Google uses machine learning to fix your bad sleeping habits with new Nest Hub

The new Nest Hub wants to help you in the bedroom, through its new Sleep Sensing tech.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Google has introduced its latest Nest Hub, with a focus on making it the "ultimate bedside assistant and alarm clock".

Speaking with media about the "second-generation" Nest Hub, Nest product manager Ashton Udall said it came as a surprise to Google that people were mostly using the Nest Hub in their bedroom, so the company decided to double down and focus on adding new bedroom-specific features.

"When we talked to people, what they really wanted more help with in their bedrooms, by far and away, the resounding response was 'help me get better sleep'," he said.

"Quality of sleep has become the number one concern when it comes to health and wellness in the home … one in three adults are sleep deprived, one in seven have a sleep breathing disorder … and one in two adults, myself included, have trouble falling asleep."

He said Google has witnessed many people turning to sleep and fitness trackers but sleep tech in general is still not working for a really large group of people.

The biggest complaints people have, Udall said, are remembering to use and charge the devices, as well as stick to a routine with them; the discomfort in wearing a device, making wearables a "non-starter"; and also that it's often hard to make meaning out of the data collected by the tracker devices.

"Most importantly, they don't know what to do to actually improve those numbers for better sleep," Udall said. "We had to make sleep tracking effortless for people … so they can do what they normally do and get the benefits that actually help them improve their sleep."

The result is Sleep Sensing, which Google touts as "an opt-in feature to help you understand and improve your sleep".

Image: Google Nest

"Sleep Sensing is completely optional with privacy safeguards in place so you're in control," Udall said.

The feature leverages Soli, a sensing technology embedded into the device.

"It turns out this low wave, low energy radar technology is the perfect technology for an application like Sleep Sensing," Udall said of Soli.

"Reason is, it's capable of measuring human movement at a macro level. It can measure things like total body movement and the movement of your limbs as well as things down to a very tiny level of precision, like the tiny sub-centimetre movements of your chest when you're breathing.

"It creates a sleeping bubble where it will focus in on your sleep, but ignore motion and movement from other things … for example, co-sleepers.  

"It can give us this really rich resolution of what's going on with your sleeping patterns throughout a night."

Udall said Google made this feature work through "science and machine learning". Google partnered with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for the new tech and it was trained using more than 100,000 nights of sleep from over 1,500 people.

Google said that despite zero contact with the body, it validated its results against a polysomnography study and found no statistical difference to the experts.

Motion Sense only detects motion, Udall said, not specific bodies or faces, and occurrences such as coughing and snoring audio data is only processed on the device, not sent to Google servers. It also boasts a number of controls that can be disabled and a visual indicator on the display that shows when it's activated.  

"You can review or delete your sleep data at any time, and consistent with our privacy commitments; it isn't used for personalised ads," Udall explained.

It integrates with the Google Fit app and its partnership ecosystem. Udall said the company is actively exploring ways to bring its Fitbit in to make it "an even better experience overall".

The specs

The new device's speaker is based on the same audio technology as Nest Audio and has 50% more bass than its predecessor.

With Quick Gestures, users can also pause or play content by tapping the air in front of the display. This works for snoozing an alarm, too.

The hub can display, and allow users to control, all connected devices, and with thread radio, Nest Hub will work with the new connectivity standard being created by the Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) working group.

"The thread radio inclusion that will allow this device in the future to become a CHIP hub," Nest product manager Kayiita Johnson explained.

"This is a multi-year effort across multiple large companies to really increase interoperability and compatibility between different ecosystems in smart home devices so that using and building your smart homes will become even easier down the line."

It also boasts a third microphone to make it more responsive.

The device will be available in four colours -- chalk, charcoal, sand, and mist -- and features an edgeless glass display, with Johnson touting the device's plastic mechanical parts contains 54% recycled post-consumer plastic.

The Australian version is only available in chalk or charcoal, however, and for customers in the US, they will get a dedicated on-device machine learning chip with 1.2 TeraOPS of processing power.

Sleep Sensing is available as a free preview until next year.

The new Nest Hub is available for pre-order for AU$149 in Australia at the Google Store and other retailers from Thursday; $99.99 in the United States; and £89.99 in the United Kingdom.


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