November 8, 2006 2:21 PM PST
Space-age remote control coming in 2007
Early next year, at least one undisclosed consumer electronics company will release the Loop, a ring-shaped remote control that lets you navigate by pointing at icons on the TV screen, rather than by scrolling and clicking through listings. So instead of trolling through seven pages of offerings on Comcast to get to The Terminal on channel 555, you point the remote at the "Movies" icon and then click on the thumbnail of the movie poster showing Tom Hanks in an overcoat.
into cursor movements on the screen.
The device translates hand motions--via sensors that track the physical forces behind a user's hand motions in the air--into cursor movements on the screen.
The technology behind the Loop was created by Hillcrest Labs, a Rockville, Md., company founded in 2001. Although it has attracted funding from firms such as New Enterprise Associates, it has not landed deals with consumer electronics makers until now.
While it would not disclose the names of the companies that have licensed its technology, Hillcrest said that the licensees are major manufacturers. These manufacturers will sell their own versions of the Loop and also incorporate Hillcrest's technology into game controllers and other devices, Hillcrest announced this week.
Pointing as a way to control consumer electronics, game consoles and other products is going to be a growing theme in 2007. One of the chief features of Nintendo's Wii game console is a handheld controller that you point at the screen to control the cursor. Meanwhile, GeoVector has come up with a software application for cell phones that lets people point their phone at a building to determine the name of the building, the tenants and other information.
Japanese carriers are starting to introduce services and phones based on GeoVector's technology. It could come to the U.S. in a few years. Hillcrest's Loop functions in a similar manner to the Wii's controller.
"It really opens up a lot of things," said Danny Briere, CEO of analyst firm TeleChoice. "Imagine if you were on Amazon. You could just point and buy stuff."
Hillcrest's technology consists of two parts: a ring-shaped remote with two buttons and a scrollwheel, and software that turns reams of TV listings into thumbnail menus. The idea is to provide more information at once, but in a natural, intuitive manner.
"As soon as we come out of the womb, we point, and after that we see quite a bit," said CEO Daniel Simpkins in an interview earlier this year. "We search with peripheral vision. You can see thumbnails of 125 movies at once."
Simpkins, who years earlier founded a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) company called Salix Technologies, added that cable, TV and music companies won't have to adapt their current menus to Hillcrest's technology themselves. "We ingest the metadata and convert the XML data into visual data," he said.