What is Nest?

Carlton Boyce / 23 September 2016

The automated home is here: has science fiction been replaced by science fact?

We grew up reading science fiction books that warned of the perils of automation and while scientists saw the almost limitless possibilities that automation offered, writers saw only the almost limitless ways that it could go wrong.

And, for decades, this was fine. We all love a decent horror story, and few ideas are more horrific – and weirdly appealing, as long as it remains a fictional story – than the idea your home is trying to kill you.

With the arrival of the Internet of Things science fiction has been replaced by science fact; the automated home is here and one of the leading proponents is Nest Labs.

Nest Labs? Never heard of them.

Nest Labs, owned by Google, designs and builds programmable, Wi-Fi enabled smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, room thermostats, and home security camera systems. These systems rely on a variety of sensors to inform them and can be programmed by their users.

Nest also works with other companies to integrate a wide variety of household appliances.

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Anything else?

Yes, the clever part is that Nest products can learn by themselves. So, for example, the thermostat that controls the heating in your home will learn your patterns and how hot you like each room, adjusting the temperature to suit you. And when you set the thermostat to ‘away’, it will turn the lights on and off too, giving the illusion that someone is at home.

Users can adjust the various systems remotely using a Smartphone app or the Nest website. So, if you want to crank the heating up a bit, you can do so from your phone enabling you to walk into an especially toasty house when you return home.

How about the security camera?

Your Nest security camera will also alert you if there is an unusual movement or noise in your house. It alerts you when it thinks there might be a problem; you then view the camera remotely on your Smartphone to check that everything is alright.

Some users also find the app useful to check up on what’s happening in their home while they’re elsewhere, making sure the dog, for example, is behaving himself – and if he isn’t, you can speak through the camera to tell him to get off the sofa…

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Are there any drawbacks?

Well, it’s a more expensive option than a more conventional system of course but the real worries come from the fact that the systems can be adjusted remotely. Some fear that if you can dial in to adjust your thermostat remotely or view your CCTV system remotely then so can a criminal.

This could leave you vulnerable to hackers who might be able to access your home for nefarious purposes like finding out if there is anyone at home before they break in.

How secure is the system then?

The Nest system is among the most secure in the world but the reality is that any system can be hacked, something that concerns every technology company in the world. Having said that, while Nest acknowledges that remote hacking is possible, it is not aware of any real-world instances where this has actually happened.

The reality is that it is highly unlikely that anyone will target your home via a Nest appliance. But they could, so you need to go into it with your eyes open. Most people will find the risks worth taking but only you can apply your own personal risk assessment to find out if it’s right for you. (When doing so you might like to remember that your laptop or desktop computer would be a much more appealing access point for anyone intent on causing you mischief.)

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Is there anything on the horizon?

Yes. The really interesting thing is that Nest has made its protocols available via the ‘Works With Nest’ programme. Products already on sale include a keyless lock and a garage opener as well as many, many others. The only limit to what can be achieved using Nest is the imagination of the product engineers.

Look for the ‘Works With Nest’ logo to find compatible products.

Should I take the plunge?

Nest offers an awful lot of advantages, allowing you to tailor your home’s heating to suit you while simultaneously saving you money through reduced fuel costs. It also helps keep your family safe with an advanced range of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and standalone CCTV systems.

Yet third-party companies have designed the most appealing products through Nest’s ‘Works with Nest’ programme. Some of them are unbelievably clever and incredibly useful and embracing them may well change your life for the better.

I’m always skeptical about the impact new technology will have in my life, generally finding that the marketing hype exceeds the actual benefits by a significant margin. However, in this case I’m sold on the concept as a genuinely useful, life-changing concept.

The Connected Home is on its way, and I can’t wait…

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.