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Aug 13 2017

Nest ‘smart’ smoke detectors not so smart, give false alarms #false #alarms


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  • SFGate

    Business

    Nest ‘smart’ smoke detectors not so smart, give false alarms

    Greta Kaul Jun 3, 2015

    Photo: George Frey, Getty Images

    The Nest smoke detector can go off when there is no fire, some users say.

    Nest s brand of smoke detectors are disruptive all right disrupting some customers sleep.

    Designed to be smarter than the average detector, the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, introduced in 2013, alerts users smartphones when the alarm goes off (or when batteries are low). Nest alarms are also connected to each other through a network, meaning when one alarm sounds, all of them do. It can add a layer of safety when there s a fire in one part of the house.

    But many users of the Nest Protect report that the device is plagued by false positives alarms when there s no actual fire. And despite a software update last year designed to fix the problem, customers say the rude awakenings have continued.

    One such customer is Matthew Prince of San Francisco, co-founder and chief executive officer of CloudFlare, a Web performance and security company. As part of the renovations to his home, Prince installed a Nest thermostat and four $99 Nest Protect smoke detectors.

    One night last summer, he said, I was asleep, and all of a sudden the Nest in the bedroom around 2 a.m. said Warning, there s smoke in the master bedroom.

    The devices interconnectivity also made them exceptionally irritating.

    Not only do they make a lot of noise, but they all talk to each other, so if you have four of them, then they go off in every single room, Prince said. I have a high ceiling, so I had to find a ladder and try to push the button to try to silence it, and it wouldn t silence.

    Nest says that s part of an industry standard.

    Under the relevant codes and standards, alarms cannot be silenced if smoke exceeds a 4 percent obscuration level. This is an industry rule that all alarms follow for your safety, Nest spokeswoman Zoz Cuccias said in an e-mail.

    Prince said he took the offending detector down, took it outside and waved it around. Eventually, it turned off. But he s certain there had been no smoke or dust, or steam.

    A few days later, in a meeting with investors, Prince got a smartphone alert another smart feature that the smoke alarm in his house was sounding.

    I thought, I know this is a false positive, but what if it s not, he said. Since he lives a few blocks from where the meeting took place, he got up and excused himself from the meeting. When he got home, he said, Of course there was no fire and no smoke. It was another false alarm.

    In September, the company, which is owned by Google, updated the Nest Protect software to better distinguish between steam and smoke, following reports that steam was setting off false alarms. The detectors were recalled earlier last year because of a glitch that could cause a delay in the alarm s sounding in case of fire.

    Despite upgrades, said John Lilly. a partner at venture capital firm Greylock Partners. the problem persists he had false alarms last year and last week.

    He said he likes his Nest thermostats, which allow users to monitor a home s temperature remotely. But when it comes to false alarms with the Nest Protect, They re pretty painful, because they often happen at night and are quite loud and hard to turn off, he wrote in an e-mail. Ours generally have been in places with vaulted ceilings and ceiling fans, so maybe that s some of what s causing it.

    Still, Lilly said, Nest s customer service has been helpful.

    For Prince, false alarms were more common on hot days. He speculates they had something to do with an overtaxed power grid (more San Franciscans using air conditioning) because that s when the LED lights in his home would flicker. So he had his house rewired in the hopes of increasing the stability of power to the Nest Protects, he said.

    For about a year, they worked and I felt really smart. I was giving people advice online and everything, he said.

    Prince said the final straw came a few months ago when his sister, who was pregnant at the time, came to stay at his apartment with her 2-year-old son while he was in New York. While he was out to dinner with his girlfriend at a fancy restaurant for her birthday, he got another smartphone alert from Nest another false alarm.

    Back in San Francisco, his sister had to find a neighbor with a ladder to take the Nest down and bring it outside. Prince said it took eight hours to resolve the problem.

    That was eight hours of feeling completely powerless, he said.

    He sent a nasty e-mail to the company not his first.

    They actually paid for an electrician to come out, take all of them back and put in plain smoke detectors, which I ve had in for the last two months. They aren t as pretty, but they work, he said.

    He half-joked that now he s looking for a good-size bonfire, so the Nest from his master bedroom can meet a fiery demise.

    It will be the first time in the product s life where there will actually be a fire and (its alarm) will be true, he said.


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