Microsoft names the 10 startups participating in its home-automation accelerator

Microsoft names the 10 startups participating in its home-automation accelerator

Summary: Microsoft is bringing 10 startups focusing on home-automation into its new home-automation accelerator starting this fall.


Microsoft has named the 10 startups that will be participating in its home-automation accelerator starting this fall.


Microsoft announced in June its plan to create a new venture accelerator focused on home automation in partnership with American Family Insurance, one of the biggest mutual property/casualty insurance companies. Via this accelerator, which will be based on the Redmond, Wash., Microsoft campus, Microsoft will be investing in these home-automation startups.

The 10 participants (and Microsoft-provided descriptions of their businesses) -- culled from a pool of 400 applicants:

  • Chai Energy delivers real-time energy understanding – from the whole house to individual appliances.

  • Heatworks Model 1 is the world's first fully electronic, connected, water heater that conserves water and energy in any application.

  • Neura creates intuitive and intelligent experiences between users and their connected environments.

  • Novi Security is a portable smart-security system to seamlessly track activities across the home.

  • Reemo is a wrist-worn, gesture control wearable, interoperable interface for both conventional appliances and more recent connected homes.

  • Plum is Wi-Fi enabled light-pads, smart plugs and outlets that let the users control lights and electronics from a wall switch or from anywhere in the world using a smart phone.

  • Red Balloon Security is ubiquitous host-based defense for embedded devices.

  • Scanalytics is the centerpiece for understanding consumer behavior in the offline world.

  • Sentri's HD camera and built-in sensors track the home's vital stats and trends, allowing users to track temperature, humidity, air quality, weather and more.

  • Wallflowr is connected home technology that helps consumers prevent and significantly reduce risks related to accidental fires caused by ranges, stoves and ovens.

Microsoft has been conducting its own research in the home-automation space, with projects like its HomeOS operating system. Last year, Microsoft bought a home-automation focused company, id8 Group R2 Studios, whose technology the Redmondians are thought to be integrating with Xbox. More recently, it announced a partnership with Insteon, which is developing home-automation applications for Windows Phone and Windows 8. 

Microsoft formed its consolidated start-up outreach arm, Microsoft Ventures, in 2013. The company already launched ventures accelerators in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin, London, Paris and Tel Aviv.

Topics: Start-Ups, Microsoft, Innovation


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • Is there demand?

    I think you would put automation into new construction, just as you would network cabling. But are people really buying it that much aftermarket? It seems that things like light controllers and other simple automation devices are widely available and inexpensive, but I don't know anyone who has or wants them. It seems like the work of selecting, installing, and configuring automation would be significant compared to the inconsequential effort of flipping a light switch or turning on the coffee maker.
    • Also, internal monitoring...

      In addition to what you mention regarding costs of integration to existing homes vs. new, the need is a question. Any of these that are add-on monitors/controllers for keeping an eye on the safety or status of another system or device are likely superfluous to some degree. For instance, most new coffeemakers have a timer after which they auto-shutoff. Same with hot plates, etc. The only real innovation (IMO) would be the ability to remotely control devices, system, and home conditions when not at home. And to be honest, I'm just not that interested in exposing that control outside the home.
      • What people do really want from their “computers”?

        What people really want is that the “computer” deals with their daily affairs and problems. They want a “computer” (we’ll call it DEVICE) that follows them everywhere, i.e. at home, in the car, at work, at the restaurant …

        Let’s play a scenario:
        • The DEVICE wakes me up with my preferred music, opens my bedroom blinds slowly so that I get awaken in a sweet way (in summer time; in winter time it uses the progressive lights). And if I’m still in bed, a sweet voice reminds me to get up.

        • When I go the bathroom, I inquire about the weather forecast and it may recommend what kind of cloth to put on.

        • While lingering in the bathroom, I might inquire about the news and presents me either with TV news or a newspaper on the mirror. And maybe might remind of the time. At the same time it puts in the kitchen my favorite morning drink to warm up (coffee, tea …).

        • Well it’s time to go to work. ‘Where did I put these damn keys?’ The sweet voice tells me where they are.

        • It switches the whole house off, puts it in sleeping mode, except for the alarm system, until I come home.

        • I arrive at the car and how nice to feel the car cool / warm and my favorite music / radio station starts and it warns me about possible traffic jams (still the same sweet voice).

        • At work I’m greeted still by the same sweet voice and the biometric reconnaissance system lets me start to use the DEVICE either by using the keyboard or I dictate my letter / spreadsheet.

        • It’s almost the end of the workday and I would like to go to a restaurant. I ask the DEVICE to book me a table and it may order / recommend me a menu according to my health condition.

        • I arrive home, the DEVICE made already everything ready – a cool / warm house, my preferred music is on and the sweet voice greets me. Asks me what I want to do, e.g. looking a movie, make a coffee / tea, or simply go to bed and asks me what’s the program for tomorrow.

        • And the day starts again with the same sweet voice.

        You might ask, where is the technology for all these things? Well it exists already and quite relatively inexpensive.

        There are some companies which are trying to market these devices e.g. Microsoft, Google, Apple, Ubuntu (in the Linux area it remains behind – without a simplified GUI, I see a bleak future, maybe only for Gurus).

        The house automation (domotic) can be coupled easily with a mobile telephone, a tablet, a PC …, and all these devices can work together. We have a good example, Microsoft with its Windows 8.1 online account.

        Oh about the keys lost? You simply use a radio-system (RFID – look @ how stuff works website) coupled with a receiver that integrates with your automation system at home or the network of things – you’ll never lose them.
        • What people really want.....

          You're right, the technology that you describe does already exist. It's called a wife.
    • I would not...

      Other than insuring you have clean power I am not sure I would build anything into your infrastructure for home automation. The market is just too fluid and anything integrated would quickly become obsolete. Better to buy inexpensive bolt-ons that can be easily replaced with newer bolt-ons as tech improves and changes.
      Rann Xeroxx
  • Microsoft names the 10 startups participating in its home-automation accele

    Its a start to having HAL in our homes. Integrate Cortana into it so I can just speak to what I want it to do, "Cortana, preheat the oven to 400." "Coratana, if the lights are on outside by the pool turn them off."
    • Conditionals are difficult

      Implementing conditionals in an end user interface is actually quite difficult especially If you also support binary operators like "and" and "or". Even experienced programmers mess those up on a regular basis.
      Buster Friendly
  • XBox

    I think the XBox One would be a rather good central management console for this type of home automation as it already has voice rec., app ability, integrated into video display and network, etc.
    Rann Xeroxx
  • Searching for a problem

    The funny thing about all the home automation hype is everyone is struggling so hard to find a problem to solve. A connected water heater? Really? Am I really going to cut into the $10/month I spend to run it?
    Buster Friendly