For $129, Nest’s New Smoke Detector Talks to You

Tony Fadell’s startup unveils the Protect, a smoke detector far less annoying than others on the market

Nest Protect
Nest Protect, the latest product to come from Nest Labs, reimagines the lowly household smoke detector. Image courtesy of Nest Labs

The designer who helped create the iPod has just done for smoke detectors what he did for thermostats. Ex-Apple Senior VP Tony Fadell, along with his team at Nest Labs, has made them smarter—much smarter.

For a pricey $129, the new and admittedly very pretty Nest Protect not only activates that familiar piercing sound in case of a fire, but (thankfully) it’ll also warn you beforehand using its most polite robo-voice and allow you an opportunity to wave it off. The device also tips you off to hazardous levels of carbon monoxide in the air, sends message alerts to your smartphone or tablet when you’re not home and even turns on a room light when it senses that that you’ve returned. And no, it doesn’t do the dishes.

As the second product in what’s expected to be a line of networked “smart home” devices, the Protect shares much of the same technological DNA as Nest’s Learning Thermostat. Both rely on an elaborate array of sensors to gauge its surroundings and interact with the occupants. Similar to how the thermostat’s motion sensors can figure out when you’re home or not, the smoke detector’s activity sensor helps it know when your signaling it to not go off or to instantly light a room you’ve just entered. (With the thermostat, this data can even be sent to the device to better learn activity patterns and alter the temperature accordingly. “If we don’t see you active around eight or nine or 10 in the morning during the weekdays, we suspect that you are going to work, so we will turn that down much more rapidly than maybe if you go away on the weekend or later in the afternoon,” Fadell told Protect also features a photoelectric smoke sensor, heat sensor, light sensor, ultrasonic sensors and carbon monoxide sensor, which allows the detector to turn off your furnace in the event of elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

Integral to Nest’s vision of an interconnected and intelligently automated home are the devices’ ability to communicate via Wi-Fi. In the Protect’s case, this baked-in functionality lets homeowners set up detectors in multiple rooms so that the alarm in the bedroom is also aware that there’s a fire in the kitchen. The implied logic here is that if you can afford to outfit your home with more than a handful of these, you probably own the type of expansive property where its difficult to know what’s exactly happening in the other wings. In addition, iPhone and iPad users can download an app that allows notifications to their personal devices.

But Fadell and company aren’t the only ones sprucing up smoke detectors for our increasingly automated lifestyles. ADT, the security company, designs smoke detectors to directly alert its agents; this way, the agents, who may be better equipped to act as first responders while you’re away from home, can respond to the situation. In the nascent “smart home” market, you’d have to wonder about the networking compatibility between Nest’s line of products and its competitor’s. The company, I’m sure, would prefer that consumers fully invest into their home automation ecosystem.

Still, in turning his attention to some of the more overlooked household appliances, Fadell is making good headway in his efforts to help us cultivate a happier relationship with them. First, the uncooperative thermostat, and now Nest Labs has remade the lowly household smoke detector, which all too often ends up being on the receiving end of our ire.

“We’re about reinventing unloved categories,” Fadell told The Verge.