Microsoft and Johnson Controls announce new GLAS thermostat with Cortana, transparent OLED display

Microsoft and Johnson Controls announce new GLAS thermostat with Cortana, transparent OLED display

Seemingly out of nowhere, Microsoft announced yesterday via YouTube that Johnson Controls had “reinvented the thermostat” and teased its new “GLAS” thermostat in a lifestyle-focused video showcasing the device’s features and beauty. (Updated 7/21/2017 with statement from Johnson Controls.)

Thermostats have been getting a lot of attention in recent years, as Nest upended the industry in 2011 with its sleek and high-tech learning thermostat that “required no programming”. It was quickly followed by Ecobee, Honeywell and others who wanted to join the “modern thermostat” craze. Aside from security products, automating air conditioning and heating is usually a top priority of people looking to make their homes “smart”.

Johnson Controls might not be a household name, as their thermostats aren’t marketed towards consumers lately. In fact, the company’s products and services are targeted for building management, battery systems and distributed energy storage. But Johnson Controls traces its roots back to 1883 when its founder, Warren Johnson, patented the first “electric tele-thermoscope” and would later be known as the electric room thermostat.

Other than the YouTube video, few if any official details exist about the new GLAS thermostat. Here’s what we do know at the moment based on the video’s content:

  • Cortana voice activation is on-board
  • Runs Windows IoT Core, using Microsoft Azure for its cloud platform
  • Uses air quality sensors to monitor local room conditions
  • Adapts to changing weather conditions to provide “leading energy savings”
  • Uses some type of touch-sensitive, projected or transparent display technology
  • Includes reporting for system usage and energy savings (video mentions “daily” reporting)
  • Has occupancy sensors to better understand usage and determine home/away status
  • Contains modern smart thermostat features such as scheduling, home/away modes, automatic switching between heat and cool
  • Will be available for both residential and commercial installations
  • Appears to lack any physical buttons
  • Based on using Azure for back-end services, Wi-Fi is probably the primary (or only) wireless system for GLAS

A source close to the thermostat project has confirmed to Smarter Home Life that the GLAS touchscreen display is transparent OLED. This would mark one of the first consumer products, if not the very first smart home product to ship with a transparent OLED display. (Frame-by-frame analysis of the video footage would appear to confirm that the GLAS thermostat or its display was not added in post-production.)

One big detail that isn’t known right now—beyond price and availability—is the vitally important one: The list of existing smart home systems and devices that will work with GLAS and vice versa. While it’s great that Microsoft is firmly pushing Cortana forward and putting it directly on-board the thermostat, a fast-growing number of people are now quite used to asking Alexa or Google Assistant to change or check the temperature. (Somehow I doubt that Johnson Controls would add HomeKit capability to the device, so forget controlling it with your HomePod, at least for now.) GLAS will need to connect to a few major platforms and voice assistants to enable broad user adoption out of the gate, and have the right price.

One other detail, as in which types of HVAC systems that GLAS will be compatible with, I’m personally not too worried about it at the moment. As Johnson Controls invented the thermostat, I will assume—perhaps naively—that they’ll put forward a widely-compatible device that doesn’t require additional wiring or special adapters. And, to reiterate, Johnson Controls built the hardware and partnered with Microsoft on the software, Cortana and Azure Cloud integration.

I’ve reached out to Microsoft and Johnson Controls for further details, pricing and availability and will update this article if/when further information becomes available.

Johnson Controls has issued this official statement on the GLAS thermostat:

From the inventor of the first electric room thermostat, Johnson Controls is introducing GLAS — an innovative thermostat that reimagines how spaces are perceived and controlled. In partnership with Microsoft technology, GLAS is a simple to use thermostat that brings leading energy savings and air quality monitoring to everyday spaces. Additional information about the launch of GLAS will be announced later this year.

Microsoft has, so far, been playing catch-up in the smart home space. Even with its announcements of its upcoming Cortana-powered smart speakers to be made by Harman Kardon and HP, no one has been truly excited about the Redmond company’s connected home efforts. This announcement changes all of that. With YouTube comments like “shutup and take my money!”, it looks like Microsoft (and Johnson Controls) might have just one-upped Nest and other established smart home gadget makers to create some much-needed excitement. (On a purely personal note, I really want one of these!)

So to sum up: Microsoft partnered with the company who invented the thermostat as we know it, to re-invent the thermostat as we know it and plant its flag in the smart home. Well played.

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