Ex-Apple, Microsoft and Google engineers reinvent thermostat

By on October 26, 2011
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Smartly helping you save over 20% on energy bills.


When ex-employees of Apple, Google and Microsoft join forces to create a revolutionary new product, it’s something to keep an eye on. And when it turns out to be a recreation of one of the most boring, yet important gadget in the household, a thermostat, one should pay even more attention.

Introducing the Nest thermostat, coming from Nest Labs, a start up company backed up by some of the biggest venture capitalists in the industry, such as Google Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Shasta Ventures, etc. Tony Fadell, who used to work as the Senior VP of the iPod division in Apple, and former iPhone software manager Matt Rogers, co-founded Nest Labs in 2010. The idea behind the new thermostat came up when Mr. Fadell started building his “green” home in California after leaving Apple in 2008, and realizing how limited in scope thermostats are. “They’re ugly, they waste energy and there’s been no real innovation in decades,” he told NY Times.

“I loved my job at Apple, and had a great team,” Mr. Rogers said. “But in essence, we were building toys. At Nest, you can build a product that could have a huge impact on a big problem.” “We’ve built the world’s first learning thermostat — a thermostat for the iPhone generation,” Mr. Fadell said.

So basically the Nest thermostat has various built-in sensors that track motion, ambient light and remembers the daily usage statistics in order to learn the habits of the people in a house. The idea, then, is that within weeks, if not days, the Nest thermostat will control temperature depending on your daily needs. For instance, when you leave for work every day, the cooling will go down during summer since nobody will be there, or on weekends. During evening it may keep the temperature around, say 23°C and at night during sleeping hours it can bring it down to 21°C.

According to experts, a shift of one degree can result in savings of about 5%, so one can only imagine the energy savings we can have on our bills if the temperature is smartly managed on the fly, not just when we turn the thermostat up or down depending on how cold or hot we feel. “You can, but you don’t have to program it, because it learns,” Mr. Fadell said. When connected to WiFi, one can also change the temperature on the Nest thermostat from their iPad, iPhone or internet browser, so you can have the perfect temperature before you reach home. The internet connection can also be used to seamlessly upgrade the Nest firmware.

The team of about 100 employees at Nest Labs includes Shige Honjo, former program manager for the iPhone,  who is now VP in program management at Nest. Yoky Matsuoka, former head of innovation at Google, is VP of technology at Nest. Lee Mighdoll, former VP for engineering at Twitter and Director of Engineering at Microsoft, is also working at Nest, along with David Sloo, also from Microsoft.

The actual device has a concave glass whose display illuminates when it detects motion in front of it. The dial ring around the display can be moved as well to change the temperature and other settings. The whole device itself looks very cool and simple to use. ”We want to treat these devices as desirable consumer electronics,” said Mr. Fadell. “Dyson made vacuums sexy.” The Nest thermostat is currently only being sold in the US for $249 (AED 950) via their own website or through Best Buy. DIY’ers can install the thermostat themselves, or through any electrician.


From auditing to editing, I now test and analyze the latest gadgets and games instead of the latest financial statements. Both jobs are equally intense and rewarding. When I'm not burning up hardware in the name of science, you'll find me nuking in DOTA 2 or engineering in TF2.

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