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Johnson Controls’ new thermostat isn’t just pretty – it’s pretty smart

A household fixture often taken for granted is getting a beautiful, high-tech refresh at Johnson Controls, one of the oldest names in heating and air conditioning. The GLAS thermostat is intended to delight customers and establish Johnson Controls as a home-automation innovator..

GLAS – a reference to the thermostat’s 5.9-inch OLED screen — “is important to the company,” says Pat Mulcahy, Johnson Controls’ general manager of thermostats and sensors. “This is the pinnacle of our thermostat offerings, providing the most capabilities, with a simple user experience and beautiful design. ”

Johnson Controls traces its roots back over 135 years, to the invention of the first room thermostat. But the Milwaukee-based company acknowledges that the devices are often seen as mundane boxes on the wall. With its bold graphics, swoopy lines and bright colors, GLAS changes all that.

“There’s a degree of visibility with this product that doesn’t exist with anything else Johnson Controls is known for,” Mulcahy says. “Even financial and technology analysts have been eager to learn more about GLAS.”

In the competitive market for smart thermostats, Johnson Controls thinks GLAS will stand out because of its beauty, ease of use and extensibility. “We’ve taken the feedback people have given us about thermostats and smart devices and have tried to address their concerns,” Mulcahy says. For example, programming is simple, requiring only a few taps on the touch-sensitive translucent screen.

That screen, set into a curved metallic base, displays large, crisply defined characters and easy-to-read graphs displaying the current temperature, heating and cooling setpoints, and more. Swiping the screen reveals other settings and more data.

A motion sensor detects whether the room is occupied. In a show of GLAS’ smarts, if the homeowner has scheduled the house to be occupied but the sensor detects no motion, the device suggests savings achievable by turning down the heating or cooling. Every day, GLAS computes and graphs how many hours of heating or cooling it’s saved compared to a traditional thermostat.

Onboard sensors measure and react to home temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When connected to Wi-Fi, GLAS reports on outside weather conditions, including air quality index and pollen. The ability to monitor and react to poor air quality — by exhausting home air or minimizing intake of outside air — is a feature Johnson Controls says is unique to GLAS.

The Wi-Fi connection also allows direct voice control through Microsoft Cortana, with no need for external technology. And it provides control over GLAS via mobile and web-based apps.

GLAS is intended mainly for home use, but it’s also suitable for select commercial spaces. It can control most conventional heating and cooling systems found in North America. Do-it-yourself installation is possible, though some homeowners will want to use a professional installer, the company says. Pricing is set at $319, with pre-order beginning in March.

Microsoft “has been absolutely critical to our success” with GLAS, Mulcahy says. “We would not have been able to launch the product without the Microsoft team.”

The Windows 10 IoT Core operating system lies at the heart of GLAS, says program lead Joe Ribbich. Apps connected with GLAS — for example, allowing smartphone-based readings of home temperature and humidity, as well as control over heating and cooling — are built using the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). The mobile app was developed using Xamarin.

All data is hosted in the Azure cloud, and accessed via Microsoft’s IoT Hub. “The flexibility and capability of Azure are essential to our ability to scale this product and bring it to a very large number of customers,” says Mulcahy.

“First and foremost came security,” Ribbich continues. On a different development base, Johnson Controls would have been responsible for all the security. “Instead, we can focus on developing GLAS, while Microsoft uses its whole team dedicated to monitoring, assessing, addressing and testing vulnerabilities. It’s been a lot of time savings and security, in the sense of feeling good that we have another world-class organization behind this product.”

He notes, “Microsoft has years of experience remotely updating software.  That infrastructure and  ability to manage that process is a key reason we chose Microsoft.”

Johnson Controls says GLAS will update and reboot only when it’s just finished a heating or cooling cycle, to ensure minimal disruption to comfort. All Windows 10 updates will be validated and supplied by Johnson Controls directly.

GLAS is the base from which Johnson Controls plans to expand into other realms, says Mulcahy. “We envision being part of different home ecosystems. We need to be prepared to play in that future-state world.”

Ribbich adds, “A big competitive differentiator for us is the big screen in GLAS. With that sort of real estate, there’s a lot we can do.”

Photos courtesy of Johnson Controls.