This has nothing to do with startups, software, career or my hobbies. It’s just one of those cases where you scratch your head and keep wondering why we are using a 60-year-old technology when there is so much better solution. In this case, my beef is with Remote Controls. Raise your hand if you have more than a few remote controls on your house? That’s what I thought.
I know what you’re thinking… Remote Controls have too many buttons, they are hard to use, you have too many of those. Well, that’s actually not my issue with Remote Controls. My primary issue with them is why are they using Infra-Red to transmit commands instead of using Radio-Frequency (RF)?
The Infra-red on Remote Control was probably the choice at the time because it could have been made directional, this is, only the TV you are pointing it to would receive the signal; it was safe, well understood and the electronic boards to make it work was simple. (Note: I don’t have an electrical engineering background, so I can’t elaborate much more than this).
It served us well, but we have much better technology now.
Radio-Frequency (RF) is the most powerful technology nowadays for transmitting data in short or long distances. Pretty much every house has a Wi-Fi router. That’s RF. Have a cell-phone that can make phone calls and browse the web? It’s all RF. Do you have a Bluetooth headset? It’s RF as well. And look, your ears don’t have to be pointing to your cell phone for it to work. And your Bluetooth headset knows your friend’s cell phone is not your cell phone. And, it not only sends data but also receives data.
Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, LG and every other manufacturer out there should just step up to the plate and propose a RF-based electronic Remote Control protocol. It’s not that hard. Even I can do it. The benefits for consumers would be huge. Home automation would be much more of a reality. Universal remotes would be trivial and delightful to use – you wouldn’t need to keep pointing your Remote for 7-seconds in the direction of your electronics for it to do the 5 things it need to do to turn on your system. And a door of endless possibilities would open up creating several multi-billion dollars industries.
A bit more technical…
I couldn’t care less what frequency it would use or what physical protocol. It can be wi-fi, Bluetooth, or any other tech, as long as you can reach tens of yards. In fact, it should be optional for the physical lawyer to be USB or Ethernet as well.
Since we are talking about all these, guess what? There is a pretty well-known standard called TCP/IP for the transmission layer. I know, electronic manufacturers might not have heard about it, but it’s worth checking it out.
If each device is a networked device, then you need just a few more things. You’d need some kind of authentication and authorization mechanism (you don’t want your neighbor switching to the Playboy channel just before your wife walks into the house, would you?). Hey, I have news… Bluetooth has a pretty good solution with PINs. You can just copy that. You can even add data encryption if you want to. There are several protocols for that too!
Now, all that’s left is some kind of data protocol to transmit and receive commands and data. I’d suggest you just use something we call POX. Nope, it’s not a disease, it’s a cure. POX stands for Plain-Old-XML. Using XML would allow integrators, ISVs and device manufacturers to very easily speak the same “language”.
In other words, Sony/Toshiba/Panasonic/LG/et al. don’t have much to do, but to add a RF support to their electronic devices and come up with a data protocol. That’s it. In 10 years we will manage to save the world from an epidemic of remote-control proliferation.