Nest Protect: Thermostat Start-Up Now Wants to Make Your Smoke Detector

PHOTO: Nest Protect is a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that works with your phone.Nest
Nest Protect is a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that works with your phone.

In 2012, Tony Fadell, a former Apple executive who has been widely credited as the father of the iPod, set out to fix a small device in your house that you probably haven't paid much attention to except on the hottest or coldest of days.

His Silicon Valley-based start-up released the Nest thermostat, which aimed to fix all the problems with the temperature-setting device -- the interface, the outdated design and the intelligence of it.

Now Fadell, 44, is looking to do it again and this time it's with a small device in your house that you only think about when it starts beeping -- the smoke and carbon monoxide detector on your ceilings and walls. Today, Fadell and Nest are introducing the Nest Protect, a $129 detector that is packed with wireless technology and new features to improve the frustrating experiences we've all had with the gadget hanging on the walls of our houses or apartments.

PHOTO: The Nest Protect app works with the smoke and CO detector. Nest
The Nest Protect app works with the smoke and CO detector.

Replacing the Detector in Your House
"We re-invented the smoke and CO detector. We wanted something that didn't just beep at you," Fadell told ABC News in an interview. And it's with that beep that you start to see how different the Protect is from the other detectors on the market.

The white or black square-shaped device, which looks more like a mountable speaker than a typical circular smoke detector, combines beeps with a real, spoken voice. Instead of small chirps when the battery is low or when there is smoke, a female voice says, "Heads up: There's smoke in the living room" or "Emergency. There is smoke."

Research shows that children don't wake up from beeps, but rather from the sound of voices, Fadell said. And we certainly don't need research to tell us that it is confusing to tell the meaning between one beep or a series of beeps.

If one of those alerts is a response to say some burnt toast or a candle, where there is no real danger, just waving your hand at the device will silence it. An LED ring on the center of the detector also lights up at night to let you know the device is working. It also functions as a path light or a night light, illuminating when it senses motion.

We wanted something that didn't just beep at you.

But Fadell stressed that the company didn't just go buy off-the-shelf components. Instead, a team of engineers "gutted" the typical detector and put in new sensors, including a photoelectric smoke sensor, CO sensor, heat sensor, light sensor, ultrasonic sensors and activity sensors. Protect will receive UL and Fire Marshall certification before it goes on sale in November.

Talking to Your Phone or Tablet
But it's the connectivity inside the Protect that further sets it apart from the other detectors on shelves at Home Depot. Inside each Protect is a wireless radio that allows the detectors to talk to your phone and the other Protects in the home.

If you have multiple Protects, they will talk to each other. For instance, if the Protect in the kitchen goes off but you are in the living room, the Protect in the living room will tell you, "There's smoke in the kitchen."

Then using the Nest Protect app on your iOS or Android device or through the website you can see the status of the detectors, when each of them was last tested and, yes, the battery life so you don't have to deal with the beeps or notifications at the last minute. You can also set the app to alert you via a push notification if there is smoke or CO detected.

Speaking of battery life, Fadell said that the AA-battery-powered Protect should last seven years before having to swap out the batteries. However, Nest cannot claim that officially yet since it needs to go through full certification. Additionally, the Nest Protect can wirelessly talk to the Nest thermostat if you have one. For example, if carbon monoxide is detected, the Nest thermostat will automatically turn off the gas furnace.

Safety in the Hands of a Start-Up?
It's a big bet on safety, but with safety comes risks. Yet Fadell said that he is not worried about the risks and the fact that he is now the maker of a gadget that can both save and end people's lives.

"It is about engineering process and removing risk. I'm not worried about that," he said when asked about the risks of the device. He added that in early 2014 versions of the Protect will work with home security system to alert fire and police departments.

It's not about the Internet connected kettle...

The Protect will be available in November for $129 at Apple, Best Buy, Amazon and Home Depot. That's a lot more than the average $79 detector, but Fadell said it's worth it for the improvements that make the product easier and better.

"Nest is all about finding those unloved products in the home. It's not about a new category, like the Internet-connected kettle," he said. "We are trying to take the things we ignore every day and making them better."