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Microsoft Acquires Startup Home Automation Co. from Slingbox Founder

Microsoft buys Blake Krikorian's id8 Group R2 Studios, Inc., developer of Android-based home automation system for the masses. We have the history of Microsoft failures in home automation.


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With acquisition of R2 home automation from id8, will Microsoft finally succeed in this space?

Microsoft is back in the home automation business with the acquisition of id8 Group R2 Studios, Inc., launched in 2011 by Slingbox founder Blake Krikorian. (Update: The Wall Street Journal notes that the acquisition is related primarily to id8’s digital media technology, and that Krikorian will most likely be joining Microsoft’s Xbox team. The WSJ also alludes to Krikorian’s home automation technology: “As part of the deal, Microsoft also acquired some patents owned by the startup related to controlling electronic devices.”)

It had been rumored that Apple, Google and Microsoft were bidding on the company.

Krikorian’s first big play in home automation was creating the first Android app for Crestron, the leading manufacturer of professionally installed home-control systems.

CE Pro broke the news on that product, codenamed R2, in 2010. It began shipping in May 2011.

But while Crestron might be the biggest player in the market for professionally installed automation systems, it is after all a relatively small market. Neither Krikorian nor Microsoft is particularly interested in niche markets. They’ll be shooting for the do-it-yourself masses.

No home automation vendor has yet to penetrate the DIY mass market, although Motorola was starting to gain traction with its acquisition of 4Home in 2010. Verizon began selling a remote home control and monitoring system based on that home automation platform in 2011.

It won’t be Microsoft’s first attempt. The software giant has tried and failed to tap the home automation market for at least two decades, first with UPnP and home automation device control protocols in the mid 1990s. Then again, timing is everything.

Earlier this year, Microsoft launched HomeOS, presumably a platform for the connected home. The company released a prototype to academic institutions “to encourage teaching and research on connected homes and devices.” At the time, Sigma Designs provided an SDK for Z-Wave devices.

The History of Microsoft and Home Automation


We chronicled Microsoft’s efforts in 2009 in the story Road to Home Automation Standards Paved with Good Intentions. The Microsoft section of that article is reproduced below.

Universal Plug and Play
Developed primarily for connecting Web-enabled devices, UPnP was on the path to becoming a home-control standard as well. In the late 1990s, Panja (previously AMX, and now AMX again), Smart America, SMART (which became GE Smart) and Premise Systems led the charge in the home control space.

Microsoft, too, helped to develop device control protocols under the UPnP Home Automation & Security working committee but it never went anywhere.

Home API
Microsoft and Intel Promise Interoperability through New Home API (10/98)
HAPI is open industry spec being defined and developed by Compaq, Honeywell, Intel, Microsoft, Mitsubishi Electric and Philips Electronics

UPnP Merges with Home API to Streamline Connectivity, Control (12/99)

For home-networking professionals who’ve wondered where Universal Plug and Play ends and Home API begins, there’s good news: The two initiatives have merged into a single effort.

Confusion has surrounded the two standards because they appear to be so similar—both are being driven by Microsoft and supported by the same companies (especially Compaq, Honeywell, Mitsubishi Electric and Philips Electronics); both tout plug-and-play connectivity; and both have a common enemy—Sun Microsystems and its Java community.

But the two home-electronics standards are in fact fairly different. Home API is a Windows PC-oriented standard for home-automation applications, while UPnP is an Internet protocol (IP)-based standard for discovering electronic devices on a home network

Simple Control Protocol (6/2000)
New ‘Simple Control Protocol’ is Link between Internet and the Light Switch
Microsoft teams with GE and CEBus-oriented technology firms to produce definitive home-control protocol

SCP inches closer to reality, but potential implementers are noncommittal (2/02)
When the SCP devices were plugged into AC outlets, they appeared automatically on the Windows XP computer, ready to be controlled

Web Services for Devices
The Microsoft crew had yet another go at a home-control standard with Web Services for Devices (WSD). Newcomer Exceptional Innovation (Lifeware) based its Media Center-based home control system on the platform and has tried hard to get other manufacturers to follow suit.

Since Microsoft wasn’t doing it, Lifeware created the device profiles for numerous home-control subsystems and opened them to would-be partners.

So far, however, there have been few if any takers, leaving Lifeware to create drivers for third-party subsystems, like everyone else in this business.

Q&A: Seale Moorer, Exceptional Innovation (12/06)
EI founder talks Windows Media Center Edition, Vista and WSD.

New Gateway Bridges ZigBee Devices with Web Services (11/06)
Allows ZigBee devices to be automatically discovered and controlled by WSD-enabled systems.

Using Web Services to Control Devices through Vista Media Center (4/07)
How a ZigBee light switch automatically appears on a Vista PC, ready to be controlled.

Does the Acquisition Make Sense?


Stay tuned for a related blog.

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Microsoft shows a home automation system at CES 2002 with Premise Systems. Demoing the system is Jim Hunter from Premise, who went on to found 4Home, developer of a home automation platform. Motorola bought 4Home in 2010 and spun it into Motorola Mobility. That group was sold to Verizon last month.

RELATED:
Motorola Back in Home Automation, Acquires 4Home
Don’t Trust the Research on Home Automation
$99 Crestron Android App ‘Literally Changes Everything’
Microsoft Kills Hohm Energy Management: Whither Energy Dashboards?
Home Automation: Has Anything Changed in 15 Years?
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Article Topics

News · Product News · Home Automation and Control · Microsoft · Blake Krikorian · All topics

About the Author

Julie Jacobson, Co-Founder, EH Publishing / Editor-at-large, CE Pro
Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by youknowme  on  01/03  at  10:05 AM

The one thing that all of these software companies that Julie mentioned all have in common?  Failure.  Not one commercial success in the bunch.  Since Jim Hunter’s picture is on the article can we assume he is captain of the fail boat?

Posted by CastleOS Software  on  01/03  at  06:04 PM

CastleOS launched this week with full Kinect integration for whole house voice control! Works with Insteon and X10, more protocols to come! Free beta available now! http://www.CastleOS.com

Posted by Tuckertues  on  01/03  at  07:49 PM

It will be interesting to see how this latest (potential) foray into mass market home automation plays out.  XBox and Kinect as the main brains for a poor man’s control 4? 

Interestingly - The entire MS Redmond campus is Crestron controlled. Until I see MS gear in the HQ buildings, I will remain unimpressed.

Posted by David  on  01/04  at  07:10 AM

I dont understand this one. They broke up their eHome team that did the Windows Media Center that was the main part of my business that is failing due the lack of support.

If Microsoft is going towards doing home automation, what type of product do they plan on doing with it ? The Xbox ? Sure it can do a lot but, to a lot of high end clients, it’s still a gaming system and always will be.

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