Scrolling through a Netflix menu screen is about the most low-impact interaction you can have with technology, certainly nothing to brag about. But during a test a few weeks ago, in what could be called a taste of television controls to come, I was able to navigate through Netflix with nothing more than my index finger, slowly and (occasionally haltingly) moving between new films and favorites without any remote. I was demoing Singlecue, a new tabletop device by Israel-based startup eyeSight Technologies that promises to bring us closer to the Minority Report future science fiction has promised us. Roughly as long as a ruler, the rectangular device aims to be your new universal remote, replacing a table full of controls with a simple series of gestures, and eventually be a hub for your connected smart home.
I was given a chance to test-drive the technology with Tal Krzypow, the VP of Product Management at eyeSight, in a Manhattan loft the company had rented out to show off the new product to the media. eyeSight focuses on computer vision, gesture recognition technology and natural gesture interfaces, and the Singlecue, which uses CMOS sensor technology, tracks and translates gestures. Devices such as Kinect and smart home hubs aren't competition, says Krzypow; Singlecue is pioneering a new experience, one that's available for $199 from Amazon.com.
As Krzypow sat on a couch about eight or nine feet from the wireless Singlecue sensor, he was able to fluidly control the cursor or television channel, either moving the cursor of a menu screen around with his finger, changing channels or adjusting volume with a series of finger swipes (to scroll and find an item) and clicking gestures (to select an item). By holding his finger straight up, he activated the system (users can even silence the TV by bringing their finger to their lips; what's next, throwing shade at an open door to shut it?) Krzypow then showed off the equally effortless onboarding process; an app-based system connects a device, such as a cable box, after just a few taps.
I was initially doubtful the system would work very smoothly, since the gesture vocabulary is limited to swiping, clicking and muting. But Krzypow was able to change channels via a number pad system and "dial" by simply moving his finger, and raise and lower the volume pretty effortlessly. It made his assertion that Singlecue was the next iteration of the universal remote seem plausible. (He also pointed out for anyone worried about privacy that the device doesn't store or send any video).
Since the Minority Report comparisons were inevitable, he explained that while the movie popularized the concept of touch-free interfaces, it also promoted a model with a complicated user interface, including gloves and numerous gestures. Singlecue limits the available features and recognized gestures to make the system easy to learn and focused on everyday interactions, while also making the initiation command—raising your index finger—simple to duplicate, but not subject to as many false alarms (I can't testify to how the system would react in a crowded living room full of football fans on game day, but as Krzypow flipped through channels, I wasn't able to falsely trigger or trip up the sensors).
When it was my turn to control, things went a lot less smoothly. Sitting in the same spot as Krzypow, I had trouble moving the control with any degree of fluidity. My finger clicks weren't registering, and as I tried to encourage the television channel to change, I began to feel a bit like Danny Torrence in The Shining (evidently, I was scrunching my finger, and needed to adopt a smoother motion). By the end of my brief sit-down, I had gotten a little better, but the cursor was still lurching across the screen. Clearly, there was a learning curve to overcome before I was surfing channels with my hand like a conductor directing an orchestra. It's not instant control out of the box, or at least wasn't for me, and I'd still like to spend more time with the device, and see how it works with other devices, to get a full sense of its capabilities.
While it may not be as flashy an application of touch-free control as science fiction fantasies suggest, Singlecue does offer a relatively robust interface. Anyone trying to use it should understand they'll need to spend some time mastering the technology. While the value proposition may not be there for someone who just wants to binge-watch Netflix, the device certainly shows that a touch-free smart home isn't as far off as we think.