Google acquisitions include Nest Labs smart home company and military robotics

Credit: grantsewell

Credit: grantsewell

Back in December, the Google acquisitions of several robotics companies, including military robotics producer Boston Dynamics, which created “Big Dog” and other YouTube favorite robots, created for the military, made the news to such an extent that even Stephen Colbert got in on the conversation in “Google’s robot acquisition.” Responding to what Google might want with robotics companies like Boston Dynamics, Colbert responded jokingly, “Clearly, to enslave humanity, because that is the only way they can get us to sign up for Google+.” The Internet went wild with jokes about Skynet, the sentient artificial intelligence that wages war on humanity in the “Terminator” franchise. And on January 13, 2014, Google continued with a new branch of acquisitions: it purchased Nest Labs, a company that makes Internet connected smoke alarms and thermostats in “smart homes.”

What is Nest?

Nest, like the larger Honeywell, is a company that designs important but underappreciated devices – such as thermostats and smoke detectors – that can be monitored and adjusted from mobile devices. Tony Fadwell and Matt Rogers, both of whom previously worked on projects for the iPhone and iPod at Apple, founded the company in 2010, launching their first products the next year. The Nest products were so good that Honeywell and others quickly borrowed from the design, mimicking the smaller company’s advances.

In order to help consumers who use their products, Nest devices track activities in the home, such as when people wake up, leave the house or come home. Monitoring those human behaviors allows the devices to program themselves to better serve the home’s residents.

What is Google doing in home systems?

Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times posted on the acquisition in “For Google, a toehold into goods for a home” on January 13, 2014, with her guesses about the purpose of Google’s purchase. “Internet companies are vying to be the gateway through which people live every aspect of their lives — whether searching, socializing, reading, shopping, exercising or sleeping,” she wrote. “For Google, gaining visibility into people’s habits beyond computers and phones — whether watching television using Chromecast, taking a walk wearing Google Glass or managing their homes using Nest products — will provide a fuller picture of users.”

For now, Nest’s privacy policy won’t change, and their user data will only be used to improve their products. But it’s easy to see, if the privacy policy eventually does change, how Google could use that sort of data to more fully integrate into users’ homes. And though Nest does not currently have devices beyond thermostats, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, other smart house products—light dimmers, garage door openers, music systems—are being pursued by other smart home companies. The purchase also shows Google’s continued interest in developing both software and hardware, including its 2011 purchase of Motorola and those robotics companies in 2012.

What does this mean for you? In a few years, it could mean that your Gmail account will show you what temperature it is in your house – if you choose to link home devices to your mobile accounts. Or, if you’re a Google Glass adopter, it could mean that you can kick up the heat in your apartment from your glasses while you’re commuting home.

Tech acquisitions beyond Google

Google isn’t the only company making interesting acquisitions. In a USA Today article by Jon Swartz, “Google to acquire Nest for $3.2 billion,” posted January 13, 2014, several other big tech purchases were listed.

  • Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion in April 2012
  • Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion in May 2013
  • Japanese tech company Softbank bought 70% of Sprint in 2012
  • Microsoft bought Nokia for $7.2 billion in 2013

What do you think of linked Internet and home service accounts (or the coming robot apocalypse)? Tell us in the comments.

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