Microsoft’s Mayhem: Remote Controls for Everything (Eventually)

Even the biggest gadget freaks out there—you know, the guy with three phones, two tablets, multiple game consoles, TVs galore—faces a pretty pedestrian-seeming problem. Despite all of the mind-boggling things our hardware and software can accomplish these days, these devices still don’t play very well together.

A new Microsoft project called Mayhem, quietly available for free starting today, is taking a stab at becoming the translator. Mayhem lets users link their smartphones, Xbox controllers, and other devices with computers, software programs, Web services, and soon, household hardware like lamps and TVs.

The major selling point for your everyday person is that Mayhem uses a very simple series of drop-down menus to link devices and programs together. Since there’s no programming involved, the hope is that your average, moderately tech-savvy person will come up with inventive ways to build bridges between their digital tools.

That could be something as simple as using a smartphone to control a PowerPoint presentation, or as complex as using voice control through a Kinect to turn on a lamp in your living room—a way to potentially start unlocking the “Internet of things” that tech futurists have been promising us for some time now.

Here’s a video demo from Microsoft’s Paul Dietz and Eli White showing a little more about what they mean.

Mayhem’s admittedly grand vision is “connect everything to everything else.” Interestingly, Microsoft isn’t making that a solely in-house project—the company has released the Mayhem code as an open-source asset to outside developers through the Microsoft-backed OuterCurve Foundation. There’s also a contest that awards cash prizes to developers for coming up with the best add-ons to the Mayhem system.

The download page shows all of the actions that are currently available, including inputs from an Xbox controller, stock ticker alerts, weather alerts, items posted to RSS feeds, and more. The system also can trigger synthesized voices reading text, tell a computer to run a program, or play sounds, for example.

Some of the cooler features, like controlling light switches, aren’t publicly available at this moment. But it was demonstrated at TechFest, and White tells me that support for that feature is coming. It relies on widely available devices from companies like Insteon, which makes networkable controls for just about any household appliance you can plug into a wall.

So get cracking, devs. I’ll be down at Home Depot picking up some networked switches for my TV and kitchen as I await your hacks—I expect to be cooking dinner and running my DVR from work soon.

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