We all have heard about legends in every religion and culture across the world, supernatural humans who have the power to control things by simply moving their hands in the air. Such an all-mighty life is not far away, proves a Bengaluru based start-up, Tomar Technologies Pvt Ltd.
Prime, a wristband, is one of these new-generation products that give similar power to its users. It has the potential to let you control almost all electronic devices around you with simple hand gestures. On wearing this band, the user can increase the speed of a fan by rotating the hand clockwise, or reduce the television volume by lowering the hand with palms facing downwards. This band can continuously monitor the user’s health too. The LCD screen on the band lets the person control each device’s function when he or she points the hand towards it.
The story behind
“The major reason why we came up with such an innovation is because of my sister-in-law’s mother,” says Hemant Singh Tomar, co-founder of Tomar Technologies. “She was suffering from pain in knees and it was very difficult for her to walk.” This is when they had the idea of controlling a device or process without physically touching it.
“Imagine you do not have to use the remote control,” adds Rohit Singh, co-founder of Tomar Technologies, “and you can control all devices by pointing towards these and using hand gestures.” Another situation where Prime can be helpful is when you enter the room at night and cannot find the switchboard or remember the exact location of the switch.
Magic trick revealed
The technology used here is based on the theory called the disturbance theory. All types of activities inside a closed space cause a disturbance inside that space.
Prime considers any system as a 3D model with X, Y and Z coordinates. Hand movements happening in this model are captured and converted into their 3D coordinates. Prime’s intelligent network pre-trains the set of coordinates corresponding to each gesture and starts listening to the gestures it is trained for. When coordinates of the user’s gesture match any of the network’s gestures, it is identified and an equivalent function is performed. The system learns user patterns and adapts accordingly to create the most accurate results.
The second part is the indoor positioning system (IPS), which uses several technologies other than satellite in order to locate an object or person inside a closed space. A global positioning system (GPS) works well outside a building, but fails when you have to identify the exact location of a device inside a building.
Team Tomar is working on a coordinate-location mechanism that is much localised and can work inside any building. When the automation system is being installed, coordinates of all devices to be automated are located beforehand. This makes identification of devices easier when pointing one’s hand towards it.
Other similar devices
There are multiple wearables, gesture-recognition based products available in the prototype form today. Fitbit is a wearable band, concentrating on the health-monitoring sector. Myo, the gesture-controlled armband by Thalmic Labs, is a band that allows the user to control gaming, smartphones, smarthomes, presentations and other such activities by tracking muscle movement. Reemo is another device in prototype form that serves as direct competition to Prime.
An Indian based start-up has come up with Fin, a ring that lets you control multiple devices and functions using simple finger gestures. Ring by Logbar is a similar product that lets you control systems with a ring worn on a finger. All these devices are in the pre-order stage, some of these firms having failed to bring out their products almost a year after their promised delivery dates and online crowd funding.
However, the application field of similar devices available in the market is very fragmented. For example, Fitbit is basically for personal health monitoring and Ring is more into home automation. As a user, if I have to get five types of devices for five different functions, that leads to more gadgets, more cost and increased confusion.
The idea behind Prime was to unify all these solutions into a single, small form factor wearable device. The basic set of sensors used in different types of gesture-recognition devices is the same. Team Tomar wanted to create a gadget that could control almost all electronic devices and could be useful for the customer from the time he or she woke up in the morning to when he or she went to bed at night, from increasing the speed of a fan while sitting on a couch to serving as an access card in the office and to continuously monitoring health parameters.
The problem Prime is trying to solve is to make it natural for users to interact with devices. For example, if you are on a call and the television volume is too high, you can extend your hand with your palm facing the television (stop signal) in order to mute it. So, Prime identifies the device you are pointing at and identifies the action of the hand in order to perform the intended function.
Many automation devices these days let you control appliances using a customisable mobile app. But a mobile app can be complicated as you have to open the app first and then change the settings. Also, there are different apps for different applications; for example, one app to control the television and another to control the security of the home.
When you point at a device, the line-of-sight is identified in order to select the device. If there are two devices identified in the same line-of-sight, Prime identifies the nearest device. The team is also working on algorithms for identifying a single device from a stack of devices. Gesture recognition is one of the proprietary algorithms that Tomar Technologies has developed and applied patent for.
Spreading across different sectors
As mentioned earlier, Prime would be finding applications across multiple sectors, namely, home automation, gaming, corporate world, and care for the elderly and physically challenged. There are several use cases. People can find their own use cases once they start interacting with this wearable wristband, the developers expect.
Home automation is one segment the team is looking at, as they see a lot of potential in this field in coming years. Tomar is currently planning to tie up with a company in security business. They are also trying to target the corporate sector, hospitality industry and healthcare. In the next two years, the team is planning to develop a healthcare package where vitals of the user will be continuously measured, pulled to the Cloud, analysed and a warning message sent to the doctor when something goes beyond normal.
Prime is currently in its prototype stage and extensive work is being done to reduce the form factor and increase the accuracy of the device. Developers of the product are expecting to get the first batch of Prime into the market by June 2015. The firm is looking at both B2B and B2C monetisation.
Infra-red (IR)-enabled devices do not require any extra set of components for communication. But devices like light, fan and other home appliances have to be fitted with sensors and transmitters, which is done by automation firms. Tomar is partnering with system integrators, automation companies and security solutions providers in order to offer a complete automation solution.
In the B2C segment, the firm is developing a smartswitch (a combination of switch and IR receiver) for devices that are not IR or Bluetooth based. The consumer has to plug the switch in a normal socket and plug the appliance in the socket of this switch. The IR receiver is placed on the appliance, and when you plug it in using the smartswitch, you can control the device.
In short, the wearable band
directly controls all IR and Bluetooth-enabled devices like laptops, gaming devices and air-conditioners, and indirectly, using the smartswitch, controls the devices that are not IR or Bluetooth enabled.
The author is a dancer, karaoke aficionado, and a technical correspondent at EFY. Find her on Twitter @AnuBomb.