Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

From Smartphone to Smart Home: Automating the Modern Home

From Smartphone to Smart Home: Automating the Modern Home

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For baby boomers who grew up watching The Jetsons, the idea of the fully automated home was the futuristic stuff of cartoons. Today, the technology is available to make a Jetsonesque home a reality, by using inexpensive network devices that remotely control locks, lights, thermostats, cameras, and motion sensors. In theory, we should be able to monitor our home security cameras remotely from a smartphone or customize the climate of each room based on occupancy patterns. In practice, however, the high overhead of managing and extending home automation technology has restricted such “smart home” scenarios to expert hobbyists, who enjoy grappling with the technical challenges, and the wealthy, who can hire someone to handle the tech chores.

HomeMaestro: a platform that helps end users program their home appliances

To simplify the management and development of smart-home applications, Microsoft Research has developed HomeOS. When coupled with smartphones and cloud services (by using Project Hawaii and Windows Azure), HomeOS makes the smart home a reality for the rest of us. Unlike past home technology models, which rely either on an “appliance abstraction,” in which a closed, monolithic system supports a fixed set of tasks over a fixed set of devices, or a “network of devices abstraction,” in which a decentralized collection of devices relies on interoperability protocols, our HomeOS provides users and developers with a PC-like abstraction. It presents network devices as peripherals, enables cross-device tasks via applications, and gives users a management interface that is designed for the home environment. By so doing, the HomeOS overcomes the extensibility limitations of the appliance model and the manageability hassles of the network of devices model. At the same time, it brings the “app store” to the home environment, allowing users to extend the functionality of their home by downloading applications.

To date, the HomeOS research prototype has been running in more than a dozen homes. We’ve also made it freely available to academic institutions for teaching and research purposes. Nearly 50 students, across several institutions, have already built some exciting applications for HomeOS. 

For example, HomeMaestro from the MIT Media Lab shows the power of the HomeOS approach. HomeMaestro is a platform for intuitively defining home appliance behavior. The key concept in HomeMaestro is a repository of rules defined by other users, which can be mashed into interesting scenarios. These rules could be simple if-then statements, such as “if my bedroom window is open, then switch off the heater.” The rules can be defined on Windows Phone 7 and uploaded to the cloud (Project Hawaii web services and Windows Azure) for later use and sharing.

In another example, students at the University of Washington recently used HomeOS with Windows Phone 7 and cloud services (from Project Hawaii) to create a door-monitoring system and networked alarm, and to control various home devices using the Kinect sensor.

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Student demos of HomeOS applications

You can check out some potential applications of the HomeOS in these student demos. A paper describing HomeOS will be presented at the 9th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI '12), which runs from April 25 to 27, 2012, in San Jose, California.

With HomeOS, we feel we’re on the way toward that Jetson home—now, if only we could make George Jetson’s nine-hour workweek a reality!

Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • in two months i start to build my new house.

    if you need a microsoft homeos testhouse, just write me!

  • The idea of the Home OS is something that I have dreamed about for many years. The simple idea of being able to power the appliances in my home by a simple click of a button or a voice command is something I thought I would never see come to life. I think with something like this I would feel more comfortable leaving my home alone and also sleeping in the home at night. I really do hope that this technology does advance and one day I hope to even be able to flush the toilet with an electric device., I even hope to see a sort of replicator like in Star Trek, simply add a request and it will create whatever you are asking for. For example, coffee ice cream or even a pair of shoes. Cant wait to see where technology is in ten years.

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