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Nest's new outdoor camera uses Google AI to see if there's a person at your door

The fourth Nest hardware product has arrived.

Nest Cam Outdoor
The new Nest Cam Outdoor, which goes outdoors.

The fourth hardware product from Nest is here. It’s really the same as the third hardware product, only made for the outside.

On Thursday, the Alphabet company released Nest Cam Outdoors, a small circular camera that mounts on the exterior of homes and syncs to smartphones. It is the same concept and price ($199) as Nest Cam, which the company unveiled last summer.

With its new device, Nest is going more aggressively after the home security market and relying on advanced software features — borrowed from Google for the first time — to distinguish itself in the market.

Nest CEO Marwan Fawaz, who replaced the founder Tony Fadell in May, served on the advisory board of ADT, one of these home security rivals, for the past two years. Part of his task will be boosting sales of its existing hardware (the cameras, a thermostat and smoke detector) as well as finding new sources for revenue, like energy and security services.

Over the past year, the indoor camera has sold very well, said Maxime Veron, Nest’s director of hardware product marketing. (It originated from Nest’s acquisition of Dropcam, which did not go well.) But Veron said the No. 1 demand consumers had was, “Why can’t I put my camera outside?”

When it puts its camera outside, Nest is also throwing in a few new software features. There’s a two-way audio system that lets Nest owners talk through their smartphones to people who approach their doors.

And there’s a new detection feature that lets owners tell whether the thing that approaches their door is a person or not. Actually, the camera detects that itself — courtesy of Google’s advanced computer vision systems.

“Like everybody else on the market, we had motion detection. Everybody else is saying, ‘There’s motion; something is happening,’” Veron told Recode. “Now we’ll be able to tell you what is happening.”

Why did take so long to do this?

“Because these are literally cutting-edge, science-project kind of algorithms,” Veron replied.

Here’s another theory, floated by people who have worked at Nest: After its 2014 acquisition, Nest executives tried to maintain fierce independence from Google. That kept the unit from integrating with Google’s assets — the reason Nest gave for selling to Google when it did.

Nest has faced criticism for its dearth of new hardware. Its response has been to point to its software advances. Veron said the company has worked on its newest hardware release for the past year.

Its new intelligent system, called “person alerts,” is only for paying customers of Nest’s monthly subscription service. Veron said the system will cut the number of false alarms (a stray cat passing by, say) and up the number of real ones (a burglar).

“Going forward, you can see this going into detecting a car ... or a pet,” he said. “Today we don’t. But the same technology can expand.”

Update: Nest disputed the idea that the company delayed working with Google’s machine learning team and reiterated that Fadell and his executive team worked closely on the new camera with Google. A Nest rep sent this statement:

Contrary to the "theory" floated by anonymous sources, Nest and Google in fact collaborate regularly and have been working together on the Nest Outdoor Camera's custom detection algorithm for over a year. However, as both companies have made clear since the acquisition, Nest intentionally maintains its independence when it comes to customer data to protect the privacy of all Nest customers.

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