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October 2, 2017

IoTea: Life saver, problem solver, and now a TV remote?

Say goodbye to juggling between your favourite biscuit, cup of tea and remote control.

By James Nunns

Tea, a life saver, a comforting hug in a mug that can chase away those winter chills and Monday blues could soon become even greater.

Some of you may raise your fists in anger at the idea that a cup of tea could be improved upon but it’s true!

Thanks to researchers at Lancaster University a cup of tea could soon become a TV remote. Gone will be the days of juggling a Hobnob, your tea, and the remote as your favourite mug becomes a powerful tool for change.

Thanks to new gesture control technology, everyday objects can be turned into remote controls.

According to the paper ‘Matchpoint: Spontaneous spatial coupling of body movement for touchless pointing’ – which will be presented at the UIST2017 conference in Quebec City this October, researchers from Lancaster University have been able to discover a way of turning objects and the body into controls that can interact with screens.

Matchpoint technology requires a webcam and works by displaying moving targets that orbit a small circular ‘widget’ in the corner of the screen. The targets represent different functions and once a user is synchronised the direction of movement of the target with their cup of tea they can achieve ‘spontaneous spatial coupling’ – or simply active the function.

For those shouting that this is just like normal gesture control, well it’s not. The software of Matchpoint doesn’t look for a specific body part that it’s been trained to identify, instead it looks for rotating movement. This means that in addition to the software not requiring prior knowledge of the object, it also doesn’t require calibration.

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Although smart televisions are an obvious use case, the technology could be used to control other screens. Think Minority Report.

Christopher Clarke, PhD student at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, and developer of the technology, said: “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.

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“Our method allows for a much more user-friendly experience where you can change channels without having to put down your drink, or change your position, whether that is relaxing on the sofa or standing in the kitchen following a recipe.

“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.”

Christopher Clarke and Professor Hans Gellersen of Lancaster Univeristy are the researchers on the paper.

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