In a recent patent application published by the US Patent & Trademark Office, we find that Microsoft is considering that it's time to reinvent their aging Xbox TV Remote. One of the new features for professionals will allow them to open files and use the device's built-in video camera and microphone to conduct a video conference on their televisions. Yet beyond their TV remote, we see that Microsoft is thinking about integrating Potentiometer Sensing Strips into a wide variety of devices such as their Xbox controller, a mouse and perhaps a laser pointer for presentations. One of the common features found in these devices is an easier method of entering text onto a display without a keyboard.
Microsoft's Patent Background
Many types of user input device are known for enabling a user to control another device such as a personal computer, television, audio system, video game, or other device. For example, computer keyboards and mice are known for controlling a personal computer or other computing device and hand held video game controllers are available for video gaming. For controlling televisions, audio players and other media presentation devices, hand held remote control devices are typically used.
Today, text input into a computing device is done via keyboards, key pads, touch screens and electronic ink pens which could be clumsy and disadvantageous.
Brief Overview of Microsoft's Proposed Solution
The basics behind Microsoft's solution and invention involve integrating a sensing strip into various devices so as to detect one-dimensional motion of a user's finger or thumb along the sensing strip and to detect the position of a user's finger or thumb so as to perform various functions. The sensed data is used for cursor movement and/or text input at a master device.
According to Microsoft, the user input device will have an orientation sensor and orientation of the device influences orientation of a cursor. For example, a user may move the cursor in a straight line in the pointing direction of the cursor by sliding a finger or thumb along the sensing strip. In an example, an alphabetical scale is displayed and a user is able to zoom into the scale and select letters for text input using the sensing strip. Much more about the use of the sensing strip is detailed in this report.
Overview of Sensing Strip Based Devices
Potentiometer Sensing Strip
Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of a user input device 104 held by a user to control a TV, a presentation or video conference call. As you could see above, a sensing strip is common on a series of devices including a TV Remote, mouse and Xbox controller. Microsoft describes the sensing strip as being associated with a potentiometer strip which could also be circular in nature as is illustrated below in Microsoft's patent FIG. 17.
Microsoft states that the user input device comprises a sensing strip which is sized and shaped to allow a user's finger and/or thumb to slide along the surface of that strip. For example, the strip is approximately the same width as a user's finger or thumb and approximately the same length as a user's finger or thumb. The user input device may also comprise at least one orientation sensor. The user input device 104 is operated by the user to control the master device, in this case a television (112) using a graphical user interface. For example, the graphical user interface displays a cursor 108 such that the orientation of the cursor is related to the orientation of the user input device and a direction beam 110 may be displayed on the graphical user interface to indicate a direction in which the cursor is moving. For example, as a user moves his or her finger or thumb along the sensing strip the cursor 108 moves along the direction beam. The user may be able to make selections by pressing the potentiometer strip and/or by pressing a button on the user input device which is separate from the sensing strip as seen in our initial graphic of the TV Remote (FIG. 20).
The strip could be a part of a presentation oriented device as shown in patent FIG. 2 or as a part of a TV remote or other device with a circular input strip as shown in FIG. 17. It would appear that the circular design could function much like an iPod clickwheel.
Microsoft notes that the user input device may optionally include a haptic feedback control 322 to provide haptic feedback to the user. In one example, the sensing strip (302) is covered by a movable belt so that as the user moves their finger or thumb along the belt, the sensing strip senses input and the belt also moves, giving the user a sensation of movement. In another example the user input device is arranged such that it additionally provides force feedback. For example the user input device may be arranged to vibrate when certain events occur.
In other examples the processor may additionally receive input data from a plurality of different sensors, for example, the switch 304, the microphone 308 or the camera 310. The processor converts the received data into a digital signal which is transmitted to the master device. The connection may be a wireless or wired connection.
Text Input & Control Scale Methods
Microsoft's patent FIGS. 5 and 7 noted above represent schematic diagrams relating to methods of text input and control scale methods. As noted, a horizontal or vertical alphabetical line will appear on a television or computer screen so as to allow a user to enter text in a box as noted in the text box 510 of FIG. 5. This could be used to enter the name of television show, to enter the name of a character in a video game or fill out an online form for buying a tune or renting a movie.
The user will be able to quickly slide their finger along the sensing strip to the required letter and simply press the sensory strip to enter it into the text box. The television interface associated with the new remote will provide user guide marks (512) communicating to the user which letter their finger is on at any given time and may enlarge the letter the user's finger is pointing to so as to confirm it before pressing enter. This is a superior method to those used today on most TV remotes using a four point cursor.
In patent FIG. 7 we see a new control indicator 702 which would appear on a master device such as a television or computer screen. When a user wishes to adjust the televisions volume, contrast control, audio balance and/or brightness control, the sensory strip is used as a control scale. To access these controls the user would use the remote's menu system as shown below.
The Menu System
Microsoft's patent FIG. 8 shown below provides us with an overview of the remote's menu system. The graphic is mixing elements in an odd way in that the circular sensory strip of FIG. 17 above should have been associated with FIG. 8 so as to match the circular menu illustrated. In a vertical strip remote, the menu would appear vertical. Beyond the graphical menu mode mix up, the menu system is called up and the menu provides the user with a number of general menu items. Once the user chooses one by using the sensory strip, a sub-menu of items is called up as indicated by patent point item #802 to narrow down the intended target (TV shows, movies, Music etc).
In patent FIG. 9 we see a schematic diagram of another example menu system. In this set up, we see menus that appear as tiles, or icons as is common today with Xbox Live or Apple TV menus. It would appear that the remote will be able to use the remote as pointer instead of using the sensor strip in some scenarios. The patent notes the use of a laser pointer.
Microsoft further states that the sub-menu windows may present a number of lists such as different software, different documents, photos, media items or a combination thereof. Additionally, icons may be in the form of tiles or panes or may be in the form of tabs to enable the user to switch between documents.
In a final example, Microsoft states that the user will be able to move the menus forward or backwards by tilting the device up or down.
Other Remote Features & Form Factors
Other Remote Device features that Microsoft lists in their patent application include a camera (patent point # 1306) and microphone (patent point #1308) as noted in patent FIG. 13 below. Microsoft describes the use of the TV Remote's video camera and microphone as part of a communications unit in context with video conferencing. In theory, the microphone could also provide users with a way to enter voice commands in the future.
Noted in our final series of patent figures we see various form factors being considered. In patent FIG. 14 we see a remote with an extended handle. In patent FIG. 16 we see a sliding action feature that is said to activate the device and in patent FIG. 18 we see that one of the corners of the remote could also provide the user with an activation switch.
Microsoft's patent application was originally filed in Q4 2010 and published in 2012 by the US Patent and Trademark Office.
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