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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

iPod Creators Design The Perfect Thermostat That Learns Your Habits


© Nest
Let's face it, programmable thermostats can be complicated. They're like any other device you have to program -- they sound neat but actually using them can be annoying. And yet, the thermostat is one of the most important parts of a home for keeping the carbon footprint low. So how do we simplify something that can add up to a complex ordeal what with mornings, evenings, different rooms, different preferences, and so on? Well, the creator of the iPod -- a marvelously simple but powerful device -- has an idea.

Nest Labs has come up with the Learning Thermostat. You use it like an old school thermostat, turning the dial up or down depending on your preference at that time. It immediately begins learning your habits, from when you wake up to when you go to sleep, when you are away from the home and when the seasons shift, and it remembers which temperatures you like at which time then programs itself.
You never have to actually program it -- eventually, it just knows. It learns a fairly solid schedule within the first week, and one-off changes won't throw it. If you make a change several times, then it will learn that new preference and adjust the schedule. It even senses lighting levels so it knows when you're away and turns down the temperature.

It can help you save energy -- as long as you start off on the right foot. If you remember to turn the thermostat down when you go to bed or leave the house, and keep it at a reasonable temperature during the day then it will remember and also learn these good habits.

And how do you know if you've done a good job teaching it, and it is doing a good job remembering? Well, by the little green leaf icon, of course. From the site: "The Nest Leaf appears when you set a temperature that saves you energy–and money. The Leaf guides you in the right direction and helps you be energy-efficient."

So how does it learn? This video explains:

This is a fantastic device -- the design is incredibly simple, and it does the work for you. It's easier than any programmable thermostat, and does the same job. Heating and cooling your home can comprise as much as half your energy bill, so having a thermostat that works for you pays off.
Nest states, "The programmable thermostat, developed in the 1970s, promised to help people conserve energy, but 89 percent of owners rarely or never set a program (source: ACEEE, 2010). The devices are simply too complicated. In fact, Energy Star revoked its certification of all thermostats in 2009 when it became apparent that people weren’t actually engaging with programmable thermostats to reach their proper functionality."

Nest claims that it can save users $173 in the first 12 months, $347 after 24 months, and $520 after 36 months of use (of course this depends on factors like cost of energy, your home, and your habits in the first place). And this savings -- or at least some amount of savings -- can come with a tool that is not hard to program. You simply use it for awhile, then let it keep up the good work (and it reminds you to do the same, what with the green leaf icon).

© Nest
And guess who invented this simple, effective little gadget? Nest Laboratories at Palo Alto, whose CEO is Tony Fadell, the man who led the team that created the first iPod (and the 18 generations that came after it) and the first three generations of the iPhone. Also, co-founder and VP is Matt Rogers, who was responsible for iPod software development at Apple, from concept to production. Those are some mighty fine credentials! And, makes it obvious how something so complex could be boiled down to something so simple to use.

Nest's Learning Thermostat is available next month, but you can pre-order a unit for $249.
Here is an interview between Forbes and Tony Fadell:

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