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Microsoft Forges Ahead With New Home-Automation OS 196

suraj.sun writes "More than a decade ago, Microsoft execs, led by Chairman Bill Gates, were touting a future where .Net coffee pots, bulletin boards, and refrigerator magnets would be part of homes where smart devices would communicate and inter-operate. Microsoft hasn't given up on that dream. In 2010, Microsoft researchers published a white paper about their work on a HomeOS and a HomeStore — early concepts around a Microsoft Research-developed home-automation system. Those concepts have morphed into prototypes since then, based on a white paper, 'An Operating System for the Home,' (PDF) published this month on the Microsoft Research site. The core of HomeOS is described in the white paper as a kernel that is agnostic to the devices to which it provides access, allowing easy incorporation of new devices and applications. The HomeOS itself 'runs on a dedicated computer in the home (e.g., the gateway) and does not require any modifications to commodity devices,' the paper added. Microsoft has been testing HomeOS in 12 real homes over the past four to eight months, according to the latest updates. As is true with all Microsoft Research projects, there's no guarantee when and if HomeOS will be commercialized, or even be 'adopted' by a Microsoft product group."
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Microsoft Forges Ahead With New Home-Automation OS

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  • by OldTimeCoder ( 2629061 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:29AM (#39844223)
    It wasn't only a decade ago when Microsoft and Bill Gates talked about this. In Bill Gates' book The Road Ahead [] , published back in 1995, he was already having visions of interconnected home devices and appliances. I think this has been long time innovative thought of Mr. Gates. You have to remember that even Microsoft was still a relatively small player in the industry and had only starting to gain momentum.

    I was still a teenager back then but I found many of his ideas quite fascinating, especially the ones that resolved around similar stuff to HomeOS. While many Slashdotters say that Bill Gates merely copied his best ideas like BASIC, he also did have a very large amount of original ideas and thoughts. He described in good details about his visions for the future and how and why something like this would be great for everyones home.

    In that sense, and despite what many slashdotters think, Bill Gates was quite a hacker. Actually, he really was and still is, and he got lucky to have parents with business background so he could mix those two capabilities. This ultimately led him to build the largest and greatest software company the world has ever seen, Microsoft.

    If you haven't read the book, and even if you have something against Gates in your mind, I highly recommend to read it. It's a great read and truly lets you get into the innovative mindset of Bill Gates. Back when he was a young hacker and like with many other young people, he had tons of ideas in his mind.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:36AM (#39844293)

      Ah, a young hacker(age 40), full of ideas from the 1950's about home automation, which is why he completely missed the internet and had to put out V2 of The Road Ahead. As goes the OS, so goes the man.

      Awesome troll, dude. You'll catch many fish today.

    • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:41AM (#39844347)
      This is all you need to know about Gates' ability to peer into the future: In the mid '90s I saw a stack of his books for sale with a sticker on the cover which said NOW REVISED TO INCLUDE THE INTERNET.
    • This is getting old...

      New user account, lengthy reply posted with the same timestamp as the story, marketingish language, ugh. Yup -- same shill, new account.

      But to your point -- pondering the future of computers does not make one a hacker. Sci-fi writers are not hackers because they have some interesting ideas.

      And does it matter that Bill Gates wrote about about automation in 1995? I remember seeing several "house of tomorrow" cartoons from the 1960s detailing the same thing. Several movies from t
      • "New user account, lengthy reply posted with the same timestamp as the story, marketingish language, ugh. Yup -- same shill, new account. "

        Ya know, it might not be the *same* shill, maybe just another drone from the same hive.

        What gets me about at least this post (I haven't checked the others) is the *really bad grammar* - someone is definitely getting paid, but how much? It's gotta be someone outsourced, you can't be telling me the grammar is that bad on purpose.

      • You might also wonder who is moding it "interesting" and "informative." I mean, "You have to remember that even Microsoft was still a relatively small player in the industry and had only starting to gain momentum." I do remember, the industry was huge and MS defined "IBM compatible" at the time.

    • Bill Gates, a visionary??? Please. He missed the single biggest, most obvious trend of the 90s.

      By the mid-90s anybody with half a brain who was paying any attention at all to computer and communications technology related industries understood that the Internet was well on its way to becoming THE dominant communications medium. The only question was what form it was going to take. Even so, by 1995 it was pretty clearly going to be led by Web based technologies. Yet Gates missed all of this and had to p

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        By most accounts, Gates never wrote any code for DOS. He simply stole CP/M, and used a binary editor to rename some things. They way he has gained market share, created an illegal monopoly, bought out politicians to keep his monopoly, I'm pretty sure his character fits the type to start out illegally.

        What people tend to forget (especially the shills) is that Windows did not have TCP/IP drivers included until Windows 95B which came out in 98 since Windows 98 was late. Microsoft stated very publicly that t

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          By most accounts, Gates never wrote any code for DOS. He simply stole CP/M, and used a binary editor to rename some things.

          By most accounts, Gates purchased QDOS, which was a fairly primitive clone (i.e. a from-scratch rewrite) of CP/M - much like Linux was originally a primitive clone of Unix.

      • The era leading up to and during WWII generated some amazing leaps in technology. Mostly led by two people. If you really want to see an amazing computer visionary take a look at Vannevar Bush []. He is the grandfather of digital computing, information theory (Shannon was his grad student), hyper text/web, nuclear bombs and so much more. Douglas Engelbart [] was directly inspired by Bush.

        The godfather of hardware was Frederick Terman at Stanford. Steve Blank has a great talk [] of the founding of silico

    • by farrellj ( 563 ) * on Monday April 30, 2012 @11:20AM (#39845515) Homepage Journal

      Tweets from the MS-future:

      MSfanboy: "OMG, my house just crashed, I'm trapped inside!"
      Macfangrrrl: "Sounds like some old Steve Wright skit"
      MSfanboy: "Now the house is flooding, help!"
      Lnxfanother: "Just reformat your house, install DebHomeLinux!"
      Luddite: ""
      Macfangrrl: "Checking app-store for apps for that, hold on MSfanby!"
      UnxGeezer: "I once wired my MicroVAX to my door bell..."
      4thguru: "I can do all that MShomeOS does in 4k!"
      MSfanboy: "I'm downing!!!!!"
      Macfangrrl: "Sorry, was malware, pwned my iPhone!"
      UberHacker: "@msfanboy, I reset your system using a bug in Windows that has been unpatched since Windows 3.1, then loaded DebHomeLinux with the MShouseOS WINE based emulator, and loaded all of your programs for you. You should be OK for now, just don't upgrade!" -Send via hackedtwitterposter 140++!
      MSfanboy: "I just called the FBI on that evil hacker! And it's not Windows, it's MShomeOS, go read the official MS announcements!"
      slsh.Anoncow: "First post!"

    • From what I remember, everybody had smart house ideas like that back then. That he had the idea to mix it with the OS product he was already making money off of is kind of a no-brainer. I hardly see how it is innovative. He only needed to pick up a Rat Shack catalog and read a bit about X10 or read any number of Smart House of the future articles in Popular Science or many other magazines and think... hmmm, i should be getting in on this market with my software/operating system company. For that matter,
  • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:32AM (#39844255)

    Used to be really interested in home automation. Had an x10 [] setup for a while (terrible system by the way) and played around with some custom software.

    There was a time when everyone thought this was the future (along with virtual reality and other such things). I bought into it. I figured by now I’d be casually shouting orders at the various appliances in my house.

    We now have the technology to do all the cool stuff we dreamed about in the early 90s. The big problem however, is once you automate the lights, temperature, and coffee pot what else is there that makes any sense (and even the lights are more of a novelty than much practical benefit). The “house of the future” feeling is cool and it’s fun to play with... but most of it is impractical and would seem to add very little benefit for a whole lot of complexity.

    • Many of the things being automated are just moving it to a centralized location. For example, lights on motion detectors, coffee pots on a timer, etc. Most of the time, the ability to start a pot of coffee brewing from your smartphone is only slightly more convenient than setting a timer in the morning.

      That said, when I finally buy a house (in about 3 years), I plan on playing around with some home automation for much the same reason my home router is running on an Athlon II X2 with a quad-port NIC. For fun

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      Had an x10 [] setup for a while (terrible system by the way)

      X10 sucks. The "new" (actually about a decade old) Insteon stuff is where its at.

      played around with some custom software.

      Plain vanilla misterhouse with some perl addons, here.

      (and even the lights are more of a novelty than much practical benefit)

      Its rapidly nearing a decade now (or is it already 10 years?) that I set up my security sensor lights thingies to turn on at sunset and off at a predetermined time, all depending on work/school schedules for that day of week. I figure I've saved pennies, maybe even dollars, of electricity over the past decade, but the thing I've saved the most is time... My motion sensor l

      • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

        Home automation scales like the internet. Two lamp modules and a perl script is about as useful of an automation system as an "internet" containing exactly two computers. Usefulness scales as some polynomial of number of devices...

        I was at one point working towards the kind of stuff you describe. Even had a hilariously Rube Goldberg curtain opener dealie (never really got it to work). I never got to the "whole house wired up" stage .. but that's where I wanted to go.

        Currently I've scaled back to the few things I found legitimately useful. Specifically:

        - Lights in the bedroom. Being able to turn the lights on/off while lying in bed is a surprisingly simple convenience that so many live without.
        - Christmas! My old x10 stuff always make

    • by sohmc ( 595388 )

      The problem with X10 is that it was just a horrible piece of equipment. I had a roommate who played with this stuff all day and the control was unpredictable. I'm sure there's a way to configure it properly, but all-in-all, it just wasn't ready for prime-time.

      I believe this is eventually where we will be headed, but we're just not there yet. RFIDs are helping bridge the devices gap. I don't think it will be long until we have fridges that can read RFIDs on everything from a bottle of milk (multiple embe

      • by vlm ( 69642 )

        The problem with X10 is that it was just a horrible piece of equipment. I had a roommate who played with this stuff all day and the control was unpredictable

        When I was still using X10, years and years ago, the "standard" was to send every command three times, one minute apart. Sometimes it still failed anyway.

        With Insteon (think X-10 2000 or X-10 debugged) there's two way protocol with handshakes so I can tell if it got the message, and I can poll the device to make sure.

        • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

          The best you had with things before Z-Wave, UPB or Insteon was LonWorks PLC. Expensive stuff really intended for office buildings- but you could do all those sorts of things you can now do with the first three and a lot cheaper.

          I suppose it would be an "okay" thing- but we're discussing Microsoft trying to jam their notions onto platforms better suited to something like Linux, QNX, etc.

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      The big deal is more along the lines of energy management. The other "house of the future" stuff is there as a hook to get people to sign off on the rest. My applied for, but never completed (Nothing like running out of money at the wrong time...) patent application was in this space.

    • i found his idea of .net coffee pots funny i mean they if anything will run java.

    • I am also having some fragmented Domotica in my home, self-built and generally working 'ok': doorbell gives me an e-mail, outside lights are controlled by a crontab, alarm system gives a message when a door is opened and that stuff. But like the parent I feel that it is generally useless to the common person. However, there may be an opportunity for someone to integrate everything into 1 solution that *would* give benefit ; maybe integrate it with the TV system using tools like jstx. But I don't think MS wi
      • I am also having some fragmented Domotica in my home...

        I'm sorry, but that term really sounds more like "Horny Housewives" porn than home automation...

    • We now have the technology to do all the cool stuff we dreamed about in the early 90s. The big problem however, is once you automate the lights, temperature, and coffee pot what else is there that makes any sense (and even the lights are more of a novelty than much practical benefit).

      If you had a full computer (mail, etc), displays around the house, TVs, Radio, and an audio system that moved the sound (and voice input) with you... you might be able to do interesting things. Audio notification and voice input from everywhere; video notification and text input from various places around the house.

      But the problem is that it's still more about "cool" than function. "I don't have to look at my phone to get text messages" is crucial in the car, but not at home. "I can always get notified o

      • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

        If you had a full computer (mail, etc), displays around the house

        That sums up the vision I had in the 90s perfectly. I pictured star trek-esq touchscreen panels in place of light switches, and maybe a full panel in main rooms that would let me do more. I pictured voice notifications throughout the house (yes, I was a star trek junkie!). It would be so damn cool, and the tech to do that is actually pretty cheap right now.. but as you said, beyond the cool factor it's kinda pointless (and I might want to sell this house some day...).

    • I remember back in the early 90's, I worked for a small computer reseller, and the owner was very interested in home automation. He tried to get certified as an official partner for a "SmartHome" project that was underway at the time. I don't remember all the details anymore, but basically, it was a consortium of manufacturers trying to create standards so the infrastructure could be purchased as an option, at the time a new home was built. They had a whole catalog put together of the products they planned

      • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

        The automation proved to be unreliable too - with switches missing commands randomly. And even the Radio Shack branded alarm clock with X10 integration as a central home controller was garbage. It allowed programming 2 pairs of on/off times, maximum, for any of eight X10 modules - but any time you forgot to erase an existing program before trying to add a new one, the clock would completely crash/freeze up if you accidentally exceeded that 2 pair per module storage limit!

        Indeed. It was for the most part a one way protocol with no handshaking and prone to "lost" commands. Even with a decent controller (I had an ocelot, which _still_ retails for a few hundred dollars) .. every other component in the system was so shitty and unreliable that it was little more than a neat toy. And of course as you said, there was no middle ground between x10 and the really expensive commercial application stuff.

        I do remember the smarthome stuff.. but there was so much other similar sounding thi

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      There was a time when everyone thought this was the future (along with virtual reality and other such things). I bought into it. I figured by now Iâ(TM)d be casually shouting orders at the various appliances in my house.

      Which is a great reason for IPv6... until you realize that most of the envisioned applications require them to access the Internet. Including all requisite security issues (they are embedded devices after all) and not finding out that the fridge didn't order new groceries because your I

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )

        One thing you left out of a decent post is how much bandwidth it would take to accomplish things like porting displays (especially gaming) from one room to another. This is an incredibly expensive thing to do, but can be done now. What has to be done is to convert the video to fiber, and reconvert at the other end.

        So yes, lots of things are possible. Possible does not equate to practical though, at least until enough money is pumped in to the systems to bring the consumer costs down.

    • by horza ( 87255 )

      The problem with X10 is that the protocol is slow and unreliable. Great for its time, but there is so much better now. The problem is that the market is totally fragmented and none of it inter-operable.

      The big problem however, is once you automate the lights, temperature, and coffee pot what else is there that makes any sense

      Home security?

      even the lights are more of a novelty than much practical benefit

      Only if your electricity is free.


    • "...what else is there..." I want to network my stove/oven and microwave timers. No, I'm not really that interested in automating them. At least until I have Rosie the robot putting the food in for me I don't see the point of that. I want them to send me a message when they are done. That way I can go upstairs, outside, etc... and not worry about missing the buzzer. I'm picturing 4 buttons, each programmable with an email address. While the timer is going just press your button. It lights up to show it is
      • Many microwaves have had scheduling features since the 80s. (it turns on at a certain time or after a certain delay) Anybody here ever actually use that?
  • as WIFI over load can be a issue even more so in apartments.

  • Sounds like fun for hackers I hope it can work offline or under the big firewall if needed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:37AM (#39844299)

    Please tell me when it's safe to come out from behind the sofa. My HomeOS appliances all got malware and have formed a botnet. My DVD player is trundling around the living room with a steak knife demanding my credit card details and my fridge has ejected spam all over the kitchen. I knew I should have installed Norton!

    • I knew it was a bad idea to give you a DVD player with opposable thumbs.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It was a DRM measure put there by Hollywood, solely to punch anyone who attempted to insert a copied disc and perform the occasional cavity search for pirated material. Little did I know that it would end up being used AGAINST me! Should I survive this situation unstabbed I will not be buying DVD players from Sony again.

    • actually, the problem is that you did install norton
    • Oh, so you KNEW your home appliances would eventually turn on you! You just wanted Norton's "routine background scan" to trigger every 30 minutes to slow your own personal Skynet down to a crawl. You know, so you'd have time to go get a snack before the next foray.

    • I knew I should have installed Norton!

      My mom's house came with Norton pre-installed, it takes 10 minutes to turn on a lamp, and an hour to preheat the oven. You're better off without it, really.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      You just wait until the toilet goes on line and mobile.

    • by Idbar ( 1034346 )
      I agree, Installing Norton would have given you the advantage of speed. With every device on its knees, dramatically slowly working, I think you'd had a chance. Good luck!
  • MIT has monitored bathrooms, does that count? []

    And to troll a little bit, what happens to my coffeepot if it dies with a bluescreen?

    • by khr ( 708262 )

      And to troll a little bit, what happens to my coffeepot if it dies with a bluescreen?

      You get a cup of water? Or maybe they keep some blue food coloring in a small reservoir (or a big one?) so you can tell by the output that it blue "screened".

    • by vlm ( 69642 )

      My wife's previous coffee maker was controlled by misterhouse (the coffee maker has since broken and the new one will not power up on return of AC power without pressing a pushbutton, to my intense annoyance).

      If there was an "issue" like a linux kernel panic on the misterhouse, the old coffee maker stayed in its previous state. So its either going to use around 100 watts keeping itself warm continuously all day, or statistically more likely she has a cold coffee maker in the morning. Being linux, this onl

    • JAVA, aka OAK, was supposed to be the toaster esperanto when it was in development. Now it is bloat city. []

      IN any case why would anyone give an operating system a name that is homophonic with the historically derogatory slang for the gay community: Homos? It's like Squirting your Social. Or the Brown zune. So tone deaf that it is doomed before it starts.

      I just bought some microsoft stock a few weeks ago anticipating that Win8 is going to help

  • They're not the first to dream of embedded smart devices. But Java ME owns a huge chunk of that market, from Blu-Ray players on up.

    One thing I learned that ticks me off to no end is Microsoft intentionally made the GUID incompatible with the UUID.

    What, pray tell, was wrong with the UUID standard other than Microsoft wanting to yet again try to lock customers in with incompatibilities?

    • That is quite odd you say that since Microsoft's GUID does follow the UUID standard.

  • Since the ancestors of our modern operating systems came out in the 80s, computing power has increased but so has the data load that the average consumer carries.

    It only makes sense to start having smart management systems. Why not integrate heating, A/C, security, messaging and even purchasing of common supplies? We're all going to have home servers anyway for our video and music content, so it's not a stretch to use that machine as a control point for all of these.

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      It's old hat.

      A company by the name of Digital Pockets had come up with the very thing that we're discussing. Linux based. Used OSGi and java plug-ins to provide "applications". They joined forces with another company, Coollogic, to come up with an embedded version of that original base. This was back around 2001-2002 timeframe. How do I know this? I was the CTO of Coollogic at the time. It didn't come together because of lack of funding available and there wasn't any customers willing to shell out $1

  • Impressive (Score:5, Funny)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:49AM (#39844429)

    The core of HomeOS is described in the white paper as a kernel that is agnostic to the devices to which it provides access,

    I'm impressed with the major advances in AI that Microsoft is introducing. Not only does this OS seem to be sentient, but it is also apparently programmed to ponder deep metaphysical concepts.

    The kernel must be thinking: "These devices I work with may indeed physically exist. Or they may just be something like a software simulation that's being fed to me. As a humble computer program, I really don't have enough evidence to make a final conclusion either way."

  • by jcreus ( 2547928 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:55AM (#39844521)
    And implement the Hyper Text Coffe Pot Control Protocol [] and not a closed standard. Huh, who said that was an April 1st joke?
  • HomeOS? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:57AM (#39844551) Journal

    Sounds kinda gay.

    • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

      It's Microsoft trying to do things so as to seem "relevant" to the market so their share price can stay more elevated than it ought to be.

  • Can't figure out from the description if its anything more than the prior art of misterhouse from a decade ago running in Perl on Linux. Is it anything more than that?

  • by JTsyo ( 1338447 )
    Saw a commercial from FiOS 2 nights ago about this. They had someone turning on the lights, setting the temperature, feeding their dog and some other stuff using their smartphone. []
  • This strikes me as a solution looking for a problem. It's cool and all, but is it really necessary to have my fridge know what's inside it and when it expires and alert me on my smart phone or some similar nonsense. Is opening the fridge and checking what's in there really that much of a problem that people are willing to drop multiple $k on home automation? All things being equal, sure I'd take the internet connected fridge over the old "dumb" fridge, but am I willing to pay extra for it?
    • With regards to the fridge knowing what's in it ... how does that even work, without being a major nuisance? Now if they have a small robot climb around inside the fridge overnight, scanning barcodes & weighing the milk, then that's great. Otherwise, how is this not just a hassle for the user? e.g.
      • Dammit, I forgot to scan milk when putting it back in the fridge!
      • Dammit, I didn't align the milk exactly on the milk sensor, and the fridge ordered more!
      • Dammit, I put the milk on the cheese sensor, and the
      • Well, exactly. Presumably the ideal solution (for people pushing this type of stuff) is an RFID chip on your carton of milk. But that costs money, and what do the milk suppliers get in return for the cost of sticking an RFID on every carton? You're gonna buy milk either way if you run out, so I don't really see the advantage (for the seller). If anything, they probably benefit when you accidentally buy milk because you forgot that you had a full carton in the fridge. Especially since milk goes bad - so ther
        • by Belial6 ( 794905 )
          Milk is actually a product that is easy to see the economic reasons for it. RFID tags are cheap. In the same cheap ballpark as the plastic poor spouts they put on the cartons now. Thus cost is a non issue. The real problem is why bother? All it would take is for Safeway, or Costco to decide that THEY wanted to make sure that they had the right amount of milk, and that the mild has not spoiled. Sure they could do that at the register, but counting inventory at the register is just not as reliable as co
      • The worst part is when they add in automatic re-ordering. You buy some crap, stick it in the fridge, try it a few weeks later, decide you don't like it, and throw it out. 2 days later, you look in the fridge, and the damn fridge has ordered you a refill of the same crap. So you immediately thruw it out.

        Now the *smart* fridge lays in a huge order of crap because you obviously can't get enough of it. And since your birthday is coming up, your smartfridge *suggests* to your friends that you'd really like some presents that mesh with your new-found zeal for crap, and a crap-themed party. So you all end up at some restaurant where you're all secretly grossed out eating the crap, but nobody wants to hurt each others feelings and say "this is crap!" and you don't want to hurt theirs either.

        After a few weeks w/o eating anything much, because there's only crap left in the fridge, even though you throw it out every day, your smarttoilet notifies your insurer that you're losing weight, and there must be something wrong with you. You get an email saying that your insurance premiums have now doubled, and that you are required to submit daily test results from your smarttoilet to maintain coverage.

        In frustration, you flush the crap from the smartfridge down the smarttoilet, which obviously can't handle it - collaborating with the smartfidge, they come to the conclusion that if you're flushing your favourite crap down the toilet, you might be a danger to yourself or others, notifies the police and locks all the doors.

        During your psychiatric evaluation, you refuse to eat crap, even though the smartfidge has reported that you LOVE crap. The shrinks label you as being uncooperative and possibly schizo, since you are obviously not the same crap-loving person you were before you "lost it." They recommend you be held indefinitely for your own protection.

        The judge agrees. In frustration, you shout out "Would YOU eat this crap???" The judge says, "of course I do, every day." After all, he's seen too many consequences of rage against the machine to know that resistance is futile. He eats the crap the fridge serves every day, because he knows who the real overlords are.

        • <3
        • There are no words...

          except maybe "Fucking awesome"

        • by s.petry ( 762400 )

          This is great. Just think of the possibilities!? Fridge monitors. You eat to much fat and sugar, not enough fresh produce. Fridge notifies the authorities and your health insurance. SmartToilet sees THC in your urine. Looks medical data and finds you are not enrolled in a Medical Marijuana program, calls the authorities and your boss.

          Or, visit a friends house for a party. Visit their SmartToilet before heading home. SmartToilet sees your blood alcohol level is .656, best not risk letting you drive.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:14AM (#39844749) Journal
    The really ugly problem with 'Home Automation' doesn't seem to be purely technological(ie. PIRs, contact switches, reed switchs, and relays are antedeluvian, adequate-speed interconnect over assorted wires also ancient, over RF also pretty old, and computers capable of crunching rulesets based on some combination of sensor outputs and RTCs are 80s stuff); but in the fact that the low-hanging fruit is too boring to be worth the trouble and the higher-hanging fruit would be massively complex and require a continual morass of several-industries-wide cooperation...

    Boring case, you can drop a relay on each of your light switches, get your thermostat under control, and put some PIR presence detectors in place. If security is a concern, put up some cameras and stash a DVR somewhere. All easy; but not as inexpensive as one might like(especially in jurisdictions where touching mains current means bringing in electricians and permits and stuff), and you really have to want your bitchin' home theatre system to automatically close the drapes and dim the lights, or be very prone to leaving the stove on to fork over the additional money for the ability to remote control those things(and we are all familiar with the office comedy that is frantically waving your arms to make the 'smart' lights turn back on...)

    Now, interesting case is where you expose every detail of all the devices in the home, quite possibly adding more sensors depending on the device category, and start having them cooperate intelligently to achieve various objectives. However, this is where the complexity gets ugly. Consider the history of ACPI: They wanted a way to allow computers to be more intelligent about power use, peripheral idle states, and environmental monitoring. Despite being hammered out in a near-duopoly environment(with MS on the software side and Intel on hardware), ACPI was a screaming pile of shit that barely worked properly even on mainstream OEM wintels until comparatively recently(and, even today, there are vendor-specific quirk packages, messy hacks, and peripherals that don't play quite right), never mind the poor bastards who dabbled in DIY or alternate OSes.

    Now, you want the Home Of The Future? See to it that your utility meters, consumer appliances, home entertainment electronics, computers, water heaters, plumbing fixtures, climate control and thermostat systems, entry detection and security systems, and who knows what else all expose their sensors and capabilities in a standardized way. Don't let the fact that most of the items on that list have one or more industry consortia squabbling about the details of how their own little fiefdoms will be semi-standardized within themselves, much less on a broader basis, worry you.

    Once you have the data to look at and the buttons and knobs to fiddle with, you just need some rulesets that make the devices collaborate intelligently and a set of interfaces that expose the power, but hide most of the complexity, to a degree sufficient that the fancy new hotness is actually worth the trouble.

    Basically, you've got a problem whose complexity is fairly similar in scale to the sort of thing that smallish networking/datacenter entities would have an SNMP jocky on hand for, except that none of the hardware actually has management support yet, and the end result has to be easy enough for Joe Consumer to use. Also, it should ideally not be a dystopian surveillance nightmare or a script-kiddie playground. Not an easy problem....
    • It's a major hardware, software integration issue. And this is exactly why Apple will be the first to solve the problem, not Microsoft. All except the 'dystopian surveillance nightmare part' - that will be a feature, not a bug.

      • It will actually be interesting to see who cracks it, if any.

        Apple is way better at imposing their vision on somewhat fragmented and mediocre ecosystems and, by brutally culling the unfit even among its own, establishing itself as the center of the new ecosystem. However, there is a certain amount of built-in 'does not play well with others' required by this strategy.

        Microsoft, by contrast, has never been known for their nimble elegance; but their bread and butter, corporate and home, is cobbling thin
  • by s0litaire ( 1205168 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:20AM (#39844803)

    I for one welcome Microsoft Home Automation Line of products...

    I feel safe with their Home automation Line

    Or H.A.L. for short.......

    on second thoughts...

  • With the rise of competitors to challenge it, Microsoft is not seen as the big ogre it once was. And yet its reputation for reliability has never been exceptional.

    HomeOS... would you really feel comfortable turning your back to it? Leaving your children alone in the care of HomeOS? And if you were in the shower, I can imagine that HomeOS might allow you to set the temperature on command, e.g. "Four degrees warmer, HomeOS." - "Fabulous!". But if you dropped the soap in there with HomeOS just how would that w

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I always wanted to make my own Java Toaster []. It burns the weather forecast into your toast in the morning.

  • coffee pots. lights. garage doors. There is no decent reason to attempt to automate these things and by the time hardware worth automating comes out any software developed now will be as obsolete as BASIC on Commodore 64.
  • As someone that has worked in this field for over 6 years. Both home automation and Smart Buildings, Microsoft has a very VERY long way to go. AMX,Vantage, and Crestron all own that market.. And no they dont run a Microsoft OS. In fact it would be utterly retarded to run a full fledged OS for this.

    Each device is interconnected on it's own network, most of the time RS485. Redundant controllers on the system ensure high reliability and by only running the code for the systems task, I.E. lighting i

  • This article calls for a classic post, and I'm actually surprised no one else has done this already.

    From the LA Times, way back in 1993...

    The Day You Discover That Your House Is Smarter Than You Are
    November 25, 1993|MICHAEL SCHRAGE | Michael Schrage is a writer, consultant and research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He writes this column independently for The Times. He can be reached by electronic mail at on the Internet


  • We'd really like to know *everything* about you, up to and including the contents of your medicine cabinet, refrigerator and trash bins.

  • Yeah. Some guy's house just blue-screened. It took most of his neighborhood down with it.

  • This should be fun.

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.