Monday Google announced that it has entered into an agreement to buy Nest Labs for $3.2 billion in cash.
Back in November 2011, I blogged about several ex-Apple iPod engineers who got together to find a new way to change the world, and of all things decided that what the world needed is a high end smart thermostat that you don't have to program manually. The result was Nest Labs and the Nest thermostat, which is not only stylish as you would expect from anyone with Apple experience, but smarter than any thermostat I have ever seen. There was a very good review in engadget. According to Nest, The Nest Learning Thermostat programs itself in a week using its six sensors, which track temperature, ambient light, humidity and motion, near and far. It knows, for instance, that no one is in the house after 8:30 am and that people are back after 5 pm. The Nest also detects if you're at home, even if you're not normally at home at that time, or that you're not when you normally are. You can install multiple thermostats and they can communicate with each other. It also supports Wifi so you can control it from anywhere on the Internet. This device could significantly reduce energy usage while maintaining or increasing consumer comfort levels
Since then they have developed a smoke and carbon monoxide detector called Nest Wave, that is also smarter than any of these types of devices. In Ontario 22% of fires occur where there is no smoke detector or it has been disabled. Smoke detectors are frequently disabled because they issue a really annoying, strident sound most often when you have burned the toast or overfried the chicken. Nest Wave is designed to avoid that. It's called Wave because waving at it will turn off the alarm sound. Like the thermostat it is smart and automatically configures itself to the room. If you move furniture and appliances around, it will reconfigure itself. Best of all in my opinion the device gives you an early warning, It lights up yellow and speaks with a human voice and tells you where smoke is or that carbon monoxide levels are increasing. This is an earlier warning if there’s a real emergency. But if you know that you havee just burnt the chicken, you can wave at it and it will subside. The most important thing is that unlike normal smoke alarms it isn't designed to encourage you to disable it. I am convinced this device will prevent fires and save lives.
For both of these devices there are significant benefits for the consumer.
Regulating the internet of things
These devices learn a lot about your habits and even your furniture arrangement. The are connected via wifi and can be linked to the internet. With the Google acquistion this is the internet of things impacting consumers directly in the home.
There are clearly privacy issues. According to Nest,
As with geospatial data such as personal location that is now widely available via smart phones, the technology is moving so fast that regulation and legislation haven't been able to keep up with it . According the the Federal Trade Commission, which is responsible for protecting privacy at the Federal level, the four holy data types are financial data, medical data, data about children, and geographic data. The first three are treated as very sensitive and there is a legal framework to ensure these data types are protected. When it comes to geographic data, on the other hand, there is very little by way of policy or legal infrastructure to protect personal geographic data. Technology, including GPS, GIS and smart phones, has moved so rapidly and regulation and legislation move so slowly that for personal geographic data (where you are and where you have been), the horse has already left the barn and it is too late to close to the door. I suspect with the broader internet of things including thermostats and smoke detectors, we may be seeing the same situation. When the legislators and regulators grasp what the technology is capable of, it may be too late to regulate.