Tony Fadell, a gadget guru who helped design the iPod and original iPhone while working at Apple, is counting on his latest innovation to prove that a smoke detector can be sleek, smart and appreciated. The device, called “Nest Protect,” is the second product hatched from Nest Labs Inc., a startup founded by Fadell in 2010 in an attempt to infuse homes with more of the high-tech wizardry that people take for granted in smartphones. The Palo Alto, Calif., company has 270 employees and has raised tens of millions of dollars from investors that include Google Inc.’s venture-capital arm and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm with a long record of backing innovative ideas. Besides sensing smoke, Nest Protect is designed to detect unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. That could broaden the square-shaped device’s appeal, especially in the growing number of states that require homeowners to install carbon monoxide detectors.
Nest Labs’ first device was a digital thermostat designed to learn how to cool and heat homes to suit the needs and habits of the inhabitants. It went on sale two years ago for $249. Fadell won’t say how many thermostats have been sold so far, but it’s done well enough to reinforce his belief that there is increasing interest in furnishing homes with the latest trappings of technology, even if it costs slightly more to do it. The Nest Protect is equipped with a variety of sensors for detecting heat, smoke, carbon monoxide, light and motion. It also is programmed to deliver early warnings in spoken words instead of a shrill alarm to give a home’s occupants a chance to check on whether there’s just too much smoke coming from the oven, steam from the shower or a real fire hazard.