Microsoft's home automation accelerator is a go, pairs up with 10 startups

Earlier this year, Microsoft Ventures announced that it wanted to work with home automation startups and that it was pairing up with American Family Insurance as well. Home automation is likely the next big wave for consumer innovation, and while the idea is nothing new, the barrier to entry for startups is quite low and prices are quickly entering the range where many consumers can afford such luxuries. For example, Insteon allows you to control your home with Cortana and it only costs a couple hundred bucks to wire your house up.

The companies that have been selected for the program include a wrist-worn device that allows you to control your home through gestures to smart outlets and switches, and of course security systems are a big part of home automation too. There are ten companies in total and you can check them out at the source link below.

The program is quite interesting from Microsoft’s perspective, as it is focused on one specific type of company and the intent may be more far-reaching than it seems at first glance. With the home automation market starting to heat up, it seems that Microsoft wants to get in on the ground early with new companies in this arena. The thinking behind this move could be to spot new technologies before they hit mass market so that Microsoft can acquire companies in this space and give themselves an advantage against competitors.

This type of strategy is a big bet as finding these companies at an early stage is not an easy task, requiring the right combination of ideas, execution and coding to make a company a success. But Microsoft is not alone as the field of venture capitalists looking for the ‘next big thing’ is about as crowded as a sardine can. We have already seen Google snatch up Nest, so there is certainly a strong desire from many companies to boost their presence in this space.

Will it pay off for Microsoft and the startups? That’s a question that only time can answer.

Source: Microsoft | Image: Satya Nadella

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14 Comments

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I think the big companies are starting to see the market in home automation and also the fragmentation of protocols. There's no lack of automation devices. However, getting them to "talk" to each other is the problem.

Companies like Revolv try to solve the problem by accommodating all the protocols into a unified hub. Can you imagine a computer hub with USB, Firewire, Display Port, Lightening, Ethernet, Bluetooth etc connected to your computer and getting them to play nice?

A better approach is for a company like Microsoft to incorporate well written software to drive an established protocol, like Insteon or Z-wave. The goal being to promote and support the standard and address the protocol's shortcomings.... because they all have them.

Hopefully, something comes to fruition with all of this. It's bothersome to see great ideas spring up only to fall flat on the face of poor execution.

Nest is not really home automation right now. Its an internet connected thermostat. Insteon is already pretty well established as a full home automation system from lights to door locks to security cameras as well as thermostats.

pallentx said,
Nest is not really home automation right now. Its an internet connected thermostat. Insteon is already pretty well established as a full home automation system from lights to door locks to security cameras as well as thermostats.

This is true...

I would be careful to invest a lot into this systems with Microsoft. They tend to drop support for stuff like that in a few years time. There are many examples of hardware projects were they tried to establish themselves. Customers and Companies committed to release products based on Microsoft solutions were left stranded with no support or future updates. Response Point Phone System is a perfect example of that and there are many others like Media Center etc.

Nice to see Microsoft trying to get ahead of the game rather than sitting back and panicking at the last minute when everyone else has a head start.

-adrian- said,
Didn't everyone else already start their purchases and investments :)

Yes, Yes the day became bleak when Google bought Nest then DropCam...

Yes but this time they are getting in before it's fully established. I'm thinking back to the Internet Explorer days when they suddenly decided that they actually do need to take the Internet seriously or waiting for Apple and Android tablets to become the norm before releasing their own.

Tomo said,
Nice to see Microsoft trying to get ahead of the game rather than sitting back and panicking at the last minute when everyone else has a head start.

I seem to recall that way back in the 1990s when Bill Gates was building his famed automated house he said that this would eventually be one of the biggest areas for computing. Also, Microsoft are known to be working on a Windows for the Home version for several years. I think Google paying $3.5 billion for a $500 million company was a sign that it's not Microsoft doing the panic buying here.

After reading this my first thought was that Microsoft management wants new toys for their homes. There probably is a market for what they are working up, however.