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Nest pioneers smart smoke alarm

Nest, having shown off what it can do by making the thermostat a little smarter, is now taking on a second home appliance for a modern makeover: the smoke detector.

The firm announced its new project Tuesday to coincide with Fire Prevention Week, showing off a device that detects smoke, heat and carbon monoxide levels. The Nest Protect also boasts features that are meant to take some of the annoyance out of that sometimes pesky fire alarm.

“We’ve all experienced the smoke alarm going off while we’re cooking or searched for the source of that incessant low-battery chirp in the middle of the night,” said Nest’s founder and chief executive, Tony Faddell, in a statement. “Every time a smoke alarm cries wolf, we trust it a little less, and then, in a moment of frustration, we rip the batteries out to stop the beeping. And that leaves us and our families at risk.”

Nest, citing the National Fire Protection Agency, said that 73 percent of smoke alarms that have failed to activate during home fires had dead, missing or disconnected batteries. In most cases, homeowners reported they had disconnected the detectors because of false “nuisance” alarms.

To take care of that particular problem, Nest said, users will be able to turn off a false alarm by simply waving at the smoke detector. Users will also be able to get location-based “heads-up” alerts from the alarm – something like, “there’s smoke in the kitchen” – so they’ll know exactly what the Nest Protect is sensing, and where. For U.S. customers, these spoken alerts are available in English and Spanish.

Similar to the way the Nest Thermostat works, users can integrate their Nest Protect with their smartphone or tablet so they can monitor the detector’s battery life and other key metrics from outside the house.

Nest isn’t the first company to look into making smart appliances. But it’s one of the more notable startups in that market, largely thanks to Fadell, who was an Apple engineer before striking out on his own. With its thermostat, the firm has managed to make an otherwise uninteresting product into a sought-after gadget that manages a home’s inside temperatures according to the owners’ habits.

As with the Nest thermostat, the firm has signed up partnerships with major retailers, including Best Buy, Home Depot, Apple and Amazon, to sell the Nest Protect. The $129 device is up for pre-order and is expected to be available for purchase next month.