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Nest makes smoke alarms smarter

The Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm will send alerts to mobile devices and adds a human voice.
Credit: From Nest

Heather Kelly

CNN

(CNN) -- Another common household object is getting "smart" and hopping online. This time it's your smoke detector.

Nest is releasing a new smoke and carbon monoxide detector called Nest Protect that will send a message to your mobile device when the alarm is triggered or when the battery is low, so you can be alerted to an emergency at home even while you are away.

In addition to the usual loud beeping alarm sound, the Nest Protect has added a recording of a human voice that will describe the problem.

This is the first entirely new product tche Silicon Valley company has introduced since its flagship Nest thermostat. Nest was started by ex-Apple designer Tony Fadell in 2010.

Fadell said he was looking for a better way to make his Tahoe home more energy efficient. The Nest thermostat learns your patterns over time and automatically controls a home's heating and cooling systems for maximum efficiency.

Old thermostats were wasteful, but what did Nest think was wrong with the traditional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors? Annoyance seemed to be first on the list. When the battery is low in a smoke alarm, the small white discs emit a low beep until the battery is replaced.

Annoyance can be a safety issue. When a sensitive alarm is set off by everyday occurrences like burnt waffles, some people remove the batteries from their alarm to shut it up and are left unprotected.

Nest Protect eases you into an emergency instead of immediately blaring every time kitchen experiment goes awry. When it first detects smoke or carbon monoxide, the device will turn yellow and the human voice will say where the smoke or carbon monoxide levels are high.

Since most alarms are affixed to the ceiling, getting to them to turn off an alarm requires a tall person or a chair. Nest has added a sensor that lets you wave at the device to reset it or to get more information about an alarm.

One of the selling points of smart objects is that they can talk to each other. The Nest Protect can connect with the Nest Thermostat so that when carbon monoxide is detected, the thermostat can power down the gas furnace to be safe. It also connects with other Nest Protect devices and can communicate which location is detecting a problem.

This is not the first connected smoke alarm. Some existing "smart home" systems already include support for traditional fire and carbon monoxide alarms. You can connect a smoke alarm to a system like Smartthings or Lowe's Iris and set it up so that you get a text, phone call or e-mail notification on a phone or tablet when an alarm goes off.

Those alarms are just connected versions of traditional devices and do not have features like human voices or wave controls.

Connected home devices are a growing market, and most systems are focused on creating vast networks of inexpensive connected objects, like front door locks, motion sensors, power switches and thermostats.

Nest's approach is different. It is investing money and time into completely redesigning the objects themselves instead of just creating a system for connecting inexpensive objects to a larger network.

The result might be a better experience, but the cost for each device is much higher. The Nest Protect is $129, a First Alert smoke and carbon monoxide detector that can connect to Lowe's Iris system costs $40.

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