Nest, the Google-owned company best known for its smart (read: Internet-connected) thermostat, just recalled around 440,000 of its new Protect smoke detectors due to a “failure to sound alert.” One of its cleverest features, the ability to turn off the alarm by waving at it, turns out to have a major flaw.
Waving at the Protect is supposed to take away the headache of having to climb up on a chair to hit the button to silence your alarm when it accidentally goes off because you’re searing a steak. Easy! Good idea! Except when it doesn’t work–or, even worse, works too well.
It turns out that all sorts of movement can trigger that wave function, like walking in front of the Protect’s motion detector. You could theoretically cause a fire and switch off the alarm by accident, thus writing off the alarm as false and remaining unaware that your house is about to ignite. Bad!
Of course, if there was a fire and you accidentally shut off the alarm, there’s certainly a chance you’d still be aware of said fire. But that’s neither here nor there at this point. Nest is mostly protecting itself from a massive lawsuit. (Nobody has been affected by this issue to date.)
And luckily, the fact that the Protect is connected to the Internet means there’s already a fix, of sorts: you can download a software update that simply disables that wave feature. Still, Nest is recalling the entirety of the Protects sold.
The Protect, whose design was spearheaded by Tony Fadell (credited with creating the original iPod), has lots of cool little features that separate it from the smoke detector that came with your apartment. (We outlined our favorites here.) But this actually goes to show how difficult it can be to redesign something simple and ubiquitous. Smoke detectors have one function, and all pretty much work the same way. If you want to tweak that, even in a way that seems like a clear improvement, there could always be problems that some random user will discover–even potentially (though not as yet in reality) big problems, like the one Nest is protecting itself from now.