The Internet-connected smoke and carbon-monoxide alarm from Google-owned Nest Labs is getting a software update aimed at reducing false alarms from steam. The Nest Protect's new Steam Check feature makes the device's existing built-in humidity sensor "smarter" with new algorithms developed by the company.
"Steam sets off most smoke alarms, regardless of what kind of sensor they use," Nest founder and head of engineering Matt Rogers wrote in a blog post Thursday on the company's Web site. "It's completely counter-intuitive, but water particles and smoke particles don't look very different to smoke alarms. Now, Nest Protect will know better."
Rogers said the Steam Check feature was tested using data from real homes to see how effectively it could tell steam from smoke. A white paper published by the company details how those tests looked at steam from numerous sources -- including showers, baths and cooking -- to identify how a "steam signature" differed from that created by smoke.
"Even with a very conservative approach -- Nest Protect has to be 100% sure there's no fire -- Steam Check cuts down nuisance alarms from steam by more than half," Rogers said.
Wave Glitch Interrupted Sales
Launched in October 2013, the Nest Protect smoke and carbon-monoxide detector was the follow-up device to Nest's first product, the Nest Learning Thermostat, which made its debut on the market in October 2011. The company's Internet-connected devices attracted the attention of Google, which spent $3.2 billion in January of this year to acquire the Palo Alto, California-based firm.
On April 3 of this year, Nest announced it was temporarily suspending sales of the Nest Protect after discovering that users could accidentally silence the alarm or cancel a test by waving their arms near the device. (The problem was identified in-house, and Nest had no reports from customers who had experienced an issue, according to company CEO Tony Fadell.) The built-in Wave feature was designed to allow users to easily turn off the alarm and was enabled by default in new devices.
Nest provided an automatic electronic software update to resolve the problem, which affected an estimated 440,000 devices, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The company resumed sales of the alarm, minus the Wave feature and at a reduced price of $99, in June.
'Slow Roll-Out Starting Today'
We reached out to Alexandra Zoz Cuccias, who heads up Nest's communications for consumer hardware, to learn more about the company's latest upgrade for Nest Protect.
"This will be an automatic update for all Nest Protect owners, with a slow roll-out starting today," Cuccias told us via e-mail.
She added that, in addition to testing the new Steam Check algorithm in both the lab and real-world settings, the company also confirmed the update's effectiveness by surveying its user base.
The new Nest Protect upgrade also includes new controls for Pathlight, which lets users adjust the device to light their way in the dark; and a new feature enabling owners to establish a hidden Wi-Fi connection for the Protect. Nest's related app for iOS and Android devices also now provides a history of when and where alarms have gone off, information on what the measured carbon monoxide levels were when an alarm was activated and a "What to Do 2.0" function for emergency escape and notification planning.
Posted: 2014-10-31 @ 3:09am PT
I was about to buy their first Nest smoke alarm and read all of the bad reviews on false smoke alarms on Amazon and I'm glad I didn't buy it. I have 2 of the Nest thermostats and love them. This is what happened when Google owns it. Quality goes out the window. Tony Fadel is an idiot.
Posted: 2014-10-30 @ 6:10pm PT
Thanks for this article. I am also one of the upset customers with 8 of these smoke detectors and 2 of them have given false smoke alarms in the last month. As I said on their forum, there was no smoke, no steam, no air conditioning or heater, and no other reason for a false alarm at night. These things clearly have a design issue and to be 4 or 5 times the cost of a typical hardware store detector, it is totally unacceptable. And of course, no one wants to be told to perform monthly maintenance on a $130 smoke alarm mounted 12 feet on a ceiling! I have never had to do that with any $20 smoke alarm in 30+ years. They need to figure out what is wrong with their firmware or sensor.