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Spatulas & Cats to Replace TV Remote

Researchers at the University of Lancaster have developed new "gesture control" technology that lets viewers use commonplace objects in the home as remote controls. Viewers can change the channels on their TV by moving a cup of tea, raise the volume by rolling a toy car or waving a spatula to pause a show on your tablet, according to a statement on the University website.

"Everyday objects in the house can now easily become remote controls so there are no more frantic searches for remote controls when your favourite programme is about to start on another channel, and now everyone in the room has the 'remote.' You could even change the channel with your pet cat," said Christopher Clarke, PhD student at Lancaster University's School of Computing and Communications, and developer of the technology, in the statement.

Lancaster researchers have developed this novel technology titled "Matchpoint" which allows body movements or the movement of objects to interact with screens. It requires only a commonly available webcam, and works "by displaying moving targets that orbit a small circular widget in the corner of the screen. These targets correspond to different functions -- such as volume, changing channel or viewing a menu. The user synchronises the direction of movement of the target, with their hand, head or an object, to achieve what researchers call 'spontaneous spatial coupling,' which activates the desired function."

"Spontaneous spatial coupling is a new approach to gesture control that works by matching movement, instead of asking the computer to recognise a specific object," said Clarke.

Matchpoint doesn't need a specific object or device, requires no specific commands and doesn't require calibration. It just looks for rotating movement and then allows viewers to select a function, much like any other menu-driven interface. For example, when selecting volume or channel selection, sliders appear on the TV screen. The viewer then moves their hand or object, to change the volume or to find the right channel. And they can do this even when they have something in their hands, or from anywhere in the room as long as they can be picked up by the webcam.

Viewers can also use stationary objects as controls, and they will retain their "link" to Matchpoint as long as they are in view of the webcam. So a coffee mug could become a volume control, and sliding it left or right could raise or lower the volume.

This technology also works with tablets and interactive whiteboards, and can be used by multiple users simultaneously. Researchers believe Matchpoint is also suitable to be used as an accessibility tool for people who are unable to use traditional pointers, such as remote controls and a mouse and keyboard.

The researchers on the project are Christopher Clarke and Professor Hans Gellersen, both of Lancaster University's School of Computing and Communications.

It's difficult not to think of the Tom Cruise science fiction movie Minority Report while reading this, where Cruise tracks down criminals before they actually commit a crime, based on predictive analysis of their personalities. That's more in the area of artificial intelligence, but the way he navigates information is using floating holograms navigated by hand movements.

For those who managed to avoid it or have blocked it from their memory, here's a short reminder:

In fact, this Matchpoint technology is better than the movie, because Cruise needed shiny gloves while Matchpoint can use bare hands and teacups. Then again, what self-respecting action hero would want to wave a teacup around while chasing evil terrorists?

At IBC, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) unveiled a similar technology at its booth. The company used technology from Myo as part of a larger vision for the future of telecommunications titled "Any Vision." The demonstration also used a navigational interface that responded to hand gestures. And of course, we have a handy video of that too, though it's a bit more futuristic than even the demo.

We'll let you decide which one is cooler -- Cruise or Nokia.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

danielcawrey 10/4/2017 | 11:13:20 PM
Phone I think I'd rather have my smartphone controlling this stuff instead of everyday objects. There could be security implications down the road we don't even know about. 
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