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Summary:

TVs that pause programming when you go to the bathroom, iPads that grey out your Facebook feed when you hand over the device to a coworker: PredictGaze wants to use simple webcams to control devices without having you wonder over potential privacy pitfalls.

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We’ve all been there: You are watching a movie on TV, and it’s time for a bio break, or you want to go to the fridge and grab something yummy. However, the remote control managed to once again disappear between the couch cushions. Mountain View-based vision control startup PredictGaze wants you to leave it there, and simply walk away. A TV with this technology notices right away and simply pause what’s playing.

PredictGaze, a bootstrapped operation with a total head count of four, is part of a new wave of startups that explore the space between facial recognition, gesture control and other types of visual input to help you control devices. One focus of the company has been the control of TV sets and connected devices, which CEO Saurav Kumar and his co-founder Ketan Banjara demonstrated in the video below:

Controlling a TV with your body may sound a little bit like Microsoft’s Kinect. But PredictGaze wants to achieve the same kind of functionality with much cheaper hardware. The team used the back-facing camera of an iPad for its TV demo, and Banjara told me that regular webcams do just fine for most applications. Plain old VGA cameras can be used for vision control from a distance of up to four feet, he explained. Upgrade to a 4 megapixel camera, and you’ll get up to 12 feet.

Relying on established technology like webcams to control devices is an idea that is getting more popular, with startups like Flutter bringing gesture control to ordinary laptops. But while Flutter is very much focused on developing a set of gestures to control all kinds of web apps, PredictGaze is casting its net much wider, adding facial recognition and other types of vision technologies in the mix.

Kumar also showed me a demo of an app that would selectively grant access to a mobile browser based on who is holding the device, and the company is working on ways to detect age and gender as well. All of that could be used in a wide variety of contexts. Developers could use some of this technology for their mobile apps, and TV set manufacturers could add technology to their devices that would restrict the access to certain channels based on who is in the room.

Of course, there is also a privacy issue with all of this: A few years ago, people freaked out when Comcast first floated the idea of using cameras to look at their customers. That’s why PredictGaze is doing all the image processing locally, Banjara said, with devices only storing data points as opposed to full-fledged images.

Does that mean that TVs with always-on cameras are right around the corner? Probably not, and it’s entirely possible that some of the big CE makers have tech very similar to PredictGaze already in their labs. However, if anything, startups like PredictGaze and Flutter popping up and working away on these types of applications shows that vision control is hot – and that we all are desperately looking for alternatives to the traditional UIs to make tech work in the living room. Oh, and of course for that lost remote control as well.

For more on the importance of UI innovation, check out GigaOM’s upcoming RoadMap conference.

Image courtesy of Flickr user polmuadi.

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  1. This sounds like a great idea and I can imagine that it would be big convince to many people however, how much would it cost for the additional hardware and software to be added cost? Many people don’t seem to struggle with using the pause button on the remote. http://www.netradios.co.uk/

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  2. This article was very interesting. The possibility of televisions controlling themselves is useful, but not really necessary. However, I’m sure many people who constantly lose their remote, myself included, would find this extremely convenient. One downfall of this is probably going to be price. Despite the fact that they want to use inexpensive hardware, there is no doubt that if this was sold in stores it would be pricey.

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