Red Bricks: Alphabet To Turn Off Revolv’s Lights

Revolv, the bright red smart home hub famous for its abundance of radio modules, has finally been declared dead by its founders. After a series of acquisitions, Google’s parent company Alphabet has gained control over Revolv’s cloud service – and they are shutting it down.

Customers who bought into Revolv’s vision of a truly connected and automated smart home hub featuring 7 different physical radio modules to connect all their devices will soon become owners of significantly less useful, red bricks due to the complete shutdown of the service on May 15, 2016.

image source: http://de.slideshare.net/Synack/internet-of-things-51400317
7 radios, 0 support. (Image source)

We did not expect this sudden death of a well-engineered hardware platform, although preceding the recently announced shutdown, Revolv devices have already been condemned to an early EOL, when Nest stopped selling them in late 2014, immediately after acquiring Revolv.

Each Revolv hub was purchased with a “lifetime subscription” to their online service. Nest, who bought Revolv for its development platform rather than for its product, may have found this service burdensome. They settled on a clarification, in which the term “lifetime” actually meant customers are advised to see a doctor the “lifetime of the product”.

Nest now offers individual solutions to Revolv owners, possibly partial refunds or discounts on Nest products, but Revolv customers will have a hard time figuring out what to do with their hardware. Many of those supposedly bricked hubs – packed with radios like Z-Wave, Insteon, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, 900 MHz, 433 MHz, and 915 MHz – may eventually end up on eBay for hackers to obtain for a fraction of their initial price tag of $299. Take the hint and listen to [Wesley Wineberg’s] DEF CON 23 talk. He says “If you can get your hands on one of these, it’s going to be a ton of fun”.

65 thoughts on “Red Bricks: Alphabet To Turn Off Revolv’s Lights

  1. The internet of things meets the free market. This is one technology that is going to burn a lot of early adopters until it settles out – however I will not be one of them.

    1. First thing I do when I acquire any ‘smart’ device, firewall it and set about hacking it. Samsung ‘Smart’ aircons? yeh I hacked them. Belkin ‘Smart’ plugs, those too. Sony ‘Smart’ TV – all mine baby.

        1. If your car gets bricked by “protesters” throwing bricks during a riot, can your insurance company deny replacement because of the “acts of war” clause in the policy?

        1. If you missed any of the subtle hints, the article is about something going eol that has a lot of radios and radio chips. So Mcnugget, I ask you; If someone has to guide your hand, and show you the way, to make something out of something else, does the tree make a sound?

    1. YES!!! The only thing that needs to be done now is for an enterprising hacker to create a new service for the hardware. Something that can be run on a local server or in the cloud. It’s not really the hardware being bricked(even Alphabet cant be that dumb). It’s the services that it depends on.

      1. Hopefully someone can make a local service but why was it not local in the first place? The only thing that might need to be done by a 3rd party is to make sure your phone and device can always find eacht oher (for people with non-static IPs). Otherwise there is no reason to have your lights, heat, security system etc. controlled by “the cloud.”

    2. I am still a little confused as to if this is “”bricked”” or just “”servers that were required going offline””
      To the typical end user it might not make a difference, but technically they are quite different things.
      It would be quite odd if there is a deliberate update being sent out to break them, so the question is if these devices still work if you could emulate a server?

  2. I wanted a GlowForge until I found out that the software was web-only, connection-required. I hate stuff that requires a net connection and this is why – the company decides to pull the server and you’re suddenly the proud owner of a very pretty paperweight.

    1. Just a far less smart laser cutter, hopefully. There are promises to open source a functional firmware, but it won’t do all the cloud based trickery that got you to buy it over a cheap chinese laser, either. Also, the tubes will still need replacement every couple of years. It’s not an Epilog after all.

      1. They’ve said an open source *version* of the firmware, which I don’t read as the same thing at all. I write software for a living, so I’m probably taking the money and buying the cheap Chinese laser, and I’ll figure out how to drive it. For the money, you can get a 100w CO2 laser, bigger bed, a movable Z axis, and no cloud requirement. I’ll use the remaining $1000 to wipe away whatever tears come from not having a webcam stuck to it. I doubt there will be many. ;-)

      1. That was local software that just happened to run its interface in a browser, it wasn’t hosted in the cloud. No different than any other company going out of business and no longer hosting downloads of their software on their website.

        Actually, the stuff that *was* hosted in the cloud might be the saving grace here, since it has outlived the company. It was mostly open-source, and you can still download various parts from github, e.g.: https://github.com/OutbreakInc/LogiblockPlatform . And the stuff published in npm might still be available too, which was the recommended install method when their site was up, I think.

        But it’s probably hard to get working with modern versions of its dependencies, and even when it was current it never really worked very well.

        The hardware itself isn’t much more than an LPC134x, which you hardly need a special IDE for, it’s fairly generic. Unfortunately the on-board programmer/debugger is proprietary and *does* need their special software to talk to it. And that was always the part of their software that was the least finished / least working. Honestly the best approach to using the board might be to just unsolder the ATTiny acting as a programmer and use its pads to connect an external SWD/JTAG programmer.

  3. So, when do people learn not to buy something with “cloud”? It’s not the first time that someone decides to shut down a service and it will not be the last time.
    Never trust the clud.

    1. Everything that requires internet access to function at all is a piece of junk for idiots. Every cloud-based service that can’t function otherwise is a potential trap. In case of software there are crackers that can bypass cloud-based security which will help those, who purchased that software on physical media, but won’t be able to use it when it reaches EOL to force expensive updates and cloud subscriptions on unsuspecting victims.
      If I purchase software or hardware I should be able to use it for as long as possible. If car industry was working the way cloud-based companies operate, every car would break after three years or when it goes outside of range of any network…

      1. I disagree. I think people back in the day probably claimed that anything that requires electricity to function is a piece of junk for idiots. That being said, if your device depends on a specific cloud service, then yes, it is setup to fail one day.

        Really, what needs to happen is some kind of independent cloud API, where the device can send the code it needs to run to your cloud service of choice and happily operate. This doesn’t solve all problems, especially for devices that need managed data feeds.

        1. Problem with standard API would be the same as with any standard: it won’t be standard for everyone. And if such standard isn’t strictly enforced, it will become a suggestion for vendors, and each of them will have his own vendor-specific standard…
          Every device that is completely Internet-dependent and can’t work stand-alone or limited to LAN will fail as soon as something happens to any local ISP or when someone messes up firmware or service required by device becomes unavailable. Wasn’t there a thermostat that didn’t work because someone screwed up something with Internet access? I’d recommend reading “Singularity” series by William Hertling, especially second book that shows potential disaster in times when everything is an IoT device.

      2. ” If car industry was working the way cloud-based companies operate, every car would break after three years or when it goes outside of range of any network…”

        Well, the comments to yesterday’s HaD article about the Arduitractor, it was mentioned that GM and John Deere have both implemented DRM on recent products…

          1. One of the biggest examples of this nowadays is Tek scopes. You need to pay for a smart card to get a basic RS-232 analyzer feature. We had a Tek sales guy come in to work trying to sell us stuff, and he went on and on about how Rigol, etc is not playing fair and taking their jobs and blindly copying their research (which is maybe true but not to the extent that the resting-in-laurels protectionists claim). Now, on the high end Tek is still an absolute leader and none of these Chinese companies can possibly begin to threaten them and all will be well for decades to come. However, on the low end, they (Tek) have been getting away with putting their name on bad products (Modern TDS1000/TDS2000 are absolute trash, especially compared to function-similar Rigols/Siglents for 1/5 the price) and then crippling them even further. (Or taking their absolutely awesome products like the MDO/MSO4000, etc. and FW-crippling them or leaving out basic features). This is where the cheap-chinese-goods market is doing great things for us all. It undercuts American/European companies trying to get away with this kind of BS and makes them think twice about doing it… lest some Chinese company releases a hardware-inferior product, but at 1/5 of the price, and most importantly without crippling out a bunch of basic straightforward-to-implement firmware features.

            Because for home/hobby (and even as a non-mission-critical reference at work) I’d rather have cheaper knobs and a slight FW bug every once in a while than have to pay $200 to get a Hamming window “feature” for my crappy scope FFT.

    1. Modems and ports below, these are direct wired to hardware uarts on the main cpu, with modem data sheets the modems should be controllable, no cheap hardware in the uk yet though unfortunately
      #Insteon
      12001

      #Zigbee
      12002

      # ZWave
      12003

  4. Offering discounts on new Nest hardware?
    LMAO, even though they now know their products “lifetime” equates to only 18 months or so, I guess some people will be stupid enough to get bitten twice !
    I wonder if they’ll ship with a jar of Nest petroleum jelly and Nest rubber gloves?

  5. This is the second reason I don’t buy hardware that requires me to sign up with The Clod (sic). The first is it’s no one’s business what color my lights are, what’s in my fridge, what temperature my house is, or what’s in my trash can.

    The Internet Of My Things™ keeps my information to itself, and lasts my lifetime.

  6. Let’s see:

    1) The Cloud lets developers release products way before they’re functional, because they can always fix them later, if they want.
    2) The Cloud lets developers charge rent on products you purchase.
    3) The Cloud lets developers increase that rent anytime they like, since the customers are locked in.
    4) The Cloud lets developers add advertising to the user interface at any time, even though the customers are paying for it.
    5) The Cloud lets developers harvest data from paying customers, to sell to others.
    6) The Cloud lets developers support products as long as the developers want to. After that, it’s no longer their problem.

    Ain’t the Cloud great?

  7. If your are going to any kind of automation — you are better of with DIY.
    Because buying into the pre-built, retail, ecosystem is only going to end in misery and heartache (such as with Revolv, and probably soon to be others).

    Besides….If you really need to turn that light on and off….you can always get up off your butt and flip the switch.

  8. Thanksgiving Eve, sometime near the end of the 20th Century. Fiberpipe buys Cyber Highway and continues business as usual – except in Idaho. They send a crew into the Boise Cyber Highway office and cart off *everything*, servers, furniture etc. Left behind is one guy with one phone to field a lot of angry phone calls.

    Everyone’s websites, e-mails, everything they stored on Cyber Highway’s servers is gone.

    Trust a cloud service? Hell no, no way, never ever. Every file I have ‘out there’ also exists on some storage media in my house.

    “The Cloud”, it’s really just someone else’s computer.

  9. The now defunct “Chumby” was my first – and last – “cloud” controlled product. (Yes, I hacked the Chumby, but the result was not the product idea I was originally sold.)

  10. For anyone looking for teardown pics, that slide linked above seems to be the only thing google can find, but the FCC-ID mentioned in those slides does yield some reasonable “internal photos”: 2AAIT-JARVIS1

    It appears the Revolv hub was based around an AM395x (like a BeagleBone) with 256MB of RAM, and from their licenses page it sounds like it was running Angstrom Linux. Why did it even need the cloud, there’s clearly more than enough horsepower to do anything locally?

    Does anyone know what actually ran locally? The DEFCON presentation mentions a crazy custom-protocol client implemented in Java, but was the whole CPU just devoted to running some sort of bloated cloud conduit, or did it do anything more? The link to the official firmware download in the presentation is now 403, and even their GPL page just says “write to us”, no links :(

    1. They are running business model on that hardware. It’s a dependency, but drug is replaced with greedy company. So now every of their clients will experience CWS: Cloud Withdrawal Syndrome. And that Revolv hub has enough power to run any home automation system. People were making those systems on 8-bit microcontrollers, albeit most of them were wired…

  11. Separate but related: Micro$oft bricked a bunch of hardware with Win10. Even Micro$oft webcams don’t work on 10. At least a couple of scanners I own were defunct after XP, even in XP compatibility mode. Doesn’t seem to be any solution but to keep an XP box around.

    1. Two questions: Are you 12 years old, and is it the year 1998?

      In all seriousness, I wouldn’t expect a vendor (such as HP) to provide updated software for a scanner that is at least 9 years old. If you do though, maybe next time buy from a different vendor?

      I suspect your scanner has a “Full” driver package which includes a bunch of value added software. That software in my experience is typically responsible for incompatibilities with newer versions of Windows. If your scanner vendor didn’t provide basic functionality WIA drivers, that’s not Microsoft’s fault. Windows 10 still includes WIA and TWAIN support. Hell, I’m sure you could get an ancient parallel port scanner under Windows 10 32bit if you can find some Windows 98 TWAIN WDM drivers for it.

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