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In my Scientific American column this month, I wrote about an innovative electric utility program that's designed to keep costs down and avoid blackouts. New York City's Con Edison power utility is distributing free Internet-connected thermostats that you can control even while you're away from your house. In exchange, you give the company permission to override your temperature setting on the hottest, highest-demand days of summer.
Con Ed's online thermostats are interesting, and it's the first company to offer a remote-control module for window air conditioners, which fill New York apartments by the millions. But Con Ed isn't the only game in town. Smart thermostats are cropping up all over the country. Here are some of the other online thermostats that could be hanging soon on a wall near you.
Nest: This $250 thermostat was designed by the guy who designed the iPod. It's one beautiful thermostat.
It has wi-fi, so it's online. You can control it and review its activity from a phone app or on a Web site. Most remarkably, this thermostat has near- and far-field sensors that detect people's presence in the room. By observing the room and taking note of when you adjust the temperature manually, the Nest learns your schedule—and programs itself.
Verizon: Verizon's Home Monitoring and Control program also offers remote-controllable thermostats—and enough other home-control hardware to make you an honorary Jetson. Through a phone app or Web site, you can turn appliances on and off, lock and unlock your doors, fiddle with the temperature, check in on video cameras and so on—for only about $10 a month. The $90 starter kit includes one camera, one lamp plug-in module and the base unit. (AT&T's Digital Life is similar. It's being tested in two cities this summer.)
Lowe's: The Lowe's home-improvement chain offers Iris, a similar whole-house automation system. It includes thermostats, door locks, lighting and appliances, plus video cameras and sensors for doors, motion and fire—all under the control of your phone or a Web site.