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Nest thermostat teardown
December 21, 2011 3:14 PM   Subscribe

"Who wants to use their thermostat as a 38MB jumpdrive? I do! I do!" The Nest learning thermostat came out of the Bay Area in late October of 2011 in an unprecedented blaze of publicity - well, unprecedented for a thermostat - as a result of its status as the creation of Tony Fadell, one of the non-traditional parenting collective of the iPod*, and Matt Rogers, his senior engineer in the iPhone division. (Previously)

Coverage from the tech press included Mashable, MacWorld, Wired, The Verge. The MSM pitched in, this USA Today piece being exemplary of the form:
  • Why am I reviewing a thermostat? Boring!
  • But this is no ordinary thermostat
  • It was made by the [non-traditional parent] of the iPod
  • It doesn't look like a thermostat - it looks more like an iDevice
  • It promises huge energy savings
  • Which we have not had time to verify, but
  • It's very cool, if a little expensive and
  • Here is a terrible pun.
The difference between the Nest and other programmable thermostats, along with its aesthetics, was its ability to monitor presence with motion sensors, and its ability to learn from its owners' behavior, and the behavior of other Nest owners across the world. Yoky Matsuoka, child tennis prodigy, MacArthur fellow and former expert in mind-controlled robot limbs took up the post of VP of Technology at Nest Labs, responsible for the algorithms that will improve the efficiency of the thermostats in situ from information sent back from each and aggregated.

But what was inside the Nest, and how does it do what Nest Labs claim it can do? Nathan Siedle, CEO of the hobby-electronics vendor SparkFun decided to take his newly-arrived $249 Nest thermostat apart before reassembling and installing it.

*At last count there were at least four people referred to as in some way a parent of the iPod.
posted by running order squabble fest (47 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously. I'm enjoying ours immensely. If anyone has questions let me know.
posted by odinsdream at 3:26 PM on December 21, 2011


Nest is very cool; it's about time someone reinvented that little computer on every wall.

One slight bummer; many homes don't have power directly provided to the thermostat because old mechanical thermostats didn't need power. You can sort of siphon power off from the heater and cooler, but only when they're running. Turns out Nest will pulse your furnace off and on just to recharge itself, which can cause problems with some furnaces.
posted by Nelson at 3:28 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, I wish I had central air.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:28 PM on December 21, 2011


Man, I wish I had central air.

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater...
posted by entropicamericana at 3:32 PM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


We don't have/need AC, but we do have two in-floor gas radiator thingies (and two thermostats). I'd love a Nest, but it seems like we'd need two of them then, which is... crazy?
posted by crawl at 3:36 PM on December 21, 2011


If you pull up the legal notice on the Nest the last line says:
No squirrels.
posted by odinsdream at 3:41 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Seems to me that the target market is people who can't figure out a programmable thermostat but like energy efficiency and gadgetry. I don't see much overlap.
It'd be cool if all new houses came with this, but for my house my programmable thermostat does just fine.
posted by mrnutty at 3:49 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the mini-USB port suggests fun hacking possibilities ... can't wait for CyanogeNext.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:53 PM on December 21, 2011


I think they had some data on cost savings for the NEST compared to a properly configured programmable thermostat. There's an assumption too that people actually understand what's optimal vs acceptable when programming a thermostat (as opposed to not even knowing how to program it). If you put in temperature ranges in your thermostat that you don't require because of changing activity levels throughout the day you are probably going to waste some energy. Remember too that $249 is probably the bleeding edge price. I suspect the right algorithm will always trump a programmable thermostat for both cost and convenience.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:58 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a Honeywell touchscreen programmable thermostat. While yes, it does work just fine it is incrediblely clunky to use. One big thing that has always bothered me is the four point programming schedules. There is no way to remotely change the temperature in case plans change and you come home earlier or later.
posted by narcoleptic at 4:11 PM on December 21, 2011


Seems to me that the target market is people who can't figure out a programmable thermostat but like energy efficiency and gadgetry. I don't see much overlap.

Programmable thermostats don't learn how fast your house can achieve a setpoint temperature. They don't also compensate for local weather conditions by moving your setpoints earlier or later to achieve the temperature you want, when you want. Programmable thermostats aren't accessible over the internet, either.
posted by odinsdream at 4:15 PM on December 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's too bad it's so expensive. You would think modern components would make that much cheaper.
posted by smackfu at 4:16 PM on December 21, 2011


There's a downside to making everything programmable & addressable. From Chinese Hack Into US Chamber of Commerce, Authorities Say:
At one point, the penetration into the Chamber of Commerce was so complete that a Chamber thermostat was communicating with a computer in China. Another time, chamber employees were surprised to see one of their printers printing in Chinese.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
posted by scalefree at 4:17 PM on December 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


So I immediately went all Supervillain Landlord and imagined the joy of totally and arbitrarily controlling my tenants' heat from the other side of the world. (Disclosure: IAAL, but IANYL. Probably. I am also a tenant. IANYT. Probably.)
posted by gingerest at 4:51 PM on December 21, 2011


My dad is pretty interested in getting these for his house. Because its a remodeled 1870s Victorian, he now has 7 zones with 7 independent thermostats. $1750 may sound expensive, but considering that the NESTs will link to each other over either wifi or zigbee, he gets a centrally controlled 7 zone system that allows for local controls and sensors.

And at much less than any of the other solutions that would have included professional wiring work done.
posted by mrzarquon at 4:54 PM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have been tempted by a Nest - but we have separate AC and heat thermostats. My understanding is that the units communicate with each other, but replacing two working programmable thermostats (and, ideally, more, since we have a separate system for underfloor heat) seems pricey.

Also, I assume Nest is of less value for radiator heat, because of the long delays between system changes and temperature changes. Anyone have any experience with this?
posted by blahblahblah at 4:55 PM on December 21, 2011


Nest was such a great magazine.
posted by maxwelton at 4:57 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


//Programmable thermostats don't learn how fast your house can achieve a setpoint temperature.

Mine does. I think lots of them do.
posted by fshgrl at 4:57 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Main link is 404ing. Sparkfun is a neat company, but the way they have links expiring the same day is really stupid.
posted by scruss at 5:46 PM on December 21, 2011


I really want one, but I just know after the hype dies down, it'll be under $100, and in two years, the original will be sub-$50 with a new "Nest 2" or some nonsense with new features selling for $150.

That's not just an iPod joke. There's only so many people who will buy a $250 thermostat and economies of scale will kick in.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:47 PM on December 21, 2011


and considering the local gas folks have, for the past 2 years, given out free, programmable thermostats .. well ..

(and am I the only one who read the break down thinking it was pretty mindless ? I don't know the author or what he does, but hey, you opened it up, took a few screws off and are acting like Ralphie getting his red ryder -- no real insight on the device, just hype hype hype, cool design, oohh hey shiny !!!eleven!!)
posted by k5.user at 6:05 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sparkfun did discover something cool: Two antennas and a Zigbee chip.

Zigbee is a wireless technology for interfacing between devices without using too much power or adding much unneeded complexity, as Wifi or Bluetooth would add. It's almost like a wireless serial port (serial communications are still widely used by ICs and simple electronics).

So it looks like the Nest might have more functionality up its sleeve.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:09 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is one possible explanation: A less-hyped feature of the Nest is that it can network with other Nest thermostats in the house to coordinate with each other (for houses with multi-zone HVACs or separately controlled heating and cooling systems, I guess). That's a known feature, and I imagine since it can't do the wifi communication too often on the HVAC power supply (hence the battery), the Zigbee might have been a workaround so it can talk to other Nests more frequently. Although I wonder if they'd justify that expense and complexity of adding two antennas if that's all there is to it. Presumably, you could still get some decent learning in with less frequent large log transfers via wifi.

But wouldn't it be really cool to have the Nest OS/protocol/algorithms and design integrated into future appliances like refrigeration and other power hungry things?

Of course, I still could do without the premium, but it definitely looks like they have future plans. I mean, six VCs are involved. I could see one or two for a simple thermostat, but this looks like just the beginning of something bigger.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:38 PM on December 21, 2011


when is the Nest-Nano coming?
posted by 12bits at 6:50 PM on December 21, 2011


it looks like the Nest might have more functionality up its sleeve


->INCOMING LINK REQUEST FROM: Boston Dynamics Big Dog

->WIRELESS LINK ESTABLISHED.

->INCOMING INSTRUCTIONS: Preheat to 450, bake for 4 hours or until golden brown.
posted by CynicalKnight at 6:53 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


They hacked the Gibson house!
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:22 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, I wish that they had a less flashy design. That thing will look stupid on your wall unless your house is ready to be featured in Dwell Magazine.
posted by octothorpe at 7:51 PM on December 21, 2011


If the stereotypical American father is any guide, Dad will be ON THE CASE when a residential thermostat has the potential of being controlled by remote computer.
posted by Earthtopus at 7:56 PM on December 21, 2011


I want to like this. I want to need it.
But my house is one zone. We have erratic schedules.
We turn on the heat in the morning. We turn it off when we leave.
We turn it on when we get home, and off at night.

Our unit claims to be programmable, but it would be a pain, and would just fail to realize we slept in late, or got up early. Or came home early or late.

I don't see how this iThing could do a better job than we do, anyway. Am I missing something?
posted by cccorlew at 9:05 PM on December 21, 2011


Next, the web page told me it detected a new thermostat near by. Cool! To verify it had the right one, I needed to go over to my newly installed thermostat and hit the button to confirm that my thermostat was indeed the one attempting a connection.
“Nearby?” Webpage? GPS? How does this part work?
posted by migurski at 9:30 PM on December 21, 2011


Since the thermostat and the computer are both talking to the Nest servers over the same internet connection, they probably share an external ip address, which the Nest service uses to match them up.
posted by crawl at 9:38 PM on December 21, 2011


Am I missing something?

Not really.
posted by flabdablet at 10:18 PM on December 21, 2011


Am I missing something?

Turning on your thermostat from the warmth under your blankets with your smartphone 20 minutes before you get up?
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:31 PM on December 21, 2011


> “Nearby?” Webpage? GPS? How does this part work?

ZigBee wireless range if it was multiple ones (ie, one is tied to the account and then detects other unconfigred devices in range). Or simply "i got it setup on my wireless network, and then the NEST website detected that there was a new NEST device checking in with the webserver that had the same IP address as me (because both are behind the same NAT router)."

And for those not familiar with the market, the "smart thermostat" prices already range in the $300+ area. You can get one for $150 or so, but that is assuming you have some sort of ZWave control system for it.

So again: $250 is expensive if you've never thought of controlling your thermostat remotely or using a computer to control your HVAC system because you hated what you had in way of options and flexibility until now. But if like me you've been investigating ways to do it for a while as part of a home automation product, the NEST is freaking cheap. And since it has Zigbee on it, there is hope that it could tie into future automation systems as well.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:47 PM on December 21, 2011


> Am I missing something?

Replace your current thermostat with that, and keep doing exactly what you've been doing before. Turn up the heat when you get home, turn it off when you leave. Thats how you program it. Eventually it will find averages and patterns you might not notice.

If you turn up the temp 9 hours after you turn it down in the evenings, it may start warming up the house at 8.5 hours after you've turned it down the night before, and will actually set it to a lower temp than what you would have set it to, since it is more efficient to gradually warm a room to 68 degrees than to run the furnace on high for 15 minutes to get the room to 72 degrees to get the chill off after you've woken up.

It has a motion sensor to detect room occupancy, so when you come home you might find yourself going to the thermostat less and less, as it just turns on when you come in.

Looking at the design, if you notice, it resembles more like the old mercury spring swing thermostats than a fancy programmable one. Twist it one way to make it warm, the other way to make it cold. That is the user interface. The rest of the magic comes in the fact that it knows what the weather is, what day and time it is as you are changing the temperature.

That, in my mind, is the brilliant part about it: it is designed to replace the most common type of thermostat (even with the above mentioned pulse to charge feature), so for a total non technical person, the programming is using it as normal. It learns when you turn up the temp, when you turn down the temp, and correlates that against all the data it collects over time to predict the best times heat or cool your house.
posted by mrzarquon at 10:58 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yoky Matsuoka, child tennis prodigy, MacArthur fellow and former expert in mind-controlled robot limbs took up the post of VP of Technology at Nest Labs, responsible for the algorithms that will improve the efficiency of the thermostats

That's true: I saw a news piece about it on InterLace back in the Year of Dairy Products from the American Heartland.
posted by logopetria at 11:30 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Looks like a pretty cool piece of engineering but so does a BMW 750i. I won't be getting one of those for Christmas either. $249 each? Cut the price in half and maybe I'll buy two.
posted by birdwatcher at 3:58 AM on December 22, 2011


Seems to me that the target market is people who can't figure out a programmable thermostat but like energy efficiency and gadgetry.

I think it's people who don't want a shitty thermostat that was cutting edge in the 90s. This thing does everything a programmable thermostat does, and more, and doesn't look like butt.
posted by chunking express at 7:22 AM on December 22, 2011


It has a motion sensor to detect room occupancy,

Was ours the only house with the thermostats in the hallways?
posted by smackfu at 7:23 AM on December 22, 2011


No squirrels.
posted by odinsdream at 3:41 PM on December 21 [2 favorites +] [!]


Can't go wrong in life following that advice.....
posted by lstanley at 7:35 AM on December 22, 2011


since it is more efficient to gradually warm a room to 68 degrees than to run the furnace on high for 15 minutes to get the room to 72 degrees to get the chill off after you've woken up.

Is this true for most furnaces? Our furnace, and my understanding is that this is true for most gas furnaces, is binary in terms of being on or off. The same is true with our air conditioner. There isn't a rheostat that controls the level of heat or cold dispensed for either. The thermostat simply turns it on or off.
posted by OmieWise at 7:40 AM on December 22, 2011


Also, I assume Nest is of less value for radiator heat, because of the long delays between system changes and temperature changes. Anyone have any experience with this?

As I mentioned before, one of the benefits is that Nest learns how long it takes your specific home to reach a set-point temperature. It then uses this information to meet your future set points at the correct time. It learned that it takes my home about 20 minutes to move from 70 to 72. So, if I have a set point for 72 at 8 AM, it's going to start the heat at 7:40 AM to achieve it.
posted by odinsdream at 7:58 AM on December 22, 2011


“Nearby?” Webpage? GPS? How does this part work?

As already mentioned, the writeup is pretty braindead. The webpage doesn't show nearby thermostats or anything like that. The process is:

1. Power on Nest
2. Enter wireless network settings
3. Nest connects to corporate, and shows an on-screen keyword
4. User logs into corporate, enters the keyword
5. Corporate instructs user to physically press the nest to confirm

I suppose this appears like magic to some.
posted by odinsdream at 8:03 AM on December 22, 2011


Is this true for most furnaces? Our furnace, and my understanding is that this is true for most gas furnaces, is binary in terms of being on or off. The same is true with our air conditioner. There isn't a rheostat that controls the level of heat or cold dispensed for either. The thermostat simply turns it on or off.

Right, that's how furnaces work, they're on or off (and thermostats just make or break an electrical connection to turn them on and off). Lots of people, however, think a thermostat works like a valve.
posted by mendel at 12:49 PM on December 22, 2011


I mean, they think a thermostat works like a valve!
posted by mendel at 1:09 PM on December 22, 2011


Yeah, that's what I thought.
posted by OmieWise at 2:58 PM on December 22, 2011


I am definitely going to buy one of these! Right after we get heating installed.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:16 PM on December 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


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