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Summary:

From the startup that reimagined the thermostat, comes a reinvented . . . smoke detector. And of course design, smart sensors, innovative UI and wireless connections are behind the new Nest device.

Nest Protect

Nest ProtectCan Nest do what it’s done with the thermostat — reinvent it with wireless tech, smart algorithms and great design — for another unloved product: the hated smoke detector? On Tuesday the startup, founded by former Apple employees including iPhone and iPod designer Tony Fadell, announced that it will soon start selling “Nest Protect,” a well-designed smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.

Reports surfaced late last month that Nest would soon launch a smoke detector (first reported by former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Jessica Lessin). But this is the first time that Nest is talking publicly about the product and giving details about it.

The device has a variety of sensors and wireless connections and a new type of interface that creates a smoke detector more befitting to the iPhone demographic (Fadell will talk more about the design and creative inspiration at our experience design conference RoadMap next month in San Francisco).

While a smoke detector is an unusual move, I can see why the team would want to take on the neglected device as its second product. Most people down right hate their smoke detectors. I’ll readily admit to knocking down more than one of these ugly gadgets off the ceiling with a broom after it wouldn’t stop its low-battery incessant chirping. Bad design and poor user experience mean that a lot of households aren’t able to effectively use a device which could one day save their lives.

night-time room

Nest Protect

The Nest Protect device has six sensors — smoke, carbon monoxide, heat, light, activity, and ultrasonic — a WiFi connection, and a ZigBee-like wireless connection, which all make the gadget much smarter than the barebones smoke detectors out there currently. While a traditional waving-handssmoke detector is binary of sorts — in alarm mode or totally quiet — Nest Protect has a variety of states in between and new ways to communicate with the user.

If the Nest Protect detects increased smoke or carbon monoxide levels it can alert the residents with both audio and a color code on the ring on its face. The resident can then look to see if there is an emergency situation, and if there’s not then the user can use a hand wave gesture — activated by the activity sensor — to dismiss the heightened alert state. There’s also a big ol’ button in the middle that can be pressed to stop the heightened state.

The Nest Protect also remembers which room it’s in and if there is smoke or carbon monoxide detected it can tell what room the problem is coming from. Particularly if there are multiple Protects installed throughout a house.

Nest ProtectThe user interface is also much more sophisticated than basic smoke detectors. The ring in the center — reminiscent of the ring used by Nest’s thermostat — can glow green when everything’s fine, yellow during the heightened state (or when the batteries are getting low), and red when there’s an emergency.

The light sensor detects when the lights are on or off in a room and when the lights are off the activity sensor can be used to passively light up a room with a warm glow when someone walks by. The frustrating issue with the low battery chirping in basic thermostats is also partially solved because when the battery is low in Protect, the heightened alert state and audio voice will tell the resident a variety of times as the battery gets lower and lower. It also tells the user via a mobile app. Though the battery will last multiple years.

Nest Protect also uses a proprietary form of the 802.15.4 wireless connection (the one that ZigBee is also based on) to connect multiple Nest Protects throughout a house, so that when a user interacts with one of the devices, the other Protects know what’s going on. The Protect can also use this wireless connection to talk to the Nest thermostat. If you’ve got ‘em both, then bam, your house has started to get straight up Nestified.

And of course, with the cell phone as the standard interface to the home these days, Nest Protect can be controlled with a mobile app or via a website. That means some interesting connections between the device and the app, like the ability to see a heightened state or emergency remotely, and a mobile app that can offer emergency numbers and suggestions during an emergency.

Nest Protect is undoubtedly a superior product to other smoke detectors on the market. But will homeowners be willing to spend $129 on a smoke detector, when basic ones cost $20 to $30? Well, Nest certainly proved the market is there for a hip thermostat, though smoke detectors are an entirely new industry and asset.

Nest is taking reservations for the smoke detector now, and they plan to start selling and delivering the device in early November.

Nest Protect

Future of Nest

I admit I was surprised to hear that Nest will be tackling the ugly smoke detector. I thought they’d either go deeper into energy or do an even more consumer product for the digital living room. But I do like how Nest only wants to focus on underserved markets. How many more of these long ignored home devices are there — the garage door opener or the door key itself?

Nest execs told me that Fadell envisioned the smoke detector product focus after he was in bed late at night and was perplexed by a flashing LED light on his home’s smoke detector. Nest has been working on the device for at least 18 months.

Nest has morphed into a decidedly large company at this point thanks to the growing sales of their thermostats and their large rounds of venture capital funding. They have 270 employees, they hired a CFO from Tesla about 9 months ago, as well as a VP of Marketing from Levi’s recently, too. The company says they have 5,200 points of sale, 10,000 certified installers, and are selling in online and offline stores like Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, The Home Depot and Nest.com.

This article was updated at 1:23PM PST on October 8th to reflect that the wireless connection that connects multiple Nest Protects together is based on 802.15.4, which is the standard that ZigBee is based on, but the connection itself is not ZigBee.

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  1. David Henkel-Wallace Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    A carbon monoxide detector on something mounted on the ceiling? Why? CO is heavier than air.

    1. It’s not the only combination detector out there, but I agree discreet units are better so that you can place the CO detector lower.

    2. Carbon monoxide is not heavier than air. The diffusion of carbon monoxide in air is relatively even, meaning that a source of carbon monoxide can distribute the gas evenly throughout the room and house. When installing a carbon monoxide alarm, choose a location where the alarm will stay clean, and out of the way of children or pets.

      1. Sure enough, a little research indicates you’re right. They it is roughly the same weight. Some even suggest putting the detector higher because warm are is more likely to come from a source with CO.

        Another reason to go with a discrete unit though is life expectancy. CO detectors generally have a shorter life expectancy than a smoke detector. In any case though, discrete is usually better–e.g. don’t buy a TV/DVD player device.

        1. Talk about coincidences. One of my CO detectors (the wired one) went out today during a lightening storm. I’m glad it’s not a $125 device!

  2. Michael W. Perry Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Can it be taught to spot when a small child or elderly family member in a particular room has gotten up in the night and signal through the device in another room? In certain family situations, that’d make it a fabulous aid.

  3. From article: “The Nest Protect also remembers which room it’s in and if there is smoke or carbon monoxide detected it can tell what room the problem is coming from. Particularly if there are multiple Protects installed throughout a house/”

    Yes, I would imagine being able to know which room something happened in would work a lot better with more than one detector. /sarc

    Why is there no mention of power source? Are these battery only devices? If so, does that mean that in practically every house built in at least the last 20 years you’d be giving up not only the 120 volt power but also the wired interconnection? If so, seems like a really lousy idea to give up a pretty foolproof wired interconnection for a wireless one.

    I’m not seeing the market for this one, but then I accidentally set off my smoke alarm less than once every 5 years, and I’m perfectly capable of getting a chair to remove the battery when I do. Since the life of a smoke detector is only 10 years, that’s getting a chair once or spending $100 more than necessary. Not really a tough decision.

  4. Raj Chatterjee Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    Does this report temp and activity to the Nest thermostat ? This way the thermostat will be smarter. I did not buy the thermostat mostly because it will have to go on the leaving room, and we rarely go there.

    1. According to the Cnet review it does communicate with the thermostat to let it know you are still home. Finally a good reason to buy this expensive device–to make your other expensive device work properly!

      They also explain that there is both a wired and battery operated device, and that both have wi-fi.

  5. Thank goodness. I’m so tired of smoke detectors just sitting there, not doing anything but taking up space. I want to be able to remotely start a fire, through my iphone, and then be alerted that there is a fire in my apartment – also through my iphone. Technology is SO COOL. :)

  6. Nicholas Paredes Tuesday, October 8, 2013

    One buys a smoke detector very rarely. They also tend to be hideous. I would probably buy one myself, even at $129.

    I also agree that additional sensors, particularly for monitoring air quality would be great.

  7. I was looking for the common smoke detector that had a way to remotely turn it off. I couldn’t find it, but I did discover that even $11 Firex detectors will temporarily turn off if you just hit the test button (“smart hush”)

    http://www.sentrydetectors.com/firex/4618.html

    At the other end of the spectrum, Next seems to really be missing a lot of features.

    There’s a $400 smoke detector/camera/dvr and others with strobe lights to wake you up (particularly good in children’s rooms).

  8. I would put a fisheye camera in it and then I could monitor the room if the alarm went off. it would alert my phone and then give me a picture of what is happening. Then my mobile app could call the local fire department and let them know exactly what is going on and where in the house it is.

  9. Sorry but this is a major fail. I’ve got 5 detectors in my home and it would REALLY take a lot of functionally to get me to replace $150 worth of detectors with Nests’s product for and additional $500. Where’s my payoff going to come from? I’ll never recoup the costs. Despite what some may say your modern detector is what some may say overly sensitive.

    This horrible decision of a product casts personal doubt about whether Nest has the right ideology and ability to develop transformative products. I guess a fool and his money will soon be departed.

    1. ….said my wife before I bought her a GPS…because maps work just fine.
      ….said my dad before I bought him an iPod…because all my CDs are right here on my shelf.
      …said my mom before we bought her an iPhone…because why would I want to use a phone for something else?
      Major Fail? Maybe not.

      1. Timothy it’s going to be interesting to find out.

        GPS was a game changer with voice guided navigation.
        iPods allowed me to carry my entire music library in my pocket.
        Smartphones allow pocket sized computers.

        As much as I love the Design of this new Nest product I struggle to find
        an equivalent leap forward in utility as GPS,iPods and Smartphones delivered over
        their incumbents.

        This product is too early. Perhaps in a second generation product we’ll get something a little bit more forward leaning. What could this be?

        1. Bluetooth Beacon support – if i’m going to sprinkle these throughout my home I may as well have them drastically increase my indoor GPS capability.

        2. Motion Sensing – I know it has “Activity Sensors” but how robust?

        3. Better audio – Could be a nice way of pumping audio into some parts of the house or delivering an intercom system.

        As tech lovers some of us are struggling to find the additional value while others can. That being said i’m glad this product is on the market and we shall see if it cuts muster.

    2. That’s an additional $500 every ten years (the life of a smoke detector) or possibly even every six years (possibly the life of a CO detector).

    3. Pretty spot on. If you look at say, the MA code, for a 4 bedroom, 2 story house you’re looking at 6-8 smoke detectors easy. These things aren’t even connected to an automated fire department call.

      You’d be better off with an old GE Concord system which also has networked CO and Smoke detectors but also will automatically call the fire department after a reasonable delay and sets you up for a decent home alarm. There are even plugins for monitoring your HVAC (like the nest).

      This is a condo solution for urban sophisticates, not a robust solution for a homeowner. It’s a shame because the thermostat is pricey, but nice. This is a flop.

  10. “Nest Protect also uses a proprietary form of the Zigbee wireless connection”

    Is that statement sufficiently obvious to signal that Nest is indeed building a closed ecosystem? Perhaps tech bloggers can stop using Nest as the go-to example of the Internet of Things?

    1. Someone wake me up when IoT becomes more than a buzzword. Right now it’s a dream and a bunch of sensor and routing companies jockey for position.

      The weak-link is going to be software. After all we basically had Internet of Things lite with stuff like Insteon, Zwave, Zigbee and more yet no company was able to create an affordable program to tie together products from many vendors.

      Thus far i’ve gained more utility from my HUE light bulbs. Smart Smoke Detectors aren’t going to be transformative enough for my household.

      Door locks and cameras are next.

      1. Murchison – affordable software to connect ZigBee, ZWave and Insteon… revolv.com ?

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