I had just finished moving into my new apartment in college when I first heard the sound. Pausing and looking around, I failed to identify the source. That’s when the unmistakable noise returned once again.
I soon discovered that a smoke detector was causing the noise, likely pleading for a new set of batteries. As I walked around in my living room searching for the culprit, I stopped outside my roommate’s door, training my ears once again.
There it goes again, but where was it? I craned my neck from side to side. Wait, could it be…inside my roommate’s room?
I knocked on the door. He came out. We haven’t met each other yet. This wouldn’t be awkward I reassured myself.
“Hey, um, do you hear that?”
He exchanged a blank look and replies, “Oh, that? That’s just the smoke detector.”
“Yeah, I figured…shouldn’t you, I mean, we do something about it? I mean, I can hear it all the way from my own room.”
“I guess…” I hesitated a bit. “I mean it’s been like that for the past year or so.”
“It’s been beeping like that for a year and you haven’t done anything about it??” I asked incredulously.
How could a possibly life-saving device subject someone to such a cruel punishment for such an interminable period? I never figured that out. Suffice to say, we didn’t interact very much for the rest of that year.
For most people anyways, the intolerable, piercing beep at the dead of night is a constant theme in the stories people share about their smoke detectors. Remember that episode of Friends when Phoebe threw away her fire alarm because it wouldn’t shut up? Yes, the humble and unloved smoke detector is in need of a makeover.
Nest: Conquering your home, one device at a time
Two years ago, a company called Nest unveiled a thermostat that looked like nothing anyone had seen before. It resembled a large, round button and had a touch-based glass surface. Identifying the pain point for most thermostats, it was designed so that anyone could understand how to use it and interestingly, it made it fun for people to keep track of their home’s energy usage. With its intelligent controls and sensors, it automatically adjusted the temperature in your home when it detects that you’re there, saving households hundreds of dollars on your energy bill.
Now the company is unveiling their second major product, a smoke and carbon monoxide detector called the Nest Protect. It retails for a $129, which is at least five times more expensive than most detectors you find today. Of course, for a price tag like that, the Protect is packed with some powerful and slick features.
Besides the smoke and carbon monoxide sensors, the Protect can also detect heat, light, and motion. Remember those hectic Thanksgiving dinners when your overworked oven set off your smoke detector every hour? You probably rushed around frantically opening all the windows and started fanning the air as if you were trying to swat a fly. With the Protect, you can silence it with a simple wave of your hand. In fact, rather than blaring a piercing, relentless alarm, the device can actually speak to you and say “heads up” so that you know something is wrong.
My smoke detector can speak to me now! Hooray! Welcome to the 21st century! But in the event of a fire, I want my smoke detector to be hollering like a lunatic and forcing me to scramble outside to safety. Wouldn’t you?
Luckily, there’s more to the story. The calming voice alert actually serves as a precursor to a more urgent emergency alarm. Moreover, the voices are all female and surprisingly quite soothing. According to Fadell, when the company was doing some research into building the product, they found “that children are less likely to wake up to a horn than the sound of a mother’s voice.”
I guess it’s much more difficult getting angry when you’re woken up in the middle of the night by the sound of a calming “heads up, your batteries running low” versus an impersonal and intermittent beep that refuses to stop.
What about those infamous occasions when your smoke detector is running low on power and won’t stop beeping? As you already know, a simple wave of your arm will quiet the device immediately. But how are you going to find the culprit in a house with multiple Protects? The devices are intelligent enough to identify the specific device that is in need of a change of battery. For example, if you’re in your bedroom, Protect will tell you that the detector in your living room is low in power.
Since the Protect is connected to your home’s WiFi, you can receive notifications and updates on your iOS or Android device wherever you are. In the event of an emergency and you’re away from home, the app also provides quick access to alerting emergency services. This is especially useful if you have pets at home.
If your house is equipped with the Nest Thermostat, the Protect is integrated to work alongside the device. Since it has a built-in activity sensor inside, the Protect can further improve the Thermostat’s ability to accurately control the temperatures in your home. In addition, when the Protect detects carbon monoxide in your home, it will notify the the thermostat which will then shut down your home’s furnace, to eliminate it as a possible source of CO emissions.
“Hey, is this thing even on?”
After first learning of the Nest Protect, I ventured over to the detectors scattered around in my home, probably observing them for the first time ever. Is this thing even on? I didn’t see any blinking light to indicate that it was and asked my dad for confirmation. He told me that they were working fine and proceeded to prove it. Grabbing a chair, he climbed up and reached for and pressed a button on the detector.
Wincing suddenly from the unexpected sound, I looked back at my dad as he gave me a thumbs up. It works!
With the Protect, knowing that it’s operating correctly is as easy as turning off your light. The feature, called “Nightly Promise”, flashes a green light to reassure you that the Protect is working. Furthermore, if you’re stumbling blindly around in the dark at night, the Protect will light up your path if you walk under it. No more stepping on that misplaced Lego piece!
The Home of the Future
At the end of 2012, I wrote an article making my predictions for what to expect in technology for the upcoming year. I themed the article on the connected and intelligent home of the future. I mentioned products like the Twine, with its multiple sensors that can let you “listen” to your home.
For some reason, I neglected to talk about Nest and now, we are seeing how the company is uprooting the traditional home one dumb device at a time. Just like Apple has become famous for taking long-entrenched products (MP3 player, smartphone, tablet) and making them fun and easy to use, Nest has followed that same script in its venture to conquer our homes. “We’re about reinventing unloved categories”, Fadell tells The Verge. With the entrant of its second major product, the company’s vision for the future of homes everywhere is starting to become more clear.