Hate searching for the TV remote, or trying to use it when you've got dirty hands? Well, with Lancaster University's Matchpoint technology, whatever object is close at hand can be used as a remote – you can even just use hand movements on their own. Also, unlike with some other gesture control systems, users don't have to memorize different movements for different commands.

Developed by PhD student Christopher Clarke, Matchpoint's only hardware requirement is an ordinary webcam. Here's how the system works …

In one corner of the TV screen, there are a group of small circular widgets representing functions such as volume control or channel-changing. Rotating around each of those widgets, like moons orbiting a planet, are visual targets. In the case of channel-changing, for instance, the widget contains a picture of a TV, while rotating around that widget are + and – symbols to indicate moving up and down through the channels.

Users simply choose the function that they wish to control, then move their coffee cup, pen, fork or whatever they've got handy, in the same speed and direction as the target moving around that function's widget. Utilizing a technology known as "spontaneous spatial coupling," Matchpoint automatically detects the rotational movement via the webcam, and matches it up to the desired function.

The system doesn't need to be calibrated, nor does it need to have prior knowledge of the objects – it works as long as it can see them being moved in sync with one of the targets.

"Spontaneous spatial coupling is a new approach to gesture control that works by matching movement instead of asking the computer to recognize a specific object," says Clarke. "Our method allows for a much more user-friendly experience where you can change channels without having to put down your drink, or change your position, whether that is relaxing on the sofa or standing in the kitchen following a recipe."

A paper on the research will be presented at the UIST2017 conference in Quebec City, later this month.

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