How the Nest thermostat is making a big impact

Nest/Promo image

The creators of the Nest Learning Thermostat, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers both worked on the iPod and iPhone at Apple before setting out to start their new company. A new profile on the guys in MIT Technology Review explains how that experience and their own vision has allowed them to reinvent the thermostat in a way that could lead to smarter, more energy efficient homes in the very near future.

In the piece, Fadell shares how designing and building his own connected energy-efficient home was the major inspiration for the Nest:

“I said, ‘How do I design this home when the primary interface to my world is the thing in my pocket?’ ” says Fadell. He baffled architects with demands that the home’s every feature, from the TV to the electricity supply, be ready for a world in which the Internet and mobile apps made many services more responsive. When it came to choosing a programmable thermostat for his expensive eco-friendly heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, Fadell blew a gasket: “They were 500 bucks a pop, and they were horrible and doing nothing and brain-dead. And I was like, ‘Wait a second, I’ll design my own.’ ”

Along with Rogers he designed the Nest Learning Thermostat, a thermostat that is essentially a tiny internet-connected computer housed in a sleek minimalist design that learns your heating and cooling preferences and automatically adjusts itself to capture the most amount of energy savings, like going to an energy-sipping "Away" mode when it senses that everyone is out of the house.

One of Nest's strengths that we've discussed on TreeHugger before, and is repeated in this article, is the team's ability to combine vision with customer feedback and release software updates that reflect what the customer wants. Tech Review says about Fadell:

But he also remains open to taking instruction from hard data, drawing on evidence collected from Nest thermostats, customer surveys, and a group of around 1,000 customers whose thermostats are used to test new features. For example, Nest thermostats originally adjusted themselves to an energy-conserving setting in the morning two hours after detecting that human activity in a home had stopped. They waited that long in case the owner soon returned home. But anonymous data from Nest thermostats revealed that people reliably stayed out for quite a while when they left in the morning. So the company sent a software update to all the thermostats to take that into account. Now the devices turn themselves down after just 30 minutes.

Adjustments like that have lead to the Nest saving 225 million kilowatt-hours of energy or $29 million in energy costs at average U.S. prices since its October 2011 release. With 10 million thermostats sold annually and thermostats controlling half of the energy used in American homes, the Nest has the potential to have a major impact.

Things like stripping the thermostat down to the the absolute basics (turning up or down), changing to away and at home temperatures for you so you don't have to remember to do it and letting you control it all from a smartphone are the user-friendly features that have made Nest stand out compared to other smart thermostats that have a lot of dials and buttons to fumble with. And from the guys who helped design the iPod, which stripped a music player down to a click wheel, we shouldn't be surprised.

And like the iPod, the Nest Learning Thermostat is just the beginning. The company has plans for a new so-far-secret product that will likely be just as impressive. While no details have been discussed, Fadell did quash the idea that it would be a home automation device, according to Tech Review, "When pressed, Fadell dismissed a suggestion that it would be logical to expand into “home automation,” products today mostly pitched at enthusiasts that allow home appliances and lighting to be controlled remotely. “I’m not here to impress geeks,” he says, but to make simple home technology “empowering for everyone.”

Tags: Energy Efficiency | Gadgets | Technology