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GE's FirstBuild teams up with the AllSeen Alliance

Hoping to unify the Internet of Things behind a single open network, FirstBuild joins the AllSeen Alliance with other big names such as Sony, Electrolux, and LG.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

GE's microfactory, FirstBuild, joined the AllSeen Alliance September 4, and in doing so has thrown its hat in with some big names in electronics in an attempt to unify the smart home. Sony and Electrolux recently became members as well, and the AllSeen Alliance now includes quite a few top brands, including LG, HTC, Microsoft, Sears, and Sharp. All told, the Alliance has more than 60 members. FirstBuild hopes to make its contributions felt right away at the Alliance's upcoming show in Vegas, the AT&T Car + Home Hackathon on September 6 and 7.

The idea behind the Alliance is simple -- create a standard that allows many different types of devices across a variety of brands to communicate with each other. The smart home industry is burgeoning, and all manner of devices can now be connected to Wi-Fi networks and controlled with apps. Light bulbs , garage door openers , door sensors , cameras , ovens , and even plant sensors can now be monitored and manipulated remotely. The problem -- many of these machines are made by different companies, and need to be controlled with their own individual applications.

AllSeen Alliance logo
AllSeen Alliance

Enter the AllSeen Alliance. By uniting many big-name brands under a single banner, the group might finally find a way to get your various connected things to communicate with each other. The AllSeen Alliance has created an open-source software framework called AllJoyn. Devices compatible with this framework can recognize their proximity and communicate with each other, despite difference in brand or connection type.

A truly unified smart home might be what popularizes the market past its current niche status, but the AllSeen Alliance isn't alone in staking out some common ground. The Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), and the Industrial Internet Consortium have similar high-powered groupings. This unification is also the goal of Apple's HomeKit.

At German electronics show IFA this week, several appliance manufacturers have announced connected offers, complete with their own unified standards. Even Samsung and Google have indicated they won't be left behind. At this point, it's hard to pinpoint a frontrunner as teams keep gathering players. But GE and FirstBuild have chosen their side, and the AllSeen Alliance will certainly have enough force to compete.

The match makes sense for FirstBuild in particular, since the philosophy of the Louisville, Ky., microfactory is to rethink appliances on a smaller scale, and find new ways of adding convenience and efficiency that benefit the consumer. For example, the recently announced LineCook will add scanning technology to ovens, so people can pull recipes for their prepackaged foods from the cloud to automatically set proper cooking temp and time. It looks like the future may hold a truly connected kitchen.

The Green Bean Module FirstBuild

At the AT&T Car + Home Hackathon, FirstBuild will open up the avenues of invention further by introducing Green Bean. Green Bean is a module that can be fitted to a number of GE's appliances, allowing makers to reprogram the appliance for apps and connected uses. By giving developers open access and fitting these appliances into the unified Internet of things supported by the AllSeen Alliance, FirstBuild hopes to encourage hackers to envision numerous new uses for the appliances we tend to take for granted.

In the battle for the unified smart home, the competing parties will need to strive both for a great number of allies, and for technology with useful-enough applications to spur change. FirstBuild's friendly approach to community-inspired innovation might provide an advantage. At the very least, it gives the AllSeen Alliance a team of makers ready and willing to look for the future of appliance technology.