TIME smart home

A Drop Dead Easy Way to Make Your Air Conditioner Smarter and Greener

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A smarter air conditioning unit doesn't have to be fancy. Just ask German startup Tado

German startup Tado has spent the last three years trying to make heating and cooling systems smarter and more efficient in countries across Europe. But on Thursday, the company debuted a device for the rest of the world including the United States.

Tados’ device lets homeowners automatically control the temperature in their house. Based on a cell phone app, it detects when the home owner leaves and returns, and adjusts the air conditioning accordingly. Tado says by turning off the air conditioning when the person leaves the house, energy use can be cut by 40%, helping to lower energy bills. Tado also pitches its device as a convenience and a way to make homes more comfortable.

The product works by wirelessly connecting the control gadget to a home’s air conditioning unit using the air conditioning unit’s remote control. The company is targeting one-room air conditioners like the ones used in windows, mounted on walls, or portable ones — these make up 85% of the world’s air conditioning.

Tado’s smart air conditioner is part of a broader push by companies to make the entire home digitally connected with sensors, wireless networks and smarter devices. Big and small companies alike are connecting fridges, ovens, entertainment systems, and lighting systems, and looking to sell consumers on the dream of an ultra convenient, sleek and techie home. The upside of some of these devices is that they can be more energy efficient.

Tado, which introduced the new product at an event in New York, voiced big goals for its new territory. Within the next year, it hopes that its device will be used in at least 100,000 air conditioning units in New York City alone.

The real differentiator with Tado is that it’s a pretty smart device for a decent price: $200. Nest, a smart home device maker owned by Google, sells its rival thermostat for $250.

Tado, sometimes referred to as the European Nest, has raised funding from Target Partners and Shortcut Ventures as well as a Kickstarter campaign.

TIME the backstory

Behind TIME’s Smart Home Cover: Meet Artist Lori Nix

For this week’s issue of TIME, editors asked artist Lori Nix — best known for her “post-apocalyptic" dioramas — to build and shoot a model of an ideal smart home.

It might be hard to believe at first glance, but Lori Nix’s photographs are not pictures of real, full-size spaces. They are, instead, intricately-designed models she has built and shot in her own Brooklyn studio.

Nix – an artist and photographer who has been working in New York since the early 1990s – describes her dioramas of crumbling theaters and sand-filled subway cars as “post-apocalyptic.” In her photographs, nature creeps into the built environment raising questions of what the world would be like without humans. Somewhat appropriately, too, Nix builds models specifically to be photographed and destroys them afterward.

THURS_coverBut for this week’s issue of TIME – which focuses on how smart homes are changing lives – editors asked her to imagine what a regular house might look if it worked with its owners, rather than what it would look like if it went to ruin without them.

And so Nix – working with fellow artist and girlfriend Kathleen Gerber – created and photographed a striking model of a smart home, replete with replicas of a climbing wall, a wifi-enabled lighting system, air conditioning that anticipates user needs, and many other innovations.

The best thing about the project?

“I get to play ‘what if?’” as Nix says in our video interview. “What if I was able to build my own house? This would be close to what my dream house would be.”

Lori Nix is an artist and photographer based in Brooklyn who has been exhibited internationally. Her book, The City, is out now.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox.

TIME Smarthome

Google’s Nest Is Coming After the Rest of Your Home

Nest Labs, maker of the “learning” thermostat, is opening its platform to outside developers in a bid to expand the range of Internet-connected home devices it can interact with. Through Nest, which search giant Google acquired for $3.2 billion in January, users will be able to communicate with Mercedes-Benz vehicles, Whirlpool appliances, Jawbone fitness trackers and other gadgets.

Google is among the partners announced as part of the program. Google Now, the company’s personal digital assistant, will be able to set the temperature on a Nest thermostat automatically when it detects that a user is coming home, for example, or through voice commands. Nest said it will share limited user information with Google and other partners. Nest co-founder Matt Rogers told the Wall Street Journal that users have to opt in for each new device.

The move allows partners to link their software and applications to Nest’s thermostat, which will act as a hub for devices in the home. For example, Jawbone’s UP24 band knows when its users are about to wake up in the morning. Now, a Nest thermostat can automatically raise or lower the temperature just before a user gets out of bed in the morning. Likewise, a connected Mercedes-Benz can tell Nest when a user will be home from work, timing the house’s temperature correctly.

Nest is independently operated from Google. But the device maker is leading Google’s charge into the connected home market. Earlier this month, Nest announced it was acquiring Dropcam, a maker of connected cameras, for $555 million. The company’s founders have also said they are looking for unloved or poorly designed devices to reinvent.

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