As expected, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Nest Labs on Tuesday unveiled its second product, called the Nest Protect. The company’s first product, the Nest Thermostat, took the world by storm after its unveiling in October 2011 by revolutionizing the way people manage the temperature and energy usage within their homes, saving consumers hundreds of dollars in the process. Two years later, Nest hopes its Nest Protect can popularize another home technology that’s overlooked, and often unloved: The smoke detector.
The Nest Protect instantly stands out from other smoke detectors with its rounded rectangular form and sunflower-shaped hole pattern to maximize airflow, but its price stands out too: The best smoke detector on Amazon.com costs just $30, whereas the new Nest Protect is quite the high-end product at $129 -- roughly $100 more than most smoke detectors. So what makes the Nest Protect so special? We’ve broken down the major features in the Nest Protect to help explain why this device, created by two former iPod and iPhone designers (Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers), may be the smoke detector consumers actually want on their ceilings.
1. It’s highly efficient. The Nest Protect runs on six AA batteries and will “last for multiple years,” according to Fadell. Nest unfortunately can’t elaborate on exactly how many years the Nest Protect will last. “The regulators have not allowed me to make a claim – they have to test for multiple years before we can make a claim – but we’ve designed it for multiple years on six AA lithiums,” Fadell told The Verge. This is a big deal, especially considering how almost two-thirds of all fire deaths occur in homes that lack a working smoke detector, while an estimated 20 percent of U.S. homes currently don't have working smoke detectors, usually due to missing or dead batteries. With the Nest Protect, a little battery power should go a long way.
2. It’s decked out with smart processors. With incredibly low-powered microprocessors, the Nest Protect has all the tools needed to keep you and your home safe but uses those tools efficiently. The Nest Protect features an ambient light sensor that tells you if the batteries and sensors are okay, an activity sensor to hush the alarm with the wave of your hand, a heat sensor, a carbon monoxide detector and an ultrasonic motion detector to sense when you’re walking by or waving your hand. The Nest Protect also features a custom-built smoke sensor and photoelectric sensor, which is embedded in a smoke chamber that can sense a wide range of smoke from any direction to alert its user in different fashions: It may simply tell you there is smoke in a certain part of your house, or a more serious fire may also cause the Protect’s interior alarm to sound.
3. It’s colorful yet communicative. The Nest Protect features a gorgeous LED ring around the center button, but it’s not just there for dramatic effect; the colors actually tell you a lot about your Nest Protect. If the Nest Protect ring glows green, the batteries and sensors are fully operational. When the Nest Protect ring glows red, there is an emergency; its voice interface will alert you to the problem and tell you in which room of the house it is sensing smoke. If the Nest Protect ring turns yellow, the Nest Protect is detecting a potential problem -- there may be some smoke, or it may be low on batteries – which it calls a “Heads Up.” And best of all, the Nest Protect won't wake you up at night with unwanted chirping; if it's anything short of an emergency, the Nest Protect will glow yellow until you wave your hand in front of it, in which event it will tell you the problem. The Nest Protect is also a useful night light: If you’re walking through your home at night and you walk underneath the Nest Protect, its ring will light up white (unless you tell it not to -- more on that later) to light your path, just like the Nest Thermostat does.
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4. It’s mobile-connected. Just like most smart-home electronics like locks and lights, the Nest Protect smoke detector is Wi-Fi enabled so it can easily tell your smartphone the status of your home, even when you’re not there. Users can easily see the sensor and battery status of the Nest Protect, and if you have multiple units within your home, the Nest Protect App will show you the various statuses, and it’ll even send your phone a notification if there’s smoke or a real fire emergency. And users can also switch Nest Protect features on and off, such as the Pathlight and Heads-Up features, directly from their phone.
5. It connects to your Nest Thermostat. Nest Labs wants to tightly integrate all its products -- the company was founded by ex-Apple engineers, after all -- which is why the Nest Protect leverages the intelligence of the Nest Thermostat to give owners of both products some added benefits. Since the Nest Protect features activity sensors, the Nest Thermostat will simply look at that data to better figure out when you are away, which allows the Thermostat to save more money by heating and cooling your home at optimal times and temperatures. Also, if the Nest Protect senses carbon monoxide, it will instruct the Nest Thermostat to shut off the home’s furnace, which is one of the most common sources of carbon monoxide.
The Nest Protect offers much in terms of features, but Nest co-founder Tony Fadell believes this device is just getting started, particularly with regard to functionality.
“With the Thermostat, we started with the thermostat and added all kinds of features over time,” Fadell told The Verge. “We’re starting where we start; who knows what else can be added over time.”
The Nest Thermostat is not yet ready to release, as the device is in its final stages of certification by the Underwriters Laboratories, the company responsible for testing and approving all smoke detectors in the U.S. However, interested consumers can pre-order the Nest Protect smoke detector in wired and wireless varieties in white or black, the latter of which is an online-exclusive color (and quite the looker), starting Tuesday.
“We think [Nest Protect] is a product that, if we talk to the families, they need this because they’re concerned about CO [carbon monoxide], they’re concerned about smoke, they don’t want to be woken up, and they hate the product, but they have to have it,” Fadell said. “So let’s try to make it enjoyable, let’s try to make sure it’s not annoying.”