Google shelled out $3.2 billion for smart-thermostat manufacturer NestLabs of Palo Alto, California. But what
does Google want with your central heating? And what could this mean for the future of "smart homes"?
The Nest thermostat is designed to learn when and how you like to heat your
home. After a 12-day set-up period, the device has learned your basic
schedule, is able to turn the heating on and off intelligently, and in the
process it attempts to save you energy by only firing up the boiler when
you really need it.
Watson believes Google is now a company obsessed with viewing everyday activities as "information problems"
to be solved by machine learning and algorithms. Google's fleet of self-driving vehicles is just one example. The
home is no different, and a Google-enabled smart home of the future, using a platform such as the Google Now
app – which already gathers data on users' travel habits – could adapt energy usage to your life in even more
"Imagine Google Now knows you're on your way home," suggests Watson.
"The thermostat can predict that you're going to be home in 10 minutes
and it can get the heat going."
Daniel Obodovski, co-author of The Silent Intelligence: The internet of things,
points out that Google previously expressed an interest in gathering data on
energy use. However, that project, Google PowerMeter, was canned in 2011 .
"They tried to measure the consumption of energy," says Obodovski. "Now
they have the missing piece of the puzzle. Now they have the thermostat
that can regulate the cooling and heating and see who is at home and who
is not at home." Google's plans for Nest or any other future smart-home
devices are not yet public knowledge. Indeed, Nest's CEO, Tony Fadell, has
said that for now he won't share data about Nest's customers with Google.
allowed the company to analyse data on users across different platforms. Whether or not that does happen,
some are already expressing concerns over how smart-home companies might "profile" those
who use their technology.
George Danezis studies privacy engineering at University College London.
He argues that if Google ever launched a device that gathered data on electricity
use in a home, they could theoretically surmise a great deal about the people
that live there. "A household may follow a very ritualistic schedule, such as
during Ramadan, for example," he says. "Most religions have holidays where
you are meant to have a big gathering so these will show up if there is a lot
of cooking, say, during certain Jewish festivals."
Source: New Scientist