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Media Coverage

The Best Remote Control Ever?

Eric A. Taub
The New York Times
Mar 26 2009

The best remote control Ive ever used was introduced in the 1960s. Accompanying our black and white Zenith TV, the batteryless Space Command 300 used sound waves to do three things: turn the TV on and off, change the channels and alter the volume. What it did, it did very well.

But as TVs became more complex, and as it became necessary to turn on a set top box or DVD player as well as a receiver before you could watch anything, remotes have tried to become all things to all devices. The compromises inherent in these all-in-one remotes simply add complexity to a process that is already daunting to many smart people. Aside from the videophiles and technophiles, most people just want to watch TV.

Perhaps the best remote control hardware is no remote at all. Thats the premise behind GestureTeks technology, a company that has developed a system that remotely controls electronics products not with a piece of hardware, but simply through various hand gestures.

GestureTek software technology has been incorporated in such products as Hasbros Ion game system and the Sony EyeToy for the PlayStation 2.

Now the company has its sights set on the television market. Its licensed its software to Hitachi; at Januarys Consumer Electronics Show, the company demonstrated a television that can be controlled by simply waving ones hands in front of the screen (a demonstration can be seen here.)

To make it work, a camera capable of relaying depth information is mounted on top of or in the TVs frame. The camera recognizes movement in three planes, thereby allowing it (through facial recognition technology) to ignore the movements of other people in the room, or that extraneous scratching of the nose that could otherwise wind up inadvertently changing the channel.

According to the companys chief executive, Bill Leckonby, the sticking point in turning this into a product is cost: the depth-sensing cameras are too expensive. However, he said that he has a deal with a TV manufacturer (not Hitachi) to bring this to market next year, and he expects camera prices to drop with volume purchases.

What movements people will need to make to control their TVs are still up for grabs. If anyone is going to be interested in this, GestureTek and its partners need to figure out a minimum number of twists and turns that will substitute for the most-important functions of a remote. Theres no point creating a technology that uses hand gestures if you still need to consult a flow chart to figure out what to do.

The company is working on a maximum of five gestures to get the job done. Moving ones hand in one direction will probably take the user to a sub-menu, where the same gesture will do another task.

As Mr. Leckonby acknowledges, its got to be as simple to use as an iPod. We have to be as good at this as Apple is, he said.

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GestureTek technologies have international patent protection. U.S. patents include: 5,534,917 (Video Gesture Control Motion Detection);
7,058,204 (Multiple Camera Control System, Point to Control Base Patent); 7,421,093 (Multiple Camera Tracking System for Interfacing With an Application);
7,227,526 (Stereo Camera Control, 3D-Vision Image Control System); 7,379,563 (Two Handed Movement Tracker Tracking Bi-Manual Movements);
7,379,566 (Optical Flow-Based Tilt Sensor For Phone Tilt Control); 7,389,591 (Phone Tilt for Typing & Menus/Orientation-Sensitive Signal Output);
7,430,312 (Five Camera 3D Face Capture).

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