Nest wants more than just heat control, it wants security, too

31 May 2017

Image: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

The recent flood of emerging home assistants isn’t drying up anytime soon, with Nest revealing a security camera that recognises the owner.

Nest Labs, the company behind the popular smart thermostat product of recent years, isn’t finished with its home invasion.

It now wants to bring greater security to your house, adding parent company Google’s facial recognition technology to a high-resolution home security camera.

Future Human

This means that the Nest Cam IQ, unveiled this week, will theoretically know who you are, distinguishing you from strangers.

This will be Nest’s first device to draw upon the same human-like skills that Google has been programming into its computers.

And it’s adding to a very busy market.


Attack of the Androids

For example, Android co-founder Andy Rubin this week revealed the Essential Home assistant, which will be open source, allowing all platforms to play around with it.

This could prove quite a quirk, given the obvious problems of compatibility across Apple, Amazon, Google and Samsung products, not to mention those from smaller, regional manufacturers of smart devices.

“All of these [companies] have ecosystem envy and want to create their own ecosystem,” said Rubin. “But consumers don’t want just Samsung stuff in their house. They want diversity.”

But will it work? Will Nest’s smart camera work? Will anything work, long-term?

2017 report published by VoiceLabs into the future of AI assistants showed that by the end of this year, there will be an estimated 24.5m voice-activated devices shipped, bringing their total global numbers to around 33m.

Problems emerge

For developers, however, a real problem lies in the years ahead. When we look at the market for Amazon Echo apps – referred to as ‘skills’ – we find that a huge number are quickly dropped by users.

According to the survey, of the 7,000 apps on the Amazon store, 69pc of them have a customer review indicating that many are simply never used.

When expanding this to include other AI home assistants such as Google Home, the research found that as little as 3pc of voice-control apps will survive a second week of use for the average person.

The challenge is for Nest, or any rival company, to build devices or apps that users actually need.

And Nest, in particular, will be pleased with the response from people dealing with privacy and security concerns, as the Nest Cam IQ could well be a winner.

Safety first, but maybe not second

The way that the Nest – or Netatmo, a rival that released a similar camera in 2016 – uses technology within its cameras doesn’t raise serious privacy concerns.

This, according to AP, is because they are only verifying familiar faces, not those of complete strangers.

However, this could all change as camera resolution, zoom capabilities and other complementary functions inevitably find their way into home security camera technology.

“It definitely could become a slippery slope,” said Jennifer Lynch, who specialises in biometrics as a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital advocacy group.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic