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It seems that Google is scooping up more than robotics companies these days. Google announced this week that it has acquired Nest Labs, a company best known for the manufacture of “reinvented” smoke alarms and thermostats, which includes, among other things, the ability to control both systems via an app.
Nest products, like so many others these days, are “smart,” meaning that, in addition to remote and mobile-control capabilities, they learn and adjust based on input from the user. The thermostat is particularly impressive, displaying the temperature digitally with a glass screen that also changes color to blend in with the wall it’s on. The thermostat learns by registering data about when users turn the heat up or down, and for how long. Eventually, it can predict users’ needs by preemptively turning off the heat when people leave for work or turn it up at night. It makes sense that Google would acquire a company making this technology, given Google’s use of deep learning and its systematic infiltration of consumers’ homes, lives, and minds.
Google shelled out $3.2 billion for the acquisition — only the 2012 acquisition of Motorola, which cost $12.5 billion, has cost the corporate giant more. The Motorola deal was Google’s first dip into the hardware business, and it appears that Google’s building on that by adding Nest to the, well, nest. It seems that Google is trying to integrate all manner of technology into their internet empire and growing robotic army.
Another benefit of the deal is that it comes with Tony Fadell, a designer, inventor, and entrepreneur who invented a little device called the iPod. Nest has siphoned off a bunch of Apple employees — about a third of Nest’s employees (100 of 300) have worked for Apple at some point. Given that Google is expanding into the hardware market, and given that this isn’t Google’s first attempt at the entering the smart home market — in 2009 they introduced the PowerMeter electricity monitoring service, but the program was shut down two years later — it makes sense that they’d acquire a company with lots of specific expertise and experience in creating some of the most compelling hardware out there. Pending regulatory approval, the ink on the deal should be dry in a few months.
One of the questions this deal raises is the perennial question one asks whenever Google comes up: what about privacy? Nest won’t change its terms of service, so it must be concerned about privacy too, and Fadell says that “The reality of the situation is inside of Google they take privacy so incredibly seriously you have no idea.” Uh huh. I think I’ll stick to space heaters. And to reading the fine print — apparently the penny stock Nestor rose 1900% because people thought they were investing in Nest Labs. Oops.