Microsoft Ventures into Home Automation Again

The software connects several devices to create the ultimate smart home.

Lab of Things (a play on Internet of Things, the moniker for IP-enabled devices) is less of a commercial home automation platform and more of a common service to help researchers with their home-control projects. Microsoft has launched Lab of Things to help researchers launch home automation trials. The software builds on the HomeOS platform that Microsoft announced in 2012.

LoT demos at Microsoft’s recent Faculty Summit showed how smart devices would automatically appear on a browser or mobile device, according to MIT Technology Review:

In a demonstration by Microsoft researcher A.J. Brush, Lab of Things automatically recognized a sensor that detects whether a door is open or closed as soon as it was connected to the same network. Brush could then use a Web interface to configure an alert that would send an e-mail as soon as the sensor detected a door had been opened. Brush also showed how she could log into Lab of Things running in her own home via the Web to view footage from a security camera there.

Sounds exactly like Microsoft’s UPnP demo at WinHEC maybe 10 years ago, and the Simple Control Protcol demo at CES 2002. From back then:

In a suite at the Hilton, Microsoft Connected Home product manager Larry Buerk demonstrated a PC-based home automation system managing SCP-enabled lights and motorized drapes—all over the hotel’s powerlines. When the SCP devices were plugged into AC outlets, they appeared automatically on the Windows XP computer, ready to be controlled—as if they were printers, Ethernet cameras, wireless access points or other peripherals that are automatically discovered on a Windows (especially XP)-based network.

As with the old SCP and UPnP implementations, the Lab of Things requires a “hub” comprising a Windows computer running HomeOS software, according to a video on the LoT site. The hub supports Z-Wave devices, IP cameras, and “custom devices built using Microsoft .Net Gadgeteer.”

“Simple drivers” can be used to integrate yet other smart devices.

It appears Microsoft is not necessarily looking to create its own standards for home control, but to put something together for researchers to test their home-control theories. From MIT:

The Lab of Things software “lowers the barrier to deploying field studies in connected homes,” he [Microsoft researcher Arjmand Samuel] said, explaining that trials of home automation systems that combine multiple types of sensors and other devices are typically small-scale and short-lived due to the inconveniences for both researchers and the volunteers who welcome them into their homes.

HomeOS would be used as the control system at the user’s premises, and Lab of Things would be the cloud-based service for researchers to manage their projects. The video talks about a scientist who wants to:

study a new sensor he invented that detects when people fall in their house, he writes a driver and then a small application to connect to the Lab of Things platform. He can then easily store data in the cloud, remotely update his study if he finds a problem and monitor the status of his deployments across many different homes.

Moreover, the platform enables multiple researchers to collaborate on projects and even share data from participants in multiple to gather more and better data on usage scenarios.

Researchers on multiple projects can share data and study participants via Microsoft Lab of things.

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