Nest’s arrival brings the internet of things into European homes (video)

18 Sep 2014

Lionel Paillet, Nest's general manager for Europe

The internet of things is coming to Irish homes, and those across Europe. Today, smart thermostat maker Nest, which Google bought for US$3.2bn, launches in Ireland. We spoke to the GM for Europe Lionel Paillet.

Tony Fadell, one of the creators of the iPod at Apple, and known in the tech industry as the ‘Pod Father’, had many avenues available to him after launching one of the most iconic devices of the past decade.

But when it was discovered he was working on a thermostat, people were stumped. Would he not work on something more glamorous, why a thermostat?

Fadell, who left Apple in 2008 after heading the iPod division, is understood to have sparked on the idea of a self-learning thermostat after being frustrated with the limited features on available devices. He decided to build one himself.

Today, the Nest Learning Thermostat, a circular device that communicates via Wi-Fi with boilers in homes, is considered state-of-the-art in smart-home technology and a forerunner of a multitude of smart, connected devices that aims to transform lives for the better.

The device allows users to turn the heat up or down as they like, and give it instructions, such as when to heat the house. Ultimately, the device learns the user’s behaviour and pre-empts his or her needs while ultimately reducing the amount on energy bills.

The Nest Learning Thermostat

Not only that, but a burgeoning ecosystem of thousands of apps are emerging that enable interesting things to happen. For example, if a user drives a Mercedes it will communicate with the Nest thermostat and start heating the user’s home if he or she is an hour from home. The Nest device can communicate with Whirlpool washing machines to instruct the washing machine to start washing via a remote app. It also works with the Jawbone UP24 band to heat up or cool down a user’s home before he or she gets out of bed.

Another device that will launch in the Irish market is the Nest Protect, a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm that talks rather than blares. For example, it will tell users if their toast is burning. The device can interact with smart LED lights, such as the LIFX via Wi-Fi, so if carbon monoxide is detected, bulbs in the home can be programmed to turn red.

Nest found that heating bill savings for users of the Nest Learning Thermostat can range from 5pc to 27pc, resulting in savings as much as €307 per annum.

“Households spend on average around €2,000 a year on energy. About half of that is on heating and we think we can make an impact,” said Paillet, an ex-Apple executive who will be leading the charge for Nest across Europe.

“Adjust your heat just one degree could save up to 5-7pc on bills,” Paillet said.

“It doesn’t matter if rich or poor, it just depends on the size of your house and we can make an impact with the Nest Learning Thermostat and keep savings and comfort.”

Safety, comfort and the internet of things

Interview with Nest’s GM for Europe Lionel Paillet

Paillet said Ireland is one of the most carbon monoxide conscious countries in the world and smoke detectors are becoming mandatory.

“Nest Protect does both of those jobs; smoke detection and carbon monoxide. We hope we can keep Irish people safer than they are, telling them what happens while they are away from home, not just when they are at home.”

Earlier this year, internet search giant Google acquired Nest for US$3.2bn in cash.

Nest may be the first real harbinger of the promise of the internet of things, emerging just before app developers get to work on technologies such as Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung’s SmartThings, that consumers in Europe will see.

“There are lots of things you interact with in your house. I think our vision is more that you should not be telling objects what to do when and how, which is pretty much what you do today.

“Our view is that you should have objects do more for you than you do for them, that you should have a house that does more for you as an occupant, than you do for the house.

“It is our idea of the conscious home, the idea that the house will notice you and do things for you.”

The conscious home

The Nest Protect: Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm

Paillet said that up until now technology has been all cables and clutter. “In our view, all of that has to disappear and technology finally can start doing the heavy lifting for customers.

“Nest products are very easy to configure, very easy to set up, you just have those experiences happening seamlessly in the home.

“It is going to warn you with a voice and a colour when it detects smoke. The way you control your thermostat has never been as elegant and attractive, so you really pay attention to those unloved objects in the home. You interact with them, they keep you safe and save energy. It has to be simple.”

The technology

The thing to understand about Nest as a company is that it is very much software led.

“We do hardware as software. Our Learning Thermostat is not learning from a gadget like a tablet. It is actually learning from you and learning from your house via the cloud. It learns what temperatures you like – you just have to tell it – turn it up and down. You may want 21 degrees at 6.30 but because it is connected it knows exterior temperature and so it can start to heat the home earlier so you get your 21 degrees at 6.30 no matter what the external weather conditions are going to be tomorrow.

“It’s extremely smart and learns permanently for you, adapts to your life and your presence whether you are at home or away.

“It does that through software and through connectivity and sensing. It has activity sensors that will understand over a number of days your presence and habits, if you are out on a school run to pick up the kids, for example.

“This is really the culmination of great hardware, software and services all together into one platform.”

The key, Paillet said, is interoperability with other devices.

“Nest is not going to build the fridge of tomorrow or a next-generation washing machine. But is there a way to interact with those objects without having to create a complex experience?

“For example, if I am away and Nest understands I’m away, it can tell the washing machine to start a washing cycle.

“If there is a smoke alarm in the home and I’ve got a connected bulb and have hard hearing the bulb can start flashing in red, so you can have a visual simulation, not just the sound of the alarm going off.”

The future is now

To many people what Paillet is talking about sounds magical and futuristic, but in reality it is all possible though wireless connectivity and APIs, the very sinews of what the internet of things is going to be all about.

Paillet said the company rigorously tested its products before entering the Irish market.

“We’ve done hundreds of home tests across Ireland, France and Belgium during summer and we are in good shape. We have had professional installers in for training and we have trained hundreds of people in Ireland to come to your home and fit thermostats,” he said.

“We take the customer’s experience very seriously, from when they buy at retail and bring it home. We look at the end-to-end customer journey; that matters a lot to us.”

The Nest Learning Thermostat has a suggested retail price of €219 (VAT included). Nest Protect: Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm will be available in two versions – wired (230V) and battery-powered – and will have a suggested retail price of €109 (VAT included). Both products are sold separately and available at Harvey Norman stores throughout Ireland, as well as online, through Google Play and the Nest website.

First look at the Nest Learning Thermostat

First look at the Nest Learning Thermostat

First look at the Nest Protect: Smoke + Carbon Monoxide Alarm

First look at the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years