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Google Hardware Hacking Open Source Technology Build

Building an Open Source Nest 195

Posted by Soulskill
from the birds-need-not-apply dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Google's recent acquisition of Nest, the maker of smart thermostats and smoke detectors, has sparked concerns of future plans for the devices, and how Google's omnipresent thirst for information will affect them. Thus, a team of engineers at Spark sat down and roughed out a prototype for an open source version of Nest. It looks surprisingly good for such a short development cycle, and they've posted their code on Github. The article has a number of short videos illustrating the technology they used, and how they used it. Quoting: 'All in, we spent about $70 on components to put this together (including $39 for the Spark Core); the wood and acrylic were free. We started working at 10am and finished at 3am, with 3.5 engineers involved (one went to bed early), and the only work we did in advance was order the electronic components. We're not saying that you can build a $3.2 billion company in a day. But we are saying that you can build a $3.2 billion company, and it's easier now than it's ever been before.'"
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Building an Open Source Nest

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  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by r.freeman (2944629) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:15PM (#45988911)
    What is the Nest. Do they mean like a natural nest build by bees or what - it is not clear form the summary, is it just me who doesn't find Nest an obvious thing like Apache or Linux that doesn't need introduction?
  • OK, if this is the case, why in 2010 when we built an open source Android robot, the folks at Google literally told us that since they were trying to do the same thing, they would try to pretend we didn't exist? (They failed: It is hard to pretend something doesn't exist when it's humiliating you at Maker Faire, or making your hand bleed)
  • The hard part (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheloniousToady (3343045) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:17PM (#45988949)

    The hard part isn't building a smart thermostat. The hard part is finding somebody simultaneously dumb enough and rich enough to pay $3.2 billion for a thermostat company.

    • Re:The hard part (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DickBreath (207180) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:20PM (#45989015) Homepage
      The hard part isn't building a smart thermostat. The hard part is building relationships will all those energy providers.
      • by us7892 (655683)
        Bingo!
      • Re:The hard part (Score:4, Informative)

        by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:48PM (#45989415)

        The hard part isn't building a smart thermostat. The hard part is building relationships will all those energy providers.

        True. The real growth is not in home owners, most of whom will never replace a thermostat, let alone spend $250 for one or more replacements. The market is the installers and manufacturers to include it with a unit or as an add on sale. My AC guy gives away a $200 (retail) thermostat if you buy a multi-year service plan so it's not a stretch to see them offer a Nest unit.

      • so is that what Google is thinking w/ their 3.2 Billion?

        they get energy companies and local installers to push these things and that's how they make a return on their investment?

        it seems to me the profitability horizon is farther than the point at which the competition will be able to...um...compete.

        energy companies have been at this for a long time, they are like IBM or AT&T in that they manage to stick around using old-school capitialism US big-biz style...google is an ad serving company known for its

        • by Fnord666 (889225)

          they get energy companies and local installers to push these things and that's how they make a return on their investment?

          No. Google did not spend $3.2 billion on a company that makes thermostats. They paid $3.2 billion for a company that makes data acquisition devices that pose as thermostats. The amount of data that they can acquire is staggering. Wait until they offer enhancements like plugging in your current electric rate and provider so it can display the dollar savings.

    • Re:The hard part (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lorens (597774) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:43PM (#45989355) Journal

      No, the hard part is writing a summary that doesn't leave the reader lost and perplexed at the third word.

    • Re:The hard part (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:46PM (#45989387)

      The hard part isn't building a smart thermostat.

      Meh. The hard part is realizing that you should NOT be trying to build a thermostat, period. Static temperature is relatively useless for comfort, which is why people end up moving the thing up and down all the time.

      Our bodies don't sense temperature directly. They sense heat transfer, which involves evaporation rate of perspiration in addition to convection. This is the basis of "wind chill" (increased convection increases heat loss) and "heat index" (humidity reduces evaporation).

      If there were actually a smart tech company out there designing such a thing, it would do something like keep a relatively constant dew point in the summer. The temperature is irrelevant. It can be 82 degrees and perfectly comfortable in my house, but on other days it can be 70 and unbearably stuffy. Cooling the house on hot non-humid days is stupid; having to adjust the thermostat down on cooler humid days just adds cost. (This is relevant in the winter as well. When it's really dry in the house, you often need a different temperature to maintain comfort than when humidity is at normal levels.)

      It would be much more efficient to just stop the whole "thermostat" idea altogether... if we're really after "comfort" with least energy expenditure, why not program our houses to respond to what actually makes us comfortable (which is a more complicated formula taking humidity and temperature into account), rather than a scientific abstraction like temperature that has little human relevance?

      • Re:The hard part (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Qzukk (229616) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:53PM (#45989479) Journal

        1000x this. HVAC controls should be about comfort, not temperature.

        I'd also love to see a "thermostat" with a "dehumidify" button: run for the next 15 minutes no matter what the temperature is. That'll fix both cool/damp and warm/muggy. And also feel great when I come in after the yardwork drenched in sweat and want to stand in front of the register with cool air coming from it.

        • All of this sounds good on paper, but what I would like to see is some detailed information on how to translate "comfort" into an algorithm that can be used to control a furnace and/or air conditioner. Then get the folks who developed the "open source 'nest' " to implement the algorithm.

          • All of this sounds good on paper, but what I would like to see is some detailed information on how to translate "comfort" into an algorithm that can be used to control a furnace and/or air conditioner.

            Well, you can make it more complicated, but dew point is already a significantly better measure to correlate with comfort than temperature. For summer at least, I'd personally start there -- though you'd need a better humidity sensor than comes on most thermostats. Even something as simple as that would be a vast improvement.

        • by Bradmont (513167)
          Don't forget a "humedify" button, which is integral in colder climates. When it's below -20C for weeks on end, the dryness is unbearable...
        • So...it sounds like you might want a Nest.

          Nest has built in humidity sensors and can manage a whole-home dehumidifier/humidifier for you if you have one of those. For folks who don't, it has an optional feature called "Cool to Dry" that will run the A/C while you're gone, in order to try and lower the humidity in your home to more reasonable levels.

          The future has been here for a few years. ;)

      • by Gim Tom (716904)
        Wow, I have wanted something like this since the mid 1960's when we visited my uncle in Orlando and I was amazed at how comfortable his house was all the time. He was in HVAC, mostly for commercial sites during the big AC boom in Florida in the 1950's and 1960's, and he told me that the trick was to control the humidity as well as the temperature. He had done his own system at home and I think it even had outdoor sensors for temperature and humidity even way back then to anticipate changes in the weather
    • If you think of a thermostat as a device that closes a switch when the temperature is below or above a set point, you're certainly right. But if you had some vision, you would see a new generation of devices, "smart homes", real-life ubiquitous computing, energy sustainability, and opportunities for data-mining or even networked intelligence. That's why I have two Nests - right now it's just good-looking and convenient (remote control!), but I'm adopting technology that, in a few years, may change the way
      • Here's my vision...I see a vision of...Larry and Sergei needing "adult supervision" again from Eric so they don't pay way too much for The Next Cool thing.

        It's not about buying Nest (though you'd think Larry and Sergei could invent cool stuff themselves...) but it's about paying way too much for it.

    • I'm worried of the ULC.
    • by tgd (2822)

      The hard part isn't building a smart thermostat. The hard part is finding somebody simultaneously dumb enough and rich enough to pay $3.2 billion for a thermostat company.

      Actually, it is... and even Nest can't manage to do it right. There's quite a large number of issues with the second generation Nest units failing -- and failing "on".

      A thermostat should never, under any circumstances, be able to fail "on". That's a fundamental flaw.

    • I thought the hard part was convincing morons to pay $249 for a thermostat when you can buy something functionally equivalent at the hardware store for a tenth of the price.

  • by rtkluttz (244325) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:17PM (#45988951) Homepage

    I actually only heard about Nest about a month ago and was VERY interested until I found out it was cloud based. I immediately typed a complaint to them about it. I'm very happy Google is heading this way with it. Even if Googles open solution is still cloud based, it should open API's and communication documentation so that people like me who are NOT interested in giving control of my house to a cloud app under someone elses control that can sometimes override by proxy. I'm a security concious guy and I simply do not want my homes firewall open to anyone but me. My phone or tablet should connect DIRECTLY to my in home equipment or server without anyone else having to be involved.

    • by DogDude (805747)
      . My phone or tablet should connect DIRECTLY to my in home equipment or server without anyone else having to be involved.

      Hahahaha! Now what happens when some bad software gets root on the gadget you use to talk to your house?

      And while we're at it, why do you need to control your house temperature with anything other than your finger pushing a button on the thermostat? Is there some level of complexity to a thermostat that I'm missing? Is your thermostat located somewhere other than inside your house
    • Agreed, although I own a Nest -- and I wish it supported direct communications with my phone/tablet instead of needing the Internet. I'd even be okay with having to run a management service on my Linux box that it talks to as an intermediary.

  • by StripedCow (776465) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:17PM (#45988955)

    But we are saying that you can build a $3.2 billion company, and it's easier now than it's ever been before.

    Were it not for patents...

    • But we are saying that you can build a $3.2 billion company, and it's easier now than it's ever been before.

      Were it not for patents...

      When you set out to explicitly copy someone's product, it's tough to argue that they don't need patent protection.

      • When you set out to explicitly copy someone's product and succeed without reading any patent information, it's tough to argue that their patent is nonobvious.

        And we know you didn't read their patent because first, we know their patent is not actually useful for replicating their "invention", second, because you were explicitly ordered not to read their patent because your boss thinks the treble damage rule is still in effect, and third, because you know you didn't need to. As a skilled practitioner of the

        • When you set out to explicitly copy someone's product and succeed without reading any patent information, it's tough to argue that their patent is nonobvious.

          I think you'll have a hard time proving that the guys saying "we made an open-source version of the Nest!" have no idea what the Nest is and haven't seen any write-ups of it.

          And we know you didn't read their patent because first, we know their patent is not actually useful for replicating their "invention", second, because you were explicitly ordered not to read their patent because your boss thinks the treble damage rule is still in effect, and third, because you know you didn't need to. As a skilled practitioner of the art, you knew you would be able to solve any problems you encountered in the process of replicating the product.

          Nope, instead you read the white papers, read product reviews and use manuals, and read lots of other information that was made public because they had patent protection, rather than being kept hidden as a trade secret.

      • On the other hand, an internet connected, digital thermostat isn't exactly a novel idea.
        • On the other hand, an internet connected, digital thermostat isn't exactly a novel idea.

          Nope, and if that's what they tried to claim in a patent, it would be rejected. But the specifics of the design and user interface are new, and may not be obvious.

  • by colin_faber (1083673) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:31PM (#45989163)
    Am I missing something here? Where's the link to the article referenced by Mr. AC.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's pretty easy to build a version of most things once there's a working example in front of you - the real value is doing it first, not just copying.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Thermostats aren't exactly complicated. There have been electronic ones around for a long time and the idea of "smart" thermostats for even longer. Connecting things to smartphones is also not a new idea.

      If you're saying that Nest didn't do anything all that impressive, I'm with you. Their thermostat is pretty. If it worked well it would be a reasonable offering. But I don't see how it's worth 3.2 billion dollars.

      This would seem likely to be another insanely overpriced acquisition that will either end

      • by torkus (1133985)

        It's worth it for a few reasons...

        - home automation has been struggling along...quirky, expensive, not quite there. Yet. Nest is one of the few that's made it without turning into x11 crap from china. People are far more likely to allow home.google.com to automate their house than xyzautomagic5567.ru

        - metadata is valuable. Even if it's not perfect it's still far better than none for ... so many people. Look at google's cross-platform information usage. Google knows you're married, you google christian

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          1. It still is. Nest is a niche company that accounts for a tiny fraction of thermostat installs. People are going to love it when nest.google.com isn't getting the adoption Google would like and they decide to shut it down. Google's track record with hardware is... horrible. Actually, Google's track record with software is pretty bad too.

          2. Bingo. That's what Google wants. More data on you so they can sell you stuff. Is it worth 3.2 billion? Maybe. Google undoubtedly knows better than I do. Eithe

  • We met in the backyard, where he took a rest from hauling a crate of beer to his hole in the ash tree. The woodpecker said "Hey dude, you are rambling on about open source and FOSS all the time. Could you get me an open source nest, by any chance ? Us woodpeckers are rather into the proprietary model, we all have our own beak. But mine has signs of wear, and the price of new ones is too high." "Sure", I replied, "Apache Nest might be something for you. Or otherwise, check out jNest on github." Last I heard
  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:39PM (#45989295)

    Throughout the years I have seen instances of precisely this kind of arrogance in various forms.

    Everything always "seems easy" at first glance on the surface. This is more often than not a reflection of gaps in ones understanding or failure to consider the problem space with sufficient detail.

    The other major issue is failure to understand the sometimes monumental difference between building something that "works for me" vs "works for everyone".

    Anyone can hack together an arduino that flips a relay when temperature sensor reads outside of a certain threshold and package it up to look like a cheap version of the nest. This proves precisely NOTHING in my estimation.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Maybe Nest should reproduce google in a few hours: wget -r -O -http:/ /yahoo.com | grep boobies
    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Quite. Nest is internet connected, and that means security. What are the chances this thing isn't easily hackable? Keep in mind that someone with no clue about security needs to be able to install and operate it. Where is the smartphone app to go with it?

      • Quite. Nest is internet connected, and that means security. What are the chances this thing isn't easily hackable?

        Honestly, what are the chances the Nest isn't easily hackable?

    • The most important bit here is the server-side. The actual thermostat is well-manufactured hardware (and I've never been as impressed with someone's packaging and included documentation as I am with Nest's) and worth more than average -- but the real cost to Nest.com is building and administering the servers on the back-end.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@nosPam.gmail.com> on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:42PM (#45989343) Homepage

    From TFS: It looks surprisingly good for such a short development cycle

    It's trivially easy to *look* good - being functional is somewhat harder.

    And building a 3.5 billion dollar company is just a *little* bit harder than writing a few scraps of code and soldering some bits together.

    • by Random2 (1412773)
      Soldering the bits together? Isn't that what Monster Cables do to get them there faster?

      That seems to be worth a lot of money....
  • ...is an open source bird to live in it.

  • Yes .. the raw materials cost $70.

    But how much of the CNC machine, the laser cutter, their time and also the time needed to come up to speed to know how to combine these items into one product? (and thats not even allowing for the design and marketing time that should be credited to Nest of actually coming up with a concept that sells)

    If anything I'd say the real cost of this prototype is in the range of $20k at the very least.

    • by kwalker (1383) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:54PM (#45989495) Journal

      Or, you know, use hand tools...

      They're not saying they could build Nest for $70 in parts, they're saying they built a nest-clone device in less than 24 hours for about $70 in parts. Their time was theirs to spend, and they're not "marketing" this.

      • by OzPeter (195038)

        Or, you know, use hand tools...

        They're not saying they could build Nest for $70 in parts, they're saying they built a nest-clone device in less than 24 hours for about $70 in parts. Their time was theirs to spend, and they're not "marketing" this.

        Which is like saying that if you live in NYC that its cheap to buy takeout food for $70 from a hip restaurant in LA .. but not mentioning the private jet you used to fly you there.

        • by kwalker (1383)

          It's more like "You can make about the same food as that hip restaurant in LA at your home in NYC, if you've got the time and inclination and a few raw materials..Here's a few recipes..."

          • by OzPeter (195038)

            It's more like "You can make about the same food as that hip restaurant in LA at your home in NYC, if you've got the time and inclination and a few raw materials..Here's a few recipes..."

            But note that to make it look and taste exactly like our example .. you'll need to use a smoking gun, and immersion heater and a blast chiller.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      So what? The cost of the raw materials is more indicative of what it would cost to get a final product manufactured than the prototype price, including everything. It actually seems to me their cost is a little high, probably because they've built a local thermostat instead of a cloud one.

  • by sideslash (1865434) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:47PM (#45989399)
    I love the idea of home automation, and have been involved in a couple significant DIY projects involving my own scripting (no custom electronics design, that's not my skill). I've focused on things like multi room audio and intelligent video surveillance. If somebody offered me a $250 thermostat (yes, I saw that they did it for $70 here), my response is "really? Isn't that kind of... boring?"
    Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that they're innovating in the thermostat space. But I want much, much more than that.
    • by kwalker (1383)

      Not everything in HA is hip or sexy. Most of the stuff I want to do in my own DIY home automation project is boring, turning lights on and off remotely, opening and closing window blinds, zoned HVAC, automated porch light with motion detection. Stuff that's not hip or sexy but makes the house more intelligent and less energy-wasting.

      • turning lights on and off remotely, opening and closing window blinds, zoned HVAC, automated porch light with motion detection.

        I don't see those as boring; I'd like to do the same things (eventually). And even a smart thermostat is a little bit exciting to me, just not $250-exciting, or billion-dollar-business-exciting, at least not by itself.

        • by rhsanborn (773855)
          The idea of the Nest is that it's going to do something that most people aren't good at doing, which is programming their thermostats. Tech geeks aren't the target market. We already programmed our thermostats and for the most part they work relatively efficiently. It's for my crazy aunt who doesn't have a programmed thermostat and can recoup that $250 by letting some silly device do it for her. There are also smart added benefits like being able to check on the house remotely when you're out of town to ma
  • Cold zones (Score:5, Informative)

    by unixcorn (120825) on Friday January 17, 2014 @02:50PM (#45989433)

    I just bought a new thermostat. I really wanted a Nest because of it's cool factor however, I ended up buying a Honeywell. First, the Nest isn't as advanced; for example, the Honeywell has some features that allow me to run the fan periodically throughout the cycles. It also allows me to add an additional "slave" thermostat and average the temperature between my upper and lower levels. While the Nest allows you to view multiple thermostats in a single interface each stat required separate HVAC systems. The Honeywell also comes with a remote control that sense the temperature where you are sitting and will adjust the set point to make you comfortable. The bottom line is that sometimes new and cool isn't as good as tried and true when you actually do some research.

    • by Jaruzel (804522)

      Mind sharing which Honeywell it was that you bought?

      I've recently swapped out an old rotary one for a DT90E, and I'm really not happy with it - it keeps flicking the boiler on/off too often :(

      Thanks.

    • by adisakp (705706)

      I just bought a new thermostat. I really wanted a Nest because of it's cool factor however, I ended up buying a Honeywell. First, the Nest isn't as advanced; for example, the Honeywell has some features that allow me to run the fan periodically throughout the cycles.

      Nest has fan cycling, the ability to run the fan after heating or cooling have completed (to get the rest of the warmth / cold more efficiency), and the ability to run the fan on demand for a user specified amount of time. You can also tell your Nest to run the fan for X minutes every hour (say 15 minutes per hour) to keep the air circulated in the house and to avoid heating / cooling differentials. All controllable from your iPhone or iOS or Android device.

  • Arduino-based thermostat projects have been around for some time, and some are networked. Easy to DIY and can be done for under $100. Google around.

    BTW, I have had my Proliphix network thermostat for more than 5 years now and still very happy with it.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You set it. It controls the heater. Jesus fucking christ already, this is where we're at in 2014?
  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday January 17, 2014 @03:24PM (#45989905) Homepage Journal

    Acquisitiona? Isn't that Portuguese for credit note or something?

  • What's with the run on, incomplete sentence?
  • Why do we call the people who put Slashdot stories up "editors"?

    Google's recent acquisitiona

    Four words in and you've already a word.

    they've posted their code on Github. The article...

    What article would that be? Oh, if only there was a way of providing easy access to it via some kind of clickable "link [spark.io]"!

  • About ten years ago, even evil Honeywell offered programmable thermostats in the classic round form. Now? Can't find one. I'd like to replace the current thermostat, but it's mounted on a large, round escutcheon and placing a rectangular box in the center of that would look too stupid to tolerate.
  • There's some very good HVAC control technology that hasn't yet made it to the home. Here's a way to build a product that does that.

    The basic kit consists of the cool-looking "thermostat" controller, and a window fan. [homedepot.com] The window fan unit has sensors and an RF link to the controller. The sensors include inside and outside temperature, humidity, CO2 level [apollounion.com], noise level, and light level. The controller has the same set of sensors. The controller can turn on heat, A/C, or HVAC only, and has full control over

    • I see only one problem with your scheme: that window fan is one giant draft in the winter and one giant sauna in the summer. A whole-house fan mounted in the ceiling in the center of the house is closer to being useful, if you could find one with a PWM motor. They come with metal louvers that open when the fan is on and close when it's off. But they're still pretty damn leaky. Even if you use a fan that isn't a travesty, when the outdoor temperature is in no way comfortable at any time during the day or

  • What this summary needs is a good old fashioned link [spark.io] to at least one article about the project.

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