The biggest new thing: The Thermostat

Things like this really inspire me. I was a semi-finalist in St. Thomas’ 3rd Annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge and now that I’m halfway through the first semester in my New Ventures Strategies Class, my entrepreneurial spirit is awakening big time.

Years ago I was inspired by great photography. As a photographer myself, I saw the work of fantastic portrait and wedding photographers and I said to myself, “I can do that!”. And so I did. That same inspiration I used to get from amazing photographers like Denis Reggie, I now get from ideas like this one from Wired). The article is about the new Nest Thermostat.

A THERMOSTAT?! Why on earth would anyone care about building a new premium, high priced thermostat?! What problem are you solving? Is the market asking for this or are you trying to create a market? In short, I believe this in innovation that really changes the world. Is it coincidence that one of its founders is Tony Fadell, one of the original creators of the iPod?

Take an industry with zero innovation, that essentially hasn’t changed in decades. Yet here is something that everyone has in every home. It also has a direct effect on energy usage, but more importantly wasted energy. Remember those old stats of “If everyone in the US replaced one incandescent lightbulb with a CFL, we would save XXX tons of carbon each year…”. Now take out lightbulb and insert Nest Thermostat.

And lastly, you can tell that they’re on the right track with ideas like this:

An unhappier discovery came when Matsuoka learned that some of the Nest’s prototype testers were unhappy with her algorithms. She had instructed the thermostat to proactively set temperatures for efficiency: Once it learned when people were out of the room, it greedily lowered temperatures in winter and raised them in summer. But people felt that the Nest was forcing them to change their behavior. It was like Al Gore himself was in the room, barking at you to put on a sweater.

So Matsuoka changed the algorithms, shifting the Nest’s personality to more of a gentle coach than a noodge with a climate-change slide show. Her model was the dashboard on the Toyota Prius hybrid car. Just as the Prius provides feedback on fuel consumption, the Nest gives owners a sense of how they’re using energy — and an incentive to save, as opposed to a guilt trip when they don’t. Now, when you set the energy to a temperature-saving level, the Nest awards you with a virtual leaf — a little icon that Nest hopes you will cherish. It’s like a DIY carbon offset.

It learns, yet also assists you in saving energy, and thus money, but it does it in a way that isn’t overbearing. That’s really the right approach, and I personally can’t wait to see one of these things in action.