processPost(request, response, callback) {
  var queryData = "";
  if (typeof callback !== 'function') return null;

  if (request.method == 'POST') {
    request.on('data', function (data) {
      queryData += data;
      if (queryData.length > 1e6) {
        queryData = "";
        response.writeHead(413, { 'Content-Type': 'text/plain' }).end();

    request.on('end', function () {

  } else {
    response.writeHead(405, { 'Content-Type': 'text/plain' });

// Proxy a Dialogflow webhook request to an OpenHAB REST call
module.exports = async (request, response) => {
  processPost(request, response, async (bodyString) => {
    const requestBody = JSON.parse(bodyString);
    const intent = requestBody.queryResult.intent.displayName;
    const uri = `${intent}/state`;
    const auth = request.headers['authorization'];

    console.log(`About to hit OpenHAB endpoint: ${uri}`);
    const getString = bent('string', { 'Authorization': auth });    
    const body = await getString(uri);

    console.log(`OpenHAB response: ${body}`);

    const json = {
      fulfillmentText: `It's ${body}'s turn.`,
    const jsonString = JSON.stringify(json, null, 2);
    response.setHeader('Content-Type', 'application/json'); 
    response.setHeader('Content-Length', jsonString.length); 

It returns the smallest valid JSON response to a Dialogflow webhook request - I did spend some time with the various client libraries available to do this, but they seemed like overkill when all that is needed is grabbing one field from the request and sending back one line of JSON!

We're almost there! Now to wire up this thing so we can voice-command it ...

(*) That's the theory at least - see Part 3 for the reality ...

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