Spectra: Digital Mirror

Spectra combines a mirror and an interface into a sleek personal digital assistant.  The interface, powered by a Raspberry Pi, interacts with the user using compliments, jokes, and music recommendations based on the time of day.  It displays the weather, date, and information from five news and social media RSS feeds.  Motion-activated NeoPixel lights are powered by an Arduino.  Spectra was inspired by several modern technological movements, including “smart homes” and social robotics.  The code for Spectra is available on Github.  A demonstration of Spectra is available on YouTube.

"We are grateful to everyone at Girls Who Code and Akamai for their support."
— Kathryn


Team Alice's Spectra is a personal digital assistant that streamlines daily routines and ameliorates hectic mornings.  It is a mirror and digital interface that provides practical information for the day ahead, like a modern looking glass.

The idea of a “digital mirror” grew out of a world trying to become more efficient through technology.  For many people, the first object they reach for in the morning is their smartphone.  Many families then rush through the day, constantly checking calendars, weather, and email.

Stores such as Neiman Marcus have already implemented the idea of a digital mirror for commercial purposes.  The idea of a household digital mirror has become quite popular in the Raspberry Pi community.  The original “Magic Mirror” by Michael Teeuw of Xonay Labs can be seen here.

We were interested in studying possible ways to improve people’s interactions with technology.  During our visit to the Personal Robots Lab at MIT, we were inspired by Cynthia Breazeal’s work on personalizing technology.   We also used our own experiences with FIRST Robotics, electronics, and engineering.

The emergence of home automation technology, such as the products of Nest Labs, and social robotics, such as Jibo and Buddy by Blue Frog Robotics, conveys the huge potential for an appliance that can interact with a user as well as connect to a network to gather information. The term “Internet of Things” refers to the popular notion that there will soon be a vast network of physical objects with the capability to connect to one another and the "cloud," further integrating the physical and digital world. Spectra hopes to bring attention to the emerging market for social robots and help people become more comfortable with digital tools in their daily lives, especially in domestic environments.

Like John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios, once stated: technology inspires art, and art challenges technology. Ultimately, we strove to take this statement to heart.  By combining our love of technology and design, we created a household device that is both useful and beautiful.


The name “Team Alice” was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass (1871).  In addition, it is a reference to Carnegie Mellon’s Alice, an object-oriented programming language.


In the future, we hope to evolve Spectra into more of a social robot.  We hope to:

  • add a calendar feed
  • improve alarm functionality
  • connect song recommendations to SoundCloud API
  • change the RSS feed to the screen when the Arduino detects motion
  • add a feature where texting the Arduino changes the interface
  • add other paths of interaction with user.

Organization: Girls Who Code
Student: Kathryn Tsai
Project Team Members: Anaya Tipnis, Gabrielle Fernandopulle
Type of Work: Robotics
Location: Boston - Akamai
Grade: 12th Grade
Year Created: 2015

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