University of Maryland


International Universal Remote Console Standards Adopted

February 17th, 2008

The national bodies of ISO/IEC JTC1 voted in January 2008 to adopt international standards for universal remote console technology. The standards have been published as ISO/IEC 24752, and are now available for purchase (link is external). This is a key step towards enabling the use of URC technology with mainstream consumer electronics, which is a goal the Trace Center has worked toward for the past ten years.

When these voluntary technical standards are adopted, it will be possible to use a “universal remote console” device to control light switches, thermostats, and complex devices such as TVs and VCRs. A variety of common devices (e.g., cell phones, laptop computers, handheld organizers) could function as universal remote consoles (URCs) if they implement these standards. The user interface provided by the URC will be extremely flexible and easy to use, allowing users to choose what works best for them. People with disabilities could use their assistive technology devices in the same way, or new devices could be specially built to function as universal remote consoles.

Trace Center Director Gregg Vanderheiden is the current Chair of INCITS Technical Committee V2, where the original URC standards were developed. He points out that “we are living in a world full of invisible computers in devices such as alarm clocks, microwave ovens, copy machines, ticket machines, and so on. And these devices are becoming increasingly complex, which makes them harder for users to operate. The URC standards are designed to make our environment more usable by de-coupling the user interfaces from the devices and their inherent complexities.”

The standards provide a way for products to disclose information about their functions and controls to the URC. The user may then easily have their URC display only the functions they want in the manner they prefer and are more familiar with. This solves the problem of the user having to learn (and remember) different control systems for different brands or types of devices.

Gottfried Zimmermann, International Representative of the V2 Technical Committee, states: “With the adoption of these standards, we are one step closer to the day when we will be able to choose the interface we use to control the devices that surround us each day. Some people can use complex visual interfaces, while others may choose simpler interfaces for controlling the same products. Some of us will simply tell our hand-held agent in simple language what we want to have done. This will be a tremendous boon for technophobes as well as all of us as we age.”

Vanderheiden explains: “The URC standards are pragmatic and forward-looking. They can make the development of user interfaces easier today and will facilitate the migration to future interaction mechanisms such as natural language. However, we need to convince industry that these standards will add value to their products. It is like building a big house — the building is done, but we need to go out and invite people to live in this house.”

The Trace Center has been instrumental in the development and standardization of URC technology from its inception, and has an ongoing program of research and development in support of implementation of URC technology. Trace is also a founding member of the URC Consortium.

Support for Trace’s work related to URC standards has been provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U.S. Department of Education, under grants H133E980008 and H133E030012.

For further information about URC technology, please visit the URC Consortium’s website (link is external).

(Updated from 12/4/07 original posting.)