Google’s Nest upgraded its Linux-based automation line with a new “Nest Protect,” and a 1080p “Nest Cam” surveillance cam with optional cloud analytics.
In 2013 and 2014, it seemed we were covering Linux-based home automation gizmos almost every week, but by the end of last year, the market grew saturated, and acquisitions overtook startups. This year, we’ve seen a relatively quiet stretch as the predators digest their prey.
One of the 2014 home automation mashups was the Nest Labs acquisition of Dropcam for $555 million, which came after Nest itself was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion and before Nest picked up Revolv in October. The results are now on display in a new Nest Cam home surveillance camera, which was unveiled yesterday along with a second generation Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarm and updated software for the Nest Learning Thermostat. All three products run on embedded Linux.
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Farther below, we take a closer look at the Nest Cam, which is a major redesign of the Dropcam Pro, but first a few words about the upgrades to Nest’s existing products.
Feathering Nest’s nest
The second-generation Nest Protect Smoke + CO Alarm is 11 percent smaller, among other design improvements including a redesigned back-plate that sits more flush against the wall. The smoke and carbon monoxide detector is now claimed to last 10 years, and Nest has launched a Safety Rewards program with selected insurance companies that could bring down your rates.
Second generation Nest Protect
A new “split-spectrum sensor” uses two wavelengths of light to look for both fast- and slow-burning fires. In addition, you can now use your mobile app to control the Nest Protect in more ways than ever, including hushing false alarms, and testing the device to make sure it’s working properly.
The Nest Learning Thermostat’s upgrades are all in the version 4.5 firmware. Most importantly, the thermostat can now send an alert to your mobile app if your home gets to hot or cold, potentially saving you from frozen pipes. You can also view Nest Protect alerts on the thermostat display, and the thermostat can now coordinate with Nest Protect to turn off heating or cooling systems in case they are the source of a CO leak, or to avoid spreading a fire or CO leak.
A new 5.0 version of the Android 4.0+ and iOS 8.0+ mobile app has an upgraded UI, and easier control all Nest devices and existing Dropcams, says Nest. Among other enhancements, you can now see live video previews of all your Nest Cams from the home screen.
Nest Cam adds smarter algorithms, cloud analytics
The Nest Cam is a redesigned version of the Linux-based Dropcam Pro, and features the same WiFi-streamed 1080p resolution at 30fps. Many similarly priced cameras are still at 720p, although that’s not likely to last for long.
The WiFi stays at 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz/5GHz), and Bluetooth Low Energy is included. Video is encrypted with a unique 2048-bit RSA key and securely transmitted using a 128-bit SSL connection, says Nest. The device includes a speaker and a microphone with a 20-foot range. A blinking green light shows when someone is watching the video feed.
Nest Cam (left) and Dropcam Pro
The Nest Cam’s 3-megapixel, 8x zoom camera has a 130° field of view, which is the same as the Dropcam Pro, but is a wider angle than on some fixed surveillance cams. There’s no pan and tilt or outdoor options, however, as there are on some D-Link home surveillance cams, for example. The Nest Cam’s temperature range is 0 to 40°C (32 to 104°F).
The 11.4 x 7.3 x 7.3-inch, 203-gram device has been redesigned with a narrower stem, and it has a more flexible, redesigned stand can be twisted, bent, or mounted upside down with three degrees of freedom. It now has a magnetic base for mounting to appliances, and the device can be screwed into a wall or a tripod. The Nest Cam runs on 100-240VAC 0.2A power.
Nest Cam’s flexible attachments (left) and motion detection alert on mobile app
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The Nest Cam has motion sensing and night vision, both of which have been improved over the Dropcam Pro. The night vision system uses eight infrared LEDs, and unlike some competing models, it maintains its standard wide field of view, says Nest.
The improved motion detection algorithm first remembers the details of the way a room is normally laid out, and then alerts you when there’s a significant difference. It can notify you, for example, when your kids come home from school, and if you turn on the microphone, it can pick up loud noises while filtering out background noise like traffic.
An optional cloud analytics service called “Nest Aware with Video History” records and saves 10 to 30 days of video, including audio, for $10 or $30 a month, respectively. Footage is saved in the cloud and analyzed in real time with greater sophistication than what is available in the standard motion detection alert service.
The analytics service “highlights the moments when there is motion or sound and shows you what happened,” says Nest. You can have the service alert you to activity in a particular area of interest, such as your front door. The algorithms even include depth sensing and face detection or cancel out false alerts like light, shadows, car headlights, and swaying branches, claims Nest.
The saved video is also reviewable, of course, and users can save up to three hours of clips per day. Timelapse views are also available.
With or without Nest Aware, you can integrate the Nest Cam with other Nest devices, so you can, for example, remotely record a video clip if the smoke detector goes off, or sync the Nest Cam’s on/off mode with the thermostat’s home and away settings. Nest is also piloting integration with Google’s YouTube, enabling live streaming from the Nest Cam.
Home surveillance tests privacy concerns
It will be interesting to see if Nest finds the same success with its Nest Cam as it has with its phenomenally successful thermostat. Despite repeated claims from Nest that it will never share personal data, including video, with Google and its immense data harvesting network, skeptics abound. Despite the fact that the Nest Aware service is optional, that skepticism is likely to continue.
Nest’s mobile video feed: Big Brother says no more chocolate!
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The Nest Cam and similar home surveillance devices make sense for apartment dwellers who can’t post hallway or external cams, or for those with unattended elders, children, or unruly pets. Yet there are obvious concerns around having always-on, mic-enabled surveillance cameras in homes and businesses, since their presence and active monitoring can easily go unnoticed. Whether or not Nest adheres to its privacy claims, and even if Nest Aware’s security is robust enough to keep out hackers, the devices could also be used by family members and friends to spy on each other, leading to mistrust, paranoia, resentment, and worse.
Google and Nest are not afraid of testing consumer concerns about a “Google spy camera.” After launching the Nest Cam this month, it will go on sale next month in Europe where privacy concerns, especially about Google, are higher than in the U.S.
Nest Cam on YouTube
The Nest Cam will be available for purchase now for $199 and will ship this month, and Nest Aware packages go for $10 (10 days) or $30 (30 days) per month. European sales will follow in July. The 2nd Gen Nest Protect is available for $99 and will ship in July. The Nest Learning Thermostat 4.5 firmware will roll out to customers over the next two weeks, and the Nest app 5.0 is now available for download. More information may be found in the Nest announcement and Nest Cam product page.