Nest Labs

In a push to grow its share of the home-automation market, smart-thermostat maker Nest Labs is launching a smoke and carbon monoxide detector, the company announced today. Called Protect, the product will hit the market in November and retail for $129 at Best Buy, The Home Depot, and online.

It’s no secret that the Palto Alto, Calif.-based start-up is looking to diversify. In an interview with Tech Crunch’s Matt Burns at the technology website’s Disrupt SF 2013 conference in September, Nest Labs’ vice president of engineering, Matt Rogers, hinted that the company has its eye on “all the other unloved white plastic crap” in the home, which will keep them “busy for years.” 

A smoke and carbon monoxide detector fits the bill for the type of product Nest is aiming to remake. Among Protect’s value-added features is motion-detecting technology that allows users to silence the detector with a wave of the hand (rather than vigorously fanning the device with a newspaper or pulling the battery). And instead of beeping loudly at the first sign of smoke, the detector lights up and announces a warning in a “human” voice, the company says. When installed with a Nest thermostat, the carbon-monoxide detector will shut down the home’s furnace when it detects carbon monoxide in the home.

The wi-fi enabled device also sends low-battery alerts to users’ mobile devices, and it can be synced with other Protect units in homes using more than one device so homeowners know where smoke or carbon monoxide has been detected.

But Nest Labs is looking beyond physical products.

Last month the company unveiled plans to create an open application programming interface (API) in the hopes that third-party developers will help grow its share of the home-automation market. The company announced the collaborative operation, the Nest Developer Program, at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association Expo in September.

Nest expects the API and developer program to launch in early 2014. But it’s already moving ahead with its first partner—home-automation systems maker Control4. In a statement, Nest says the partnership will offer control of its flagship self-learning thermostat from a variety of Control4 interfaces including remotes, touch-screens, and mobile apps.

But the program’s potential extends beyond thermostats. In a market for which home automation is central to energy and cost savings, such functionality could be the “missing link” in the quest to control lights, HVAC, audio, shading, home security, and more from a single device, writes Tech Crunch’s Burns about the new developer program. And its grassroots approach harkens to the rise of Apple products—unsurprising, since Nest founder and CEO Tony Fadell helped create the iPod and iPhone during his seven years with Apple, Burns notes, before helping launch Nest in 2010:

“… The company released its first shiny object, improved upon it and released a second generation — all the while ignoring the outside noise. Now, some two years after the first generation hit, the company is opening up the device to developers in an attempt to create a thriving ecosystem.”

Forbes contributor Geoffrey Morrison got a preview of the new driver on Nest’s thermostat:

“The result is seamless. Inputs on the Learning Thermostat get sent to the Nest cloud. The Control4 system access the cloud and updates its interface (and vice versa). So changing the temperature on one gets updated on the other, while still interacting with Nest’s servers so you can still get personalized monthly energy reports … ”

And it’s not just temperature. Morrison notes the match-up’s potential:

“ … Nest is able to supply a Control4 system with useful data. Temperature, obviously, but also the Nest knows when you’re home (or away). This allows the home automation aspect of Control4 to do things like dim (or enable) specific lights, turn on a security system (if you’ve forgotten), turn on or off ceiling fans, drop shades when the sun is beaming in, and so on.”

So far, Nest Labs’ chic repackaging of mundane home technology is getting good reviews. However, as with its $249 learning thermostat, Protect’s comparatively hefty price tag could stunt market pickup. Wired reporter Steven Levy got an inside look at Protect’s development:

" ... it’s now clear that Nest is attempting to create a new kind of appliance. On the outside it’s sexy, but its workings are all about exploiting the growing infrastructure of sensors and connectivity around us. The algorithms created by Nest’s machine-learning experts—and the troves of data generated by those algorithms—are just as important as the sleek materials carefully selected by its industrial designers."

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