back to article Google's Nest halts sales of its fire alarm – because waving your hand switches it off

Google's Internet-of-Things wunderkind Nest is disabling a software feature called Nest Wave, citing safety concerns. In this letter to customers, Nest Labs CEO Tony Fadell writes: “During recent laboratory testing of the Nest Protect smoke alarm, we observed a unique combination of circumstances that caused us to question …

COMMENTS

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Silver badge

Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

That they would be mind numbingly moronic enough to think a "feature" like this belongs in a safety critical device makes me certain I'll never ever consider buying a product from them.

I mean, it is oh so hard to have to actually push a button to turn off an unintended smoke alarm because you forgot something in the stove....gotta save that 0.8 seconds by waving at it from a few feet away!

This is from the school of featuritis where you throw in stuff just because you can, without giving any thought to whether it is truly a real improvement in user interaction or you just did it because you hope people will buy your product because they can show their friends "hey look what I can do with MY smoke alarm, you gotta get rid of your boring old school white plastic one if you want to be as cool as me"

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Re: Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

Presumably you are not elderly and don't know anyone who is. Presumably you're not disabled and don't know anyone who is.

I was actually quite taken by the idea of having an easy way to silence the alarm if I burn toast, since I find it difficult to reach a ceiling mounted alarm (even with a stool). Just because it's idiotic for you, does not mean it's idiotic for everyone else.

That said, something like the cell phone interface to silence the alarm would be almost as convenient and presumably less prone to accidental silencing.

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Silver badge

Re: Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

So have a remote control / button on the wall to silence it. Having to get out a ladder is dumb, no doubt, but if you have a home security system you've already got control devices on your wall that can easily silence an accidental alarm.

There's absolutely no need to have hand waving stop it. What if the licking flames or plumes of smoke read like hand waving to the sensors and turn off the alarm before it wakes you up? Or maybe the curtains start flapping in the air currents created by the fire? There's too many risks of unplanned malfunction to have such a "convenience" feature.

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Silver badge

Re: Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

"... This could delay an alarm going off if there was a real fire ..."

It seems that it's not _cancelling_ an existing alarm that is the issue. It actually _disables_ the alarm; it would seem.

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Re: Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

As the document says, this feature is turned off by default if you do happen to have the device connected to your wi-fi so it's a non-issue for those of us that do.

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Boffin

@R 11 - Re: Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

> Presumably you are not elderly and don't know anyone who is.

Well my grandmother was (unsurprisingly) elderly and used to keep her umbrella in the kitchen so if her smoke alarm was triggered accidentally she had a conveniently long item to hand to press the cancel button.

Perhaps you could learn something from her?

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Re: @R 11 - Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

My wife is:

1: 100% wheelchair bound with MS

2: Has arthritic hands (from said MS) which make it hard for her to pick up her mouse to throw it at the wall when it frustrates her, never mind pick up an umbrella.

With respect sir - one swallowed use case does not make a summer-ised test base for product acceptance or rejection. At least - not in my Idiot-ic opinion :-).

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Silver badge
Pint

Two fer Two?

If I understand the NEST company, they have about two products. Both have had significant bugs. If they have three products, then let's give it another month to see if they hit 3 for 3.

The Smart thermostat was so busy mining bitcoins* that it forgot how to be a thermostat. (*Disclaimer, I may have some of the details wrong.)

Now this Smoke Alarm bug/feature/bug.

It almost justifies becoming a Luddite. But not quite.

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Silver badge

Re: Two fer Two?

"It almost justifies becoming a Luddite. But not quite."

Wait until you've got a "smart" meter, then you can review your choice!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: @R 11 - Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

> Well my grandmother was (unsurprisingly) elderly and used to keep her umbrella in the kitchen

Leaky roof?

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Re: Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

Why would you make it convenient to turn off an alarm?

Because smoke alarms are annoying. The more difficult it is to disable them during the inevitable false-positives that they give, the more likely they are to be disabled in a more permanent manner.

A smoke alarm that goes off full blast every time you burn toast is not useful. You become accustomed to the sound and no longer assume that there is a fire when you hear it, you assume that someone is making toast.

If the alarm is difficult to shut off, e.g. if you have to get a chair to actually reach the button, chances are at some point you will just take the battery out.

I think the delayed start to the Nest alarm that gives you a little warning if its about to go off, and the "wave to disable" feature are actually really good ideas.

The less annoying your alarm is to live with, the more likely you are to leave it connected and working.

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not only a features... but a bug

This make an obvious demonstration of the benefits and problems with automatic "upgrades" delivered over the net, and without user intervention or control. I have heard of Nest thermostats being bricked automatically by updates in the past, with no ability to opt out of the upgrade loop. It upgrades itself and you only find out when it fails... and you come home to a cold house.

Now there will surely be people that bought the smoke alarm and considered this as a feature, but it is being removed. Sony didn't fare too well when they reduced functionality.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: not only a features... but a bug

> It upgrades itself and you only find out when it fails... and you come home to a cold house.

If you're lucky. Or to a sauna and a gas bill the size of a small country's yearly budget if you're not, and you've been away for a few weeks.

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What I'd like manufacturers to understand is that we don't want all these devices to have automatic updates, what we want is form them to have been programmed correctly in the first place!

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it was programmed correctly in the first place. by the engineer that thought it was a helpful feature. but long after he was gone, another engineer found that it was unsafe. it's not like it was a bug, there's a difference between software doing something you didn't intend and software doing exactly as you intended but having unforeseen consequences. which this case is definitely the ladder. I have no problem with pushing an update for this but apparently you and at least 6 others disagree. why? i have no clue

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Silver badge

"it was programmed correctly in the first place. by the engineer that thought it was a helpful feature. but long after he was gone, another engineer found that it was unsafe. "

Why long after he'd gone? You've never coded something in development that seemed clever, or was useful for testing, and then let it out into the field? I have, although fortunately it was only a nuisance rather than a safety issue. Maybe the rest of the commentariat are perfect, but that doesn't explain other people's blighted software rubbish that I have to interract with daily, so I suspect there's lot of unintended consequences of both design spec (which this probably was) and progammer choice.

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Silver badge

Love it

Fire breaks out - people naturally do the Team America secret signal.

Fire alarm turns off.

Wonderful

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Re: Love it

Well since the point of a smoke alarm is to wake you up if you're asleep while your room is filling with smoke, I don't really see the problem with it.

If you're waving your arms around doing the Team America secret signal as you put it, then surely you are A: Awake and B: Aware of the fire.

At that point, what difference does it make if the smoke alarm is on or off?

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Silver badge

Myself

I prefer a self contained unit that does not update itself of change in any way from its intended design. If it is a flawed design do a product recall. Remote updates leads to another point of failure. A badly timed update which in any of many ways interferes with a life critical system cannot be a good thing.

As for the hand wavy thing I can see a use (as said above, disabled people). Shame it didnt work and I am sure they will find a way to either fix it or develop some alternative solution.

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Re: Myself

It does work, it isn't broken.

The point of a smoke alarm is to wake you up if you're asleep when fire breaks out.

You can wave to turn it off.

You have to be awake to wave.

Whether you waved at it intentionally to turn it off, or accidentally because your arms were flailing around in a panic, it makes no difference, you're still awake and aware of the fire.

The real issue here is why they have decided that it is a problem that needs to be fixed. This seems to be purely driven by the media "outcry" about the perfectly useful and working feature.

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Thumb Up

More internet of things

I need this to network with my toaster and grill so it knows to turn down its sensitivity when I dare to heat some bread.

As to the first poster, DougS, it doesn't even take full on disability to make disabling an alarm difficult. My partner ended up knock ours off the ceiling with a broom when it was performing its "You are making toast!" feature, as arthritic shoulders mean she can't reach far above her head.

Think outside your box.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More internet of things

Indeed.

I was working away recently and got a distraught call at 4am from the wife who was about to go postal on "the !*$@ing fire alarm" because "it keeps going off".

For the record, it wasn't a flat battery. The thing had decided to intermittently decide there was a fire, thus repeatedly triggering all the other (interlinked, mains powered, battery backed-up) fire alarms in our house. I can understand why she was pissed off...

It's unbelievable how many ingenious ways there are to prevent normal, sane people from legitimately removing the battery from a fire alarm. She'd managed to disconnect it from the ceiling pattress, but it still kept going off. Echoes of the Friends episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tkY08MhfoU

Eventually, a Skype video session so I could see what she could see + an explanation of which anti-tamper screwdriver to use meant she was eventually able to shut the bloody thing up.

With something like a Nest, I could probably have sorted it out in a trice.

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Re: More internet of things

bad idea... say you accidentally turn on your toaster with a dish towel draped over it... fire started, but the device thinks you're making toast...

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Re: More internet of things

Totally agreed. Yesterday I almost poured gasoline over my toast.. Could have been disastrous!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More internet of things

"She'd managed to disconnect it from the ceiling pattress, but it still kept going off. "

Why the skype session and "talk down"? Surely hitting the bugger with a hammer would have shut it up?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More internet of things

I think that's what would have happened if I hadn't picked up the phone at 4am...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More internet of things

> With something like a Nest, I could probably have sorted it out in a trice.

Bucket of water.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More internet of things

> fire started, but the device thinks you're making toast...

and then you're toast.

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Silver badge
Facepalm

Marvel at our amazing new feature for your smoke alarm...

... a Snooze button!!

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I have one of these and it is a little annoying that some of the functionality is being removed and I hope they are able to find a way to correct the issue. The feature in question was extremely helpful and removed much of the annoyance from fire alarm use. Having spent the previous ferw years getting on chairs to prize the balsted thing off the ceiling every time I wanted a steak or burnt the toast was not good and you would often forget to put it back up for a day or two compromising on your safety.

Despite the cost of these things I think NEXT have to be applauded for trying to bring additional functionality to some unloved home devices and apply some of the features we've maybe all being dreaming of for years to fruition.

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Anonymous Coward

Astroturfing failed via typo.

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With 10 foot ceilings, the nest wave was actually a useful feature for only one detector located in the kitchen. I had not purchased other detectors as my house has wiring for mains connected detectors with a third wire for linking them together. Burning toast in the kitchen used to set every single detector in the house screaming. Pushing a button to silence a detector is a PITA and involves a dangerous balancing act so I'm looking forward to Nest fixing this little glitch. As far as hackers and such and over the wire updates, just sensationalist journalism.

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Bronze badge

I have a smoke alarm in my house

It cost the previous owner of the place about £12.

It runs for a good 6-12 months on a 9v battery.

The reset button is big, red and easy to reach (thanks to the design of my stairs)

Thanks to sensible positioning and the positioning of my stairs its easy to test/reset if needed

So why on earth would I (or anyone) want an internet connected, gesture controlled, overcomplicated way of doing the same thing?

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Silver badge

Re: I have a smoke alarm in my house

Maybe there is someone in the world who doesn't have stairs positioned exactly beside the smoke alarm? Someone with disabilities? Someone who has a house with 10-12 foot ceilings?

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Bronze badge

Re: I have a smoke alarm in my house

But this is a solved problem. There are designs that let you turn them off with the beam of a torch. Simple enough.

Best solution is to buy a fire alarm that looks for actual flames in your kitchen (unless you smoke in there, or have a gas cooker hob) or just do like I have, & leave the detector on a shelf in easy reach. That also reduces the sensitivity so something has to really smoke before it goes off - visible smoke appearing - so avoiding issues with slightly charred toast.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I have a smoke alarm in my house

> So why on earth would I (or anyone) want an internet connected, gesture controlled,

> overcomplicated way of doing the same thing?

When they could just build some conveniently placed stairs next to the alarm detector. Totally agree!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I have a smoke alarm in my house

I am a bit confused about the benefits of the nest here.

Is it that the device is just as buggy as a cheap, badly configured old-fashioned detector and keeps raising false alarms in the houses of people who have put it in awkward places - BUT - the ninja internetz nature of the thing means you can turn it off when this keeps happening.

Or is it, that being a modern tool it actually does its job properly making false alarms very, very rare? In which case, the wave function is pretty useless.

If the device malfunctions and causes false alarms, how do people know the wave wont malfunction?

(BTW - I am confused over this as I havent had a false alarm on my home fire detector for the five years I've lived in this house, is this just down to me being able to cook?)

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Black Helicopters

Be careful what you say..

The NSA hears what you say, reports it to their google overlords (and you thought it was the other way around), google reprograms your thermostat and fire alarm. Terrible tragic accident ensues, no more complaints from you.....

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Boffin

ALL smoke alarms operate that way

And I know this for a fact, becuase I have had every smoke alarm ever made... OK not quite, but I've had lots over the years and every one *without exception* will stop beeping if you wave a teatowel/newspaper/any kind of fan under it after you've burnt the toast. So waving your hand is a natural thing to do to shut the thing up.

My current alarm (one of them) is wirelessly hooked into the house alarm system so if it goes off we get a call from an operator within 20 seconds. If there's no response, or we shout "Holy Crap Call The Fire Service" at them, they call the fire service. That's connected enough for me, but it does rely on the phoneline being up, since I didn't stump for the control unit with the 3G connection in it.

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This thing isn't only a Smoke detector

it is also a carbon monoxide detector and has a 7 year product life (like nearly ALL CO/Fire alarms). You can link them so they tell you which of the the others is going off (as does the phone app, which can be set to ring the emergency services when the alarm goes off). It also tells you when its batteries are running out up to 6 months before they do and also provides an "emergency light" to help guide you in the dark. All in all a little bit more sophisticated than your common or garden alarms. Whether this justifies the price, remains to be seen.

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Flame

I haven't had an alarm triggered by toast for 10 years

It's really simple, there are different types of alarm, which should be used in appropriate places.

Heat - Often more expensive, does not detect smoke particles. Place in kitchen.

Optical - Detect slow smouldering fires well (not toast). Often more expensive. Place in hallway.

Ionisation - Cheap, very sensitive (toast). Place in other living areas and bedrooms.

Unless you're making toast in your bedroom...

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Flame

Re: I haven't had an alarm triggered by toast for 10 years

Agreed - it is the fitting of inappropriate alarms that is the biggest issue. Granted it's a bit more difficult in retro-fit circumstances, but there are many, many different brands offering a variety of sensors, interconnect options (wired / wireless) and remote test / hush controls. Just check out the Kidde units at the top of this page (not particularly endorsing TLC, but I have used them over the years):

TLC-direct

There is a slight cost difference between ionisation and optical, but when we're talking about units that are £12 or £22 (that's with an alkaline backup - Lithium is more) it's hardly a fortune. How much was Nest's smoke alarm? I can't find a price...

And none of them needs connecting to the internet for "firmware upgrades". Why the heck would a simple sensor need a firmware upgrade?

It is something intrinsic to the American Way Of Life? (Off topic) Rather than sorting out the cause of a problem, for example some electrical fires, they cover the symptoms. How? The "arc fault circuit breaker" (not used anywhere else in the world AFAIAA) is there to try to detect high currents caused by loose connections. Why are there high currents and loose connections? Because the standard of US electrical fittings is often very poor.

Cause: inappropriate sensor, or inappropriately located.

Symptom: nuisance alarms

Incorrect Solution: make the sensor so easy to deactivate it could happen accidentally

Correct Solution: fit the correct sensor, or relocate

M.

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Re: I haven't had an alarm triggered by toast for 10 years

@Martin an gof

Well said.

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Re: I haven't had an alarm triggered by toast for 10 years

Well the reason it needs firmware updates and connectivity is because it's more than just a smoke and CO2 detector, it's actually a secondary sensor for the Nest thermostat unit which adds additional ability to detect where you are in the house.

The idea is that you have one of these upstairs and the thermostat downstairs, so the thermostat can see you leaving the house downstairs in the morning, and the smoke detector can see you going to bed upstairs in the evening.

Another feature is the CO2 detector can shut down the boiler when it detects high levels of CO2, which is somewhat useful.

There is also the night light feature which puts a light on if the sensor sees you walking under it at night, or if the smoke alarm is going off.

So yeah the real reason to have one is simply to add an upstairs sensor for your Nest, the smoke alarm feature is great, but somewhat overkill if you're buying it just for that one feature. I doubt anyone is going to replace all of their £5 smoke alarms with these £120 units, I think the most likely scenario is that you keep your downstairs smoke alarm and maybe reposition one of your upstairs smoke alarms to make room for the Nest sensor.

Personally I can't see the issue with the alarm being able to be deactivated by accidental waving. The idea of a smoke detector is to wake you up if you're sleeping during a fire. If you're waving, you're awake, whether or not you're waving intentionally seems kind of irrelevant.

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Stop

Re: I haven't had an alarm triggered by toast for 10 years

"Well the reason it needs firmware updates and connectivity is because it's more than just a smoke and CO2 detector, it's actually a secondary sensor for the Nest thermostat unit which adds additional ability to detect where you are in the house."

A thermostat plus PIR. Where's the need for an operating system? New houses these days are built with zoned heating systems which have separate upstairs and downstairs thermostats and can heat upstairs and downstairs separately and to different temperatures. Difficult to retrofit a zoned system though, and NEST doesn't do zoning.

"Another feature is the CO2 detector can shut down the boiler when it detects high levels of CO2, which is somewhat useful."

No it isn't. If it's actually a CO sensor (*not* CO2) then it might be useful if you have an open flue boiler - e.g. a "back boiler". Very nearly all boilers sold (certainly in the UK) for the last 25 years or more have been "room sealed" which means that if they go wrong and start emitting more CO than they should, it goes outside the house. The sort of person who would want to spend this sort of money on a bloomin' smoke detector is unlikely to have a boiler which dates from the 1960s or 1970s and would probably save *far* more money if they bought a new boiler than they ever would with a £120 thermostat.

The appliances which are liable to excessive CO emissions if badly (*very* badly) maintained are open flame gas fires or cookers, and I have *never* seen one of those controlled by a wall thermostat.

This reminds me of the Tesla Ubuntu thread: WHY???

M.

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Anonymous Coward

unique combination of circumstances

elsewhere known as "flipping the bird".

...

hang on, this can not be. Whoever had a mindset to install this... thing, would never dare show disrespect to the all-seeing eye-on-the-wall. At best they'd collapse on their knees: halleluia, be informed, The Allmightly Eye, there's a fire sing(e)ing up my ass and I'd be ever so grateful if you could contact the f... fire brigade pronto. Ah, yes, and by the way, would you unlock the button to activate the f... sprinklers while you're at it?!

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Anonymous Coward

unfettered access to connected devices for good, not evil

that depends on the (current) set up. Your revolutionaries are our terrorists (as of today), and in the current climate, targeted elimination of the terrorist, by disabling his fire alarm, is go go go.

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Anonymous Coward

So sorry your house burned down. But the alarm was rebooting after an over-the-air firmware update we pushed to it... if you read the fine print, you'll notice we disclaimed all liability.

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Anonymous Coward

Talkie Toaster and Wavy Fire Detector conspiracy

Kill all humans!

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My fire alarm is mains powered and sits between a light fitting and light bulb, in the ceiling lamp. The remote control is the light switch.

Works a treat.

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