Gesture flaw makes Google's Nest halt sale of smoke alarms

April 07, 2014 // By Peter Clarke
Nest Labs Inc., the Internet-connected domestic environment control company that was recently bought by Google for $3.2 billion, has been forced to disable a gesture recognition feature on its Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. The company has also suspended sales of the units while it fixes the problem.

The problem highlights gesture recognition reliability and its suitability for use in safety-critical applications.

In a note on its website. Nest states that in certain circumstances the feature of waving at the smoke alarm to turn it off could be activated unintentionally. This could delay an alarm going off in the case of a fire, the company said. In the note Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest Labs, said that the company identified the problem internally and was not aware of any customers that had experienced the problem.

The fix is likely to take at least two months after which the company will send a software update to turn the feature back on, the note said.

"We discovered that movements near the product that are not intended as a wave can be misinterpreted by the Nest Wave algorithm. If this occurs during a fire, this could delay the alarm going off. So, we are disabling this feature until we have a proper solution," Nest said on its website.

The same flaw does not affect Nest's thermostat product, the company said.

Nest Labs (Palo Alto, Calif.) was founded in 2011 with a mission of adding Wi-Fi Internet connections and software for remote control to heating, ventilation and air-conditioning and other domestic environmental control products. The company's approach was to bring Apple-like simplicity to interfaces for enhanced domestic appliances. The company was founded by Tony Fadell, CEO, and Matt Rogers, vice president of engineering, and both executives had a pedigree of having worked at Apple on the iPod with its simple circular touch wheel control interface.