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Nest Thermostat - Making HVAC Sexy
A few years ago President Obama declared that insulation was sexy. This surprised some people because they don’t associate the word “sexy” with home energy upgrades like insulation. Even though these remedies improve a homeowner’s comfort, reduce energy bills and help sustain the environment, they are not generally thought to be “sexy” products like the iPod or Droid phone. But anyone that doesn’t think energy efficiency is sexy hasn’t seen the Nest Thermostat.
Designed by Tony Fadell, the man who designed 18 generations of the iPod, the Nest Thermostat ushers in a new era of aesthetically appealing energy efficiency equipment. After seeing the Nest thermostat, the influence of the iPod design becomes apparent. Taking its design cues from the smooth minimalist aesthetic that Apple helped pioneer for consumer electronics, the Nest Thermostat looks hip sitting on the wall. The design team at Nest Labs has stated this is not just a piece of cool consumer electronics but also an attractive wall decoration and conversation starter.
For all the visual appeal of the Nest, its the innovative features that really make the Nest stand out from all other thermostats on the market. As Fadell learned when doing research for his own home, most programmable thermostats are not as easy to use and benefit from as advertised. In fact, Energy Star recently removed its rating from the entire category of programmable thermostats due to the fact that most homes with programmable thermostats are not actually saving energy and money. A study done by Lawrence Berkeley National Labs showed that many residences with programmable thermostats have them perpetually set to “HOLD” positions. Fadell learned this information and focused Nest Labs on designed a thermostat that overcomes the issues affecting most programmable thermostats available.
What really differentiates the Nest from its programmable competitors is that the Nest isn’t limited by programming reminiscent of 1980s VCRs. Rather the Nest is equipped with a thermostat AI system that learns your behavior and adjusts its programming accordingly. Designed by MIT trained computer scientist and MacArthur Genius Fellow Yoky Matsuoka, the Nest AI uses data based on how you use the thermostat to build up a pattern that the Nest uses. If you usually turn off the furnace at 9pm at night the Nest will learn this typical behavior. If you forget to turn off your furnace one night, the Nest remembers and will turn it off at your usual time. The Nest also provides a subtle nudge toward energy efficient behavior by awarding you with a green leaf graphic if your settings are set to save energy for a home of your size. The Nest’s AI is like a conscientious friend giving you advice on which settings will save you energy and turning off your lights when you forget.
The Nest also comes equipped with the types of features people expect living in a wired digital world. For instance, the Nest easily integrates with your smart phones to allow you to adjust your temperature settings remotely. So next time you are returning home after a ski trip to Tahoe, you can access your Nest from your smart phone and have it turn on your furnace so your house is warm and cozy right when you get home. This type of consumer electronic device integration is the future. Most technologists see an increasing trend in electronics for devices to be designed to integrate with other devices such as home PCs and smart phones. Integration is becoming an increasingly important feature of all types of electronics, even ones that people do not typically think of such as thermostats. Nest Labs recognizes this trend and designed the Nest to be the learning thermostat of tomorrow rather than simply replicating the typical features of the thermostat of yesterday.
In the end, the Nest thermostat is definitely a big upgrade for the HVAC, energy efficiency and home improvement industries. However all these cool features don't come cheap. At $250 the Nest costs quite a bit more than its competitors. The popular Honeywell Round thermostat runs about $50. But the Honeywell round was designed in 1953. Its a 50 year old technology whose half-life is up. The Nest, on the other hand, was designed today to be useful for the future. With its behavior learning AI, integration with other devices and aesthetic appeal, I think even President Obama would agree that the Nest is sexy!
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