Navigant Research Blog

Smoke Alarms Go High-Tech

Neil Strother — October 23, 2013

From the start, Nest Labs was never going to stop at thermostats.  With the recent introduction of the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm, the market for another lowly home device is about to get disrupted.

The Nest Protect will retail for $129 and is available now on pre-order, with deliveries expected in early November.  What you get for $129 is a connected device with several high-tech features:

  • Six built-in sensors: Smoke, CO, heat, light, activity, and ultrasonic
  • Two wireless radios: Wi-Fi and a ZigBee-type connection (802.15.4 at 2.4 GHz)
  • A human voice (English or Spanish) in addition to the alarm
  • The ability to use hand gestures to silence an alarm when an emergency is not apparent (e.g., smoke from a candle)
  • A passive light that glows brighter when someone passes by in the middle of the night (good for hallways and can be set not to come on in bedrooms)

By comparison, the average price for a smoke alarm is about $25, including a few models with CO sensing.  But the Protect has more sensing capabilities and enables a greater level of connectivity than typical alarms.  For instance, a Nest Protect alarm in the kitchen might detect burning food on the stove and notify a Protect device in a back bedroom.  Once the danger passes, the Protect system notifies all the connected devices that everything is fine.  And if CO is detected and sets off a Nest Protect alarm, then a connected Nest thermostat will automatically shut off gas to a furnace, which can be a source of a dangerous CO leak.

Less Annoying

The Nest Protect is the brainchild of Tony Fadell, cofounder and CEO of Nest, and his fellow engineers.  As he told TechCrunch, Fadell and his team members all had stories about how irritating traditional smoke detectors can be.  He recalled staring at “this strange product on my ceiling that just annoyed me … a product that is supposed to keep you safe, except that it is annoying.”  Out of this collective annoyance, Fadell and his engineers came up with a device they see as a much better alarm – one that people can embrace in the same way many Nest thermostat owners favor that device.

People may scoff at Nest for producing high-end gadgets.  Not me.  Yes, Fadell and team set a high and more expensive bar, but what innovative products don’t do that at the beginning?  The first automobiles were well beyond most people’s budgets.  The first cell phones cost nearly $4,000.  The first laser printers sold for around $3,500.  Sure, Nest makes expensive gadgets, but it is also innovating and pushing product categories in new directions.  In time, prices are likely to fall as the best ideas become more common and economies of scale in manufacturing take hold.  Price matters, of course, but innovation that improves our lives and reduces annoyance (I hate replacing good batteries in my smoke alarms every 6 months when we reset our clocks) is a benefit.  I’ll wager the Protect alarm will trigger a similar response from early adopters that the Nest Learning Thermostat has generated.  Competitors will respond, too, and that will make for a more vigorous market.

I also suspect Nest engineers have at least a few more home devices and systems they want to improve.  One can imagine upgraded security systems, smarter electrical outlets, advanced faucets (the ones in hotels and airports have sensors already), and even toilets.  If Nest continues to push the boundaries, can a comprehensive Nest Home be far behind?

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