Every year around this time, I get invited to press conferences or events touting the newest electronic gadgets coming to market now or during the holiday season. I rather enjoy these functions, since I get to view the latest and most innovative devices. Sometimes companies will send gizmos right to my door so I can play with them for a while in the comfort of my own home.
MAKING A POINT
One such gadget I recently got a chance to check out is the Loop pointer from Hillcrest Labs. Back in 2007, the company invited me to a briefing at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The product that Hillcrest described in its initial e-mail back then prompted me to bring along our Engineering TV video crew. When I got to the company booth, its demo blew me away.
Hillcrest Labs founder, chairman, and CEO Dan Simpkins used the Loop pointer to effortlessly control graphics on a big-screen TV, easily making selections among hundreds of movie titles and photos. But the Loop wasn’t meant for public consumption. It was developed as a concept product to showcase Hillcrest Labs’ patented Freespace in-air pointing and motion control technology.
In other words, the Loop is one of many potential devices that can use this technology. Hillcrest Labs simply wanted to get other companies interested in it. You can view that early interview at engineeringtv.com/blogs/etv/archive/2007/01/17/remote-fromces-2007.aspx.
Fast forward to 2009. In June, right in time for Father’s Day, Hillcrest Labs announced that the Loop pointer would now be sold directly to consumers. As mentioned, the company sent me one to try out.
The Loop isn’t like any other pointing device. It’s a solid ring with four buttons and a scroll wheel (see the figure). Setup is ridiculously easy. All you have to do is place the included Freespace USB RF transceiver into any USB port on your PC, wait a few moments for the PC to recognize it, and you’re ready to go.
You hold the Loop in your hand and can control the cursor on your PC from a distance. Buttons on the Loop perform the same functions as a mouse. When I showed it to my wife, though, she was underwhelmed. “Why do you need that?” she asked. Good question.
Well, you can connect your PC to your HDTV, take your usual seat, and use the Loop to control your PC just as if you were controlling it with a mouse. If you need to type, you can use on-screen keyboards or a standard wireless keyboard.
A great user interface for the PC would make the Loop even more useful, but that should come eventually (if it’s not already here). I navigated to Hulu to get a better idea of how the Loop would help me access that site’s video content. It worked great. I could easily move side to side, scroll up and down, and select any show I wanted to view.
Unlike infrared remotes or optical motion sensors, you don’t have to point the Loop at the screen, since it uses the RF connection. If your hand is dangling at your side, the Loop works just as well with a few flicks of your wrist. This also gives you greater freedom to move around, with a range of up to 30 ft.
Also, the Loop doesn’t discriminate. Besides a PC, you can use it with a Apple Mac or Sony PlayStation3. You can’t use the Loop to control PS3 games, but you can use it to navigate the Internet through the console’s Web browser, and I suppose for lots of other things, if you’ve extended your PS3 into a kick-butt Linux machine.
MORE ABOUT FREESPACE TECHNOLOGY
Regardless of the orientation of the device—for example, pointing at the ground or turned sideways— Freespace generates intuitive cursor motions on the screen. Microelectromechanical-systems (MEMS) sensors combine with Hillcrest’s proprietary software to enable consistent control of the device from any position—standing, sitting, or reclining.
With its adaptive tremor removal, the Loop can distinguish between intentional and unintentional movement, including natural hand tremors. Instead of filtering out the entire range of human tremor, which would reduce its accuracy, the Loop dynamically measures each individual user’s specific tremor and unintentional movements and removes them.
Companies can license the Freespace technology as a complete hardware and software platform to create peripheral devices that accurately track motion with six degrees of freedom. For example, Eastman Kodak, Logitech, UEI, and ZillionTV have licensed Freespace for use in their products. In addition, Hillcrest Labs licenses a broad set of intellectual property, including more than 40 issued patents out of more than 190 filed by the company. You can find the Loop at Amazon.com for $99 or at www.hillcrestlabs/loop.