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Google Thinks You and Your House Should Talk

Acquiring smart thermostat company Nest is Google's play for one of the holy grails of future tech trends: the smart home. Your future home could be a robot that talks to you.
January 14, 2014, 12:31am
Image: Author

After investing millions into smart thermostat company Nest, a shining star of the "internet of things" megatrend, Google just bit the bullet and decided to buy the company today, for an impressive $3.2 billion in cash. Google being Google, it’s staying tight-lipped about how the purchase fits into its grand plan. But considering some of the other moves the company's been making lately, it's not hard to speculate what it's angling at here.

Buying Nest is Google's play for one of the holy grails of future tech trends: the connected home. It's the tech giant's way into your living room, as the parlance goes. The vision of an automated home stocked with sensor-equipped objects gathering data about your every lifestyle habit and talking to each other to cater to your needs is a technoutopian dream that won't die. Not to mention it's estimated to be a multibillion dollar market over the next few years.


As such, a flood of tech companies are competing to control the automated home. You've got your hardware firms manufacturing smart objects, like Nest, that interact with other gadgets of the same brand. Then you've got your software companies hoping to become the standard protocol through which the deluge of clever gadgets communicate with each other.

This means becoming the platform everything else is built on. It’s the operating system and your toaster and curtains are the apps. Telecom and cable companies, seeing as they control the wifi that connects the connected household, are planning to offer home automation as part of the package, as are myriad home automation startups. And of course the big players in Silicon Valley all have their own plans brewing, like Microsoft's emerging HomeOS platform and Google's dormant but still kicking Android @Home. Apple's kicking around an automation patent too.

Google's plan might be the most interesting. Especially now that it's bought Nest, it's got most of the essential ingredients to control your connected lifestyle. The internet of things basically turns your house into a data vault, and already Google's infiltrated the home through smartphone apps, Chromecast TV, Android-powered cars—all collecting data about how you live. With the acquisition of Nest, it will now also know when you're home, even what room you're in. Oh good.

Now imagine combining this with the strides Google’s making in voice recognition artificial intelligence, and its recent investments in robotics. Your future home could be a robot that talks to you. There were hints of this in the smart home prototype Qualcomm showcased at CES last week. Motherboard's Brian Merchant gave it a tour:

"Welcome home, Paul," a disembodied welcome bot intoned, as our guide used an app to unlock the door, which automatically awoke the smart home. The TV, lights, and climate control all whirred into action. All of the above can, of course, then be controlled by a single smartphone or smart watch or the surely forthcoming smart goiter.

Add voice recognition technology to the mix and you could theoretically talk back to your house: "Thanks, [enter name of your robo-home here]. Now turn the lights on, the heat up, and queue up the latest episode of Downton Abbey please."

Gazing even further into the future, you could be talking not into the speaker on your phone, but the mic built into Google Glass. This isn't empty speculation; many companies eyeing the automation market are thinking about how to incorporate with Glass and other wearable tech. Nest, of course, has a Glass app already. The pieces are slowly mixing together.