Apple alums give home thermostats a new twist

Oct 25, 2011 by Glenn Chapman

Nest Labs, a startup founded by former Apple engineers, hopes to do for home thermostats what their former employer did for smartphones -- make them hip and intuitive.

The startup came out of stealth mode on Tuesday to unveil the Learning Thermostat, which can be taught to maintain its owners' precise comfort level after a week or less of use, lost through manual adjustment.

"We created the world's first learning thermostat," Nest of marketing Erik Charlton said while giving AFP an early look at the device.

"You interact with it for a few days and it programs itself to your schedule," he said. "You don't have to touch it again."

Nest co-founder Tony Fadell is a former of the Apple division behind iPods and iPhones. Fellow co-founder Matt Rogers was a lead iPod working with Fadell at Apple.

Rounding out the staff is Nest's vice president of technology Yoky Matsuoka, once head of innovations at Google, and vice president of operations Johnny Gilmore, formerly a general manager at Sling Media.

"Ten million thermostats are sold every year and there has been little innovation since the 1950s," said Charlton, who headed marketing at before joining Nest. "We are changing that."

The company began taking US orders online at nest.com for the thermostats, which were priced at $249 each. The devices begin shipping in November.

"We believe this will pay for itself within a year," Charlton said.

Inspiration for Nest came when Fadell was building an environmentally-friendly home in Northern California and discovered that thermostat technology was stuck in a bygone era.

"Tony has always had green interests," Charlton said. "He knew we could do better than what was out there and pulled together a team to do it."

The sleek, disk-shaped thermostat is controlled by turning an outer ring. A black display screen showing the temperature turns blue to indicate cooling or red to show rooms are being heated.

Machine learning built into thermostats lets them adapt to patterns in homes within a week of regular use. The more users adjust their Nest thermostats, the more precisely the devices learn preferred comfort levels in homes.

"There is an enormous amount of computing power built into it," Charlton said.

Sensors in the thermostat assess whether lights are on or there is movement, determining when people are away and then shifting to energy-saving settings.

A green leaf appears on-screen to prompt users to save energy and money by altering their usual thermometer setting by a barely noticeable degree.

Learning Thermostats also tell people how long it will take to get rooms to desired temperatures, letting them assess whether they will be home long enough to justify the process.

"It turns out that the thermostat controls half the energy in the home," Charlton said.

Nest thermostats have Wi-Fi connectivity to link up to the Internet, and a free iPhone application lets people manage home climates from afar or mine data about energy used for heating or cooling.

"They are iPhone guys, so we had to have a cool app for it," Charlton said.

An application to connect with Android-powered mobile gadgets will be released a couple of weeks after Learning Thermostats launch.

Nest is based in the Northern California city of Palo Alto and began the project 18 months ago. The startup has a team of about 100 people.

The roster of investors in the startup includes Silicon Valley heavyweights Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

Explore further: Bringing history and the future to life with augmented reality

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Webcam follows Peregrine Falcons

Mar 26, 2009

A rare couple of Peregrine Falcons nesting atop Warsaw's landmark Stalinist-era Palace of Culture could gain a global following after the launch Thursday of a webcam site showing their nest.

Old bees' memory fades; mirrors recall of mammals

Oct 19, 2010

A study published Oct. 19 in the open access journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE, shows that not just human memories fade. Scientists from Arizona State University and the Norwegian University of ...

Recommended for you

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Neuroscientist's idea wins new-toy award

Apr 15, 2014

When he was a child, Robijanto Soetedjo used to play with his electrically powered toys for a while and then, when he got bored, take them apart - much to the consternation of his parents.

Land Rover demos invisible bonnet / car hood (w/ video)

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —Land Rover has released a video demonstrating a part of its Discover Vision Concept—the invisible "bonnet" or as it's known in the U.S. the "hood" of the car. It's a concept the automaker ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Oct 25, 2011
Now here's a good idea. Unfortunately my thermostats are stupid line level switches.
epsi00
not rated yet Oct 25, 2011
Well, you can always upgrade.
daqman
not rated yet Oct 25, 2011
The comment that thermostats are stuck in a bygone era is wrong. I have a very nice remote sensing thermostat. The sensor is in a mobile unit with a radio transmitter. The receiver mounts were the old thermostat was on the wall. the beauty of this is that it monitors the temperature where I am rather than some random point. This for me was a big issue. On the old thermostat if I was sitting near an open window on a nice day the thermostat down the hall would turn on heating or cooling based on it's temperature rather than mine. Another issue was that the original thermostat was not in a smart place.
dschlink
not rated yet Oct 25, 2011
Hardly, I own a MagicStat that is over 20 years old. It has two controls: Up and Down. Can't get any simpler than that, but it learned your pattern and would maintain it.

More news stories

Tiny power plants hold promise for nuclear energy

Small underground nuclear power plants that could be cheaper to build than their behemoth counterparts may herald the future for an energy industry under intense scrutiny since the Fukushima disaster, the ...

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...