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Google built a radar for your bedroom. It may just be the company’s first step to monetize wellness.

Google's new Nest Hub smart display uses radar and other sensors to measure your sleep patterns, and Google could offer paid service down the line.

Nest Hub sleep tracking

Google's new Nest Hub smart display uses radar tech to track your sleep.

Image: Google

At first glance, Google's new $100 Nest Hub smart display looks just like its 2018 predecessor, save for a few minor cosmetic tweaks. But come nighttime, it unleashes a whole new superpower: Google has integrated its Soli radar sensors into the Nest Hub to turn it into a futuristic sleep tracker. By combining Soli data with locally processed audio, the smart display monitors tossing and turning, breathing, snoring and coughing to generate sleep reports.

Data and insights gathered by the display can be fed into the Google Fit app for a more comprehensive picture of a consumer's personal health. Google is also laying the groundwork for future use cases that may involve a combination of sleep and fitness data. In a hint of things to come, the company will make the Nest Hub's sleep sensing functionality available as a free preview until next year.

Google Nest senior product manager Ashton Udall told Protocol that the company decided to integrate sleep tracking into the product because smartwatches and fitness trackers simply didn't work for many people, if only because these devices require frequent charging. And sleep is a problem looking for a solution: One in three adults report getting not enough of it, and a whopping 50% have trouble falling asleep frequently, according to third-party research shared by Google. "A lot of people are struggling with this issue," Udall said.

To solve it, Google decided to rely on Soli, the mini radar tech first developed by Google's ATAP skunkworks unit. Soli was originally conceived as a way to track small finger movements to control mobile devices, but it turns out that the radar tech can also monitor an entire body. "Soli can measure movement on the micro scale and the macro scale," Udall explained.

Placed on the bedside table, the Nest Hub is able to focus just on the person next to it — and ignore partners sleeping in the same bed, Udall said: "It sort of creates a tracking bubble for your sleeping area." Google tested the Nest Hub's sleep-tracking functionality with thousands of people, for a total of more than 100,000 nights. Around 60% of those test participants were sharing their beds with co-sleepers.

Google is positioning the Nest Hub as a wellness device, not something capable of clinical diagnosis — an important distinction that does away with the need for an FDA certification. However, the company has partnered with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for the development of the feature, and Udall said that it is currently running studies to evaluate whether it can be used to monitor respiratory health — something that could benefit anyone concerned about COVID-19.

Udall painted the Nest Hub's sleep tracking as part of a move toward more holistic health and wellness monitoring. "It can be really empowering for medicine in general," he said. And it could be something that people may eventually be willing to pay for, especially once Google bundles it with other services.

Google's acquisition of Fitbit closed in January, and one could imagine that the company may choose to offer a package of monitoring for a set monthly price. Asked whether that's the plan, given that sleep sensing is being marketed as a free preview, Udall said: "To be honest, we don't know."

What's left are privacy concerns. Google aims to address them by tracking both raw Soli data and audio monitoring of sleep sounds locally on the device, only sending the combined sleep event data to its servers. The company is also giving consumers tools to pause tracking and delete data from a prior night.

Google's Nest team also stuck to its decision not to add a camera to the Nest Hub. That's notable, given how much time we've all spent on video conferences over the past 12 months. And we can't forget Google's constant — and at times obnoxious — marketing of its Meet video chat product in all of its other apps.

Asked whether his team had to duke it out with the Meet team over this, Udall laughed. "We had many fights, but that was not one of them," he said. "People don't want cameras in their bedrooms."

Protocol | Workplace

In Silicon Valley, it’s February 2020 all over again

"We'll reopen when it's right, but right now the world is changing too much."

Tech companies are handling the delta variant in differing ways.

Photo: alvarez/Getty Images

It's still 2021, right? Because frankly, it's starting to feel like March 2020 all over again.

Google, Apple, Uber and Lyft have now all told employees they won't have to come back to the office before October as COVID-19 case counts continue to tick back up. Facebook, Google and Uber are now requiring workers to get vaccinated before coming to the office, and Twitter — also requiring vaccines — went so far as to shut down its reopened offices on Wednesday, and put future office reopenings on hold.

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Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.

After a year and a half of living and working through a pandemic, it's no surprise that employees are sending out stress signals at record rates. According to a 2021 study by Indeed, 52% of employees today say they feel burnt out. Over half of employees report working longer hours, and a quarter say they're unable to unplug from work.

The continued swell of reported burnout is a concerning trend for employers everywhere. Not only does it harm mental health and well-being, but it can also impact absenteeism, employee retention and — between the drain on morale and high turnover — your company culture.

Crisis management is one thing, but how do you permanently lower the temperature so your teams can recover sustainably? Companies around the world are now taking larger steps to curb burnout, with industry leaders like LinkedIn, Hootsuite and Bumble shutting down their offices for a full week to allow all employees extra time off. The CEO of Okta, worried about burnout, asked all employees to email him their vacation plans in 2021.

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Stella Garber
Stella Garber is Trello's Head of Marketing. Stella has led Marketing at Trello for the last seven years from early stage startup all the way through its acquisition by Atlassian in 2017 and beyond. Stella was an early champion of remote work, having led remote teams for the last decade plus.
Protocol | China

Livestreaming ecommerce next battleground for China’s nationalists

Vendors for Nike and even Chinese brands were harassed for not donating enough to Henan.

Nationalists were trolling in the comment sections of livestream sessions selling products by Li-Ning, Adidas and other brands.

Collage: Weibo, Bilibili

The No. 1 rule of sales: Don't praise your competitor's product. Rule No. 2: When you are put to a loyalty test by nationalist trolls, forget the first rule.

While China continues to respond to the catastrophic flooding that has killed 99 and displaced 1.4 million people in the central province of Henan, a large group of trolls was busy doing something else: harassing ordinary sportswear sellers on China's livestream ecommerce platforms. Why? Because they determined that the brands being sold had donated too little, or too late, to the people impacted by floods.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.
Power

The video game industry is bracing for its Netflix and Spotify moment

Subscription gaming promises to upend gaming. The jury's out on whether that's a good thing.

It's not clear what might fall through the cracks if most of the biggest game studios transition away from selling individual games and instead embrace a mix of free-to-play and subscription bundling.

Image: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

Subscription services are coming for the game industry, and the shift could shake up the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world. These services started as small, closed offerings typically available on only a handful of hardware platforms. Now, they're expanding to mobile phones and smart TVs, and promising to radically change the economics of how games are funded, developed and distributed.

Of the biggest companies in gaming today, Amazon, Apple, Electronic Arts, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, Nvidia, Sony and Ubisoft all operate some form of game subscription. Far and away the most ambitious of them is Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass, featuring more than 100 games for $9.99 a month and including even brand-new titles the day they release. As of January, Game Pass had more than 18 million subscribers, and Microsoft's aggressive investment in a subscription future has become a catalyst for an industrywide reckoning on the likelihood and viability of such a model becoming standard.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.
Protocol | Policy

Lina Khan wants to hear from you

The new FTC chair is trying to get herself, and the sometimes timid tech-regulating agency she oversees, up to speed while she still can.

Lina Khan is trying to push the FTC to corral tech companies

Photo: Graeme Jennings/AFP via Getty Images

"When you're in D.C., it's very easy to lose connection with the very real issues that people are facing," said Lina Khan, the FTC's new chair.

Khan made her debut as chair before the press on Wednesday, showing up to a media event carrying an old maroon book from the agency's library and calling herself a "huge nerd" on FTC history. She launched into explaining how much she enjoys the open commission meetings she's pioneered since taking over in June. That's especially true of the marathon public comment sessions that have wrapped up each of the two meetings so far.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

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