LCR 4.0 SME, Ultamation wins 4th Crestron EMEA Award

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Ultamation are thrilled to announce they have won a fourth Crestron EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) Award! The team at Ultamation have won The Most Unique Application (Residential) with their “Through the Looking Glass” solution; an amalgamation of touch-panel control, augmented reality and voice control to work in a residential or business environment.

Entitled “Crestron Through the Looking Glass”, Ultamation’s solution pushes the boundary of the traditional touch screen experience to one which, as the name suggests, you simply look through in order to control devices.  This opens the door to some exciting possibilities covering assisted living, aesthetics and usability, and a range of other unique possibilities.

Ultamation worked with The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) to create an augmented reality app which can be used to control connected devices in a smart home setting.  Although still only in a proof-of-concept stage, it provides a mechanism by which visual features around the home or work space can be recognised through the camera of a device; these are then identified by the control system (in this case, Crestron) and pertinent information or controls can be displayed over the camera image.

This support was completed through the LCR 4.0 Project in May 2017. Oliver Hall, Managing Director of Ultamation, said “We are delighted to have had the opportunity to work with VEC to develop this app. What started as a “would it be possible to …” has turned into a piece of technology I can hold in my hand and control devices in a way previously only seen in science fiction films.”

Ultamation demonstration system uses a simple floating menu system which, while tracking the features as the user moves the camera, provides interaction with the feature in display. So simply by looking at the TV, it offers relevant options for control, such as source selection or recently watched content, or a light fitting provides discrete control, or mood setting for the entire space.  A visual feature need not even physically be the thing you wish to control. A piece of artwork substitutes for the room’s environmental controls, removing on-wall clutter and leaving the aesthetics of the space undiminished by technology.

When the power of visual feature recognition is combined with speech-to-text services the concept takes on another dimension and both simplifies and increases reliability of the voice control solutions currently available, such as Alexa, which can often trigger unintended actions.  This solution is easy to configure and doesn’t require any complex modelling or calibration. Features are identified through images taken with the device’s camera, from multiple angles to provide a high degree of feature recognition stability. This ease of set-up was an essential consideration to allow for changes in environment, and the image recognition is highly adaptable to variations between the captured image and the current scene – such as; allowing for people to be in the image.

While the proof-of-concept employs Ultamation’s own simple menu system, a technology such as Crestron’s Smart Graphics, or the next generation of HTML5 based user interface technologies would provide greater expression in the augmented reality overlays.

When they first embarked on this project, the motivation was simply to find innovative new ways to interact with Crestron control systems. As the proof-of-concept took shape, Ultamation have been highly encouraged by feedback from a number of quarters.

Residential clients tend to look at this as something ultra-modern, though the enabling technology is currently not ready for regular, casual use.

Commercial users see utility where the solution could enhance the meeting space experience both providing simpler interaction with a wide range of technologies – look at a light and say “brighter”, or in a passive exploration – look around the space and view the options without needing to press buttons and wonder what the outcome might be.

Through the LCR 4.0 team, Ultamation took the concept to the Smart Factory Expo 2017 held in November and received enthusiastic support from well-known names such as DELL, Bentley and Tata Steel for applications such as works order retrieval and inspection testing – an exciting prospect for automation and the Internet of Things.