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Experimental Tech Turns Your Coffee Table Into a ­niversal Remote

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The recent ACM SIGGRAPH conference offered a video demonstration of Control of Remotely Interfaced Systems using Touch-based Actions in Living spaces (CRISTAL), a multitouch tabletop display that acts as a universal remote.

Australian researcher Christian Muller-Tomfelde, who is currently writing a book on research in tabletop displays, says CRISTAL is easy to use. "It is a clever use of the tabletop as a 'world-in-miniature' interface to control room elements," he says. CRISTAL uses a camera to deliver a streaming video view of the room, including the TV, radio, DVD player, lamps, and digital picture frames, on the tabletop.

The video image of a device acts as the interface, so the user could make a sliding motion on the TV to adjust the volume. The user also could drag the image of the cover of a movie on the multitouch screen and drop it on the image of the TV to watch it. The team behind CRISTAL says such a tabletop remote could cost $10,000 to $15,000, and could reach consumers in a few years if it is combined with Microsoft's Surface multitouch display.

"We wanted a social aspect to activities such as choosing what to watch on TV and we wanted to make the process easy and intuitive," says the University of Waterloo's Stacey Scott, who worked on the CRISTAL project.

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