Nest’s new thermostat has a Soli gesture sensor built in

Nest today introduced a new, more affordable thermostat to its lineup of smart home devices. Simply called the Nest Thermostat, it starts at $129 — significantly cheaper than the $250 current-gen Nest Thermostat — and leverages Google’s Soli technology to recognize gestures behind its mirror-like display.

The new Nest Thermostat comes at a time when many consumers are looking to use less energy in their homes, both because they want to save money and because they wish to take steps that help the environment. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, in April, spending plunged more than 13% — the steepest drop since the government began to keep records nearly 60 years ago. And in a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 63% of Americans said stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost that they would make sacrifices to comply with them.

The new Nest Thermostat, which is Energy Star certified and built from recycled plastic, shows timely information on its display including the temperature and the current heating, cooling, and ambient modes. The display lights up when someone approaches and powers down when it’s not in use, courtesy of a Soli module that acts as a real-time motion sensor.

The Soli module was a collaborative effort among Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group and the Nest team. Much like the chip inside the Pixel 4, it contains a 60GHz radar and antenna receivers that record positional information in addition to things like range and velocity. Gesture-classifying AI models were trained using millions of recordings from Google volunteers, which were supplemented with hundreds of hours of radar readings from other Google volunteers. The models were optimized to run directly on the thermostat’s low-power processor, allowing them to track up to 18,000 frames per second even when the main processor is powered down.

Thanks to Soli, the new Nest Thermostat recognizes swipes upward and downward as well as forward selection motions in the air, eliminating the need for physical buttons on the face of the device. Fine-grained settings, controls for fans and other elements, and a dashboard that shows historical energy use have migrated to the Google Home app, meanwhile.

Google has to certify Soli-equipped devices like the new Nest Thermostat with regulatory authorities (e.g., the U.S. Federal Communications Commission) to transmit at the required frequencies. When asked whether Soli-powered features would be available at launch in countries where the new Nest Thermostat is sold, Ruchi Desai, product lead at Nest, said that Google won’t release the thermostat in any territory where it hasn’t gained approval. That’s unlike the company’s strategy with the Pixel 4, which didn’t initially support Soli in every country.

One of the new Nest Thermostat’s highlights is a feature called Quick Schedule, which offers the ability to create temperature presets that reflect routines based around users’ lifestyles and preferences. Beyond this, the thermostat leverages Soli and smartphone-dependent geofencing to automatically enable eco-friendly modes. There’s also Savings Finder, which provides energy savings suggestions and automatically applies those changes if users choose.

The new Nest Thermostat also ships with a feature that identifies unusual patterns related to HVAC systems. The feature, which Google began testing last January and which will come to existing Nest Thermostats in the U.S. and Canada, learns to spot patterns based on information like historical data and current weather that might indicate something is wrong. For example, if it’s taking longer than normal to heat a home, Nest might conclude that there’s a problem with the heating system.

Users receive notifications via emails that outline what Nest detected and which system (heating or cooling) might have been the problem, or they can sign up for a daily report — the Nest Home Report — that spotlights the HVAC alerts. If necessary, they can book an HVAC professional through gig marketplace Handy, initially in over 20 metro areas including Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Las Vegas, and San Diego. Maintenance with Handy will include a general inspection of either the heating or cooling system and the Nest Thermostat by a trained HVAC professional.

With continuous feedback, Google says the system will become better at detecting more possible anomalies over time.

The new Nest Thermostat will launch in the U.S. and Canada (where it’s $179 CA) to start and come in four colors, including rose. A trim kit designed to streamline the process of affixing it to walls will be sold separately for $14.99 ($19.99 CA).

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