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V2: Universal Remote Control

Filed in: accessibility, CSUN2004, tech, Fri, Mar 19 2004 18:30 PT

Gregg Vanderheiden, in another capacity chair of the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Working Group, led a presentation on the INCITS V2 working group. Their project is something that’s cool for everybody: a universal remote control on steroids.

The objective of the URC is to be able to control any device from anywhere, using whatever device was handy. This remote control has killer apps: it doesn’t matter what the interface is for the thing you’re approaching, you only do it one way. For example, if you want $60 from an ATM, or want to set an alarm for 6am (which is when I woke up this morning. blah.), you can do this easily. And if you speak Japanese, but the instructions for controlling the air conditioning in your hotel room are in Swahili, no problem. The control will do it for you. Any devices that are V2-enabled will interoperate in perpetuity, so when voice recognition improves, as it constantly does, your new remote will still work with the old stuff.

So, one might say: “I have a disability. What’s in it for me?” Well, if one is blind, or has motor-related disabilities, their V2-compatible device can operate the thermostat, the oven, the microwave, etc. Even better, since this is a universal design device, when V2 hits the market, users who, for example, become paralyzed won’t have to rebuy or retrofit every electronic device they own in order to use them.

The V2 working group is close to issuing a draft standard, which is the first step in really opening it up for business. It should be out in six weeks from now (April or May 2004).

The protocol stack, presented by Gottfried Zimmermann, is pretty hard to explain without a chart. Suffice to say, it has various frequencies and media on which V2-compatible devices can communicate (802.11b, Bluetooth, FireWire, Powerline, Ethernet, and more), a discovery protocol, and at the highest levels, XML-based data interchange and even interface guidance.

Chris Hofstader of Freedom Scientific says this is reasonably easy to implement on assistive technology like his company’s JAWS screen reader. He related a real-world example of why the URC is what he needs: at the hotel he’s staying in, he said he has been having trouble getting crushed by elevator doors. If elevators supported V2, he could make the elevator wait until he’s safely inside.

Al Gilman, my chair in the W3C/WAI Protocols and Formats Working Group, went next. He mentioned that device independence is important, and people are working on it: for example, the Device Independence Working Group at the W3C. It’s larger than just accessibility, though it does touch us in several areas.

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