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The new Google Nest thermostat hits the FCC, possibly with air gesture control

Promotional image of a hand setting a digital thermostat.

The 3rd generation Nest thermostat from 2015.

A new Google Nest thermostat has reached the FCC. Droid-Life was the first to see this listing on the government website. The listing is in confidential mode so the details are sparse but the details we have are kind of weird. We think it has air gesture control.

First, the RF exposure report lists the device as a “thermostat”

; and says it has 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which all seems pretty normal. The device will then be listed with a “60 GHz transmitter” that was not yet equipped with a previous Nest thermostat. One possible use for a 60 GHz transmitter is “WiGig,” a 60 GHz form of Wi-Fi that can reach 7 Gbps. However, high-speed data transfers don’t seem very suitable for a thermostat. The other more likely option is Project Soli, Google’s air gesture system, which was first commercialized on the Pixel 4 late last year.

Project Soli is an air gesture system that Google has been developing for a while. It’s a compact radar system on a chip and Google has FCC approval to use Solos in the 57-64 GHz frequency band. The original selling point for Soli was that by blasting your hand at 60 GHz and capturing the return signal, Soli could detect “submillimeter movements of your fingers” which would allow very fine gesture control. It was possible to pinch your thumb and forefinger together for the push of a button, or rub the two fingers together to turn a dial. Soli was originally intended for devices without large touchscreens such as speakers or smartwatches. A Nest thermostat would probably fit this description as it doesn’t have a touchscreen and instead relies on a rotating scroll wheel that doubles as the outer body of the thermostat.

Of course, the Pixel 4 version of Project Soli was a mess, and shrinking the experimental chip to fit in a smartphone meant undoing much of the “sub-millimeter” precision it had promised. Instead of moving your fingers, the Pixel 4 needed large, arm-waving gestures to recognize something, and functionality was very redundant as a smartphone already has a huge touchscreen on the front. Perhaps a thermostat that is much thicker than a smartphone and doesn’t have to worry about battery life can use a bigger, more precise chip.

To date, Google has never really tried making a Nest thermostat. Google bought Nest for 3.2 billion in 2014, but Nest was run as an independent company under the umbrella of Google (and later Alphabet) for several years. The current flagship thermostat, the 3rd generation Nest, was released in 2015 and the cheaper Nest E was introduced in 2017. Nest was no longer an independent company and merged with Google in 2018. With Google I / O 2019, Nest was really dead, and Nest became a Google sub-brand. Nest and Google still have a lot of confusing overlaps, such as competing smart home apps, and it seems that at some point all Nest products will have to be replaced with versions of Google.

Google may be responsible now, but there’s rarely a good reason to bring out an updated version of a thermostat. It’s just a thermostat! Faster processors or improved connectivity are never needed, so you’ll need another excuse to boot up some new hardware. Using Google logic, Project Soli air gestures seem like a good reason to create a Google version of the Nest thermostat. I’m not sure if anyone would actually want to wave their hand on a thermostat, but we’ll see what Google’s sales pitch ultimately looks like.

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