The week in smart home: Alexa can now understand sign language

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Alexa can now understand sign language

Google and Nest's tango continues. Nest was once a sister company under Alphabet, and then was brought in closer to Google, but this week it went a step further, with its CEO stepping down and the company folding into Google's home division.

Elsewhere, HomeKit made some waves. The Wemo Mini Smart Plug has been updated with support via a software update. Yet, at the same time, Apple removed smart doorbells from its Home site. Curious.

But that's not all that's happened this week in the smart home. Read on for the stuff you might have missed.

The week in smart home: Alexa can now understand sign language

Alexa can now talk to members of the deaf community

One of the draws of smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant is being able to just speak out in no particular direction and get a response. However, the deaf can't interact with these speakers in the same way.

So a developer named Abhishek Singh developed a workaround for Alexa. He created a web app that uses a camera to read a user's sign language. It then converts that into a command. Then Alexa does its thing and comes up with a response, and the process then reverses. Alexa's response is converted from audio to text for the person to read.

This is actually a more comprehensive solution than what the Echo Show offers. That device just reads out its answers on the display, but if also doesn't fully offer the ability for the deaf to have a comfortable conversation with Alexa as Singh's app provides.

Singh actually trained the AI for its web app himself, and he tells Fast Company that while he hopes it helps people, he also hopes Amazon decides to one day build something similar into Alexa.

The week in smart home: Alexa can now understand sign language

Meet Oscar the AI trash can

Have you ever been to one of those multi-use trash cans where one side is recycling and the other side is trash? You have some food items or plastic or paper and you want to get rid of it, but you pause - where does this item truly belong? Be honest, you just guess.

Oscar, a new AI trash can on Kickstarter for $299, wants to help solve that. It uses artificial intelligence to determine whether your item is recyclable or non-recyclable. You simply drop it into the "classifying capsule," which uses a digital camera, LEDs and smarts to look at the object, figure out what it is and then sort it.

The lid also senses motion, and will open up for you to insert your trash when you're nearby. If Oscar isn't sure what the object is, you can step in and press either the recyclable or non-recyclable buttons to let it know. It'll share that with its entire AI network, benefiting other Oscar owners. However, that does require you to know where it goes, and somewhat defeats the purpose of not having to worry about whether the thing you have is recyclable or not.

Should Oscar reach its $20,000 goal and everything go to plan, the smart trashcan would be in your home by October 2018, if you want one.

The week in smart home: Alexa can now understand sign language

Amazon sold 1 million smart devices on Prime Day

Amazon Prime Day has come and gone, and there were quite a few great deals on smart home products. And it seems like everyone cashed in, as Amazon has announced that it sold over one million smart devices during its 36-hour shopping event.

There were a number of smart home records on hand too. Ring had its biggest ever day on Amazon on 16 July, selling out of every Ring Video Doorbell it had. Toshiba's 4K Fire TV is now the best-selling TV in Amazon's history. The Cloud Cam was the best selling security camera and the Echo devices with screens - Show and Spot - had their best ever days as well.

All in all, it turned out Prime Day was a huge day for the smart home. It seems likely that this was by design. Amazon has pushed its Alexa devices heavily on its website, and those speakers turn out to be wonderful gateways into the rest of the smart home. Amazon just happens to both own (Hi, Ring) and sell plenty of smart home devices that work with Alexa.

The week in smart home: Alexa can now understand sign language

Smart home spending will double by 2022

If Prime Day wasn't enough of a boost for smart home fans, a new report from ABI Research will certainly get you juiced. The firm found that smart home spending will double in the next four years.

2018 saw consumers spend $56 billion on smart home devices, and that number will balloon to $123 billion in 2022. ABI identified six areas where smart home is set to make a big impact: security, energy management, home entertainment, home maintenance, health and personalization.

ABI says that big companies like Apple, Google and Amazon will aggressively pursue these six areas, but they don't have the tools to actually go after all of them. Hence, they will have to eventually team up and work together on the smart home, which could in turn spill over into smart cities. This will help accelerate smart home spending, making it easier for consumers to connect their homes and, ultimately, lives.

Top smart home deals

Every week we scour the web for the best smart home deals - check out our pick of the week's biggest bargains below.

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