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Hillcrest Labs is a developer of freespace motion-control technology and the first motion-controlled remote for television. Freespace allows users to control images on a screen by using natural motions, allowing for a new way of interacting with television content. It is currently used in several products, such as the Magic Motion motion-sensing remote controls that come with some of LG Electronics’ televisions. Other licensees of Freespace include Logitech, Sony’s videogame division,Roku,  Universal Electronics and Zillion TV Hillcrest also invented the first graphical zoomable interface for television and Kylo, the first Web browser optimized for television. Hillcrest is based in Rockville, Maryland.
Founded in 2001 as Hillcrest Communications, the company changed its name to Hillcrest Laboratories in 2005. Founder Dan Simpkins, who had previously founded SALIX technologies, recognized that television content was becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, and he wanted to make it easier. Hillcrest developed Freespace motion sensing technology, which translates a user’s gestures into screen motion. This allows a remote control to operate as a mouse for the television. The company also developed a graphical, zoomable interface for television content. Early investors included Grotech Ventures, New Enterprise Associates and Columbia Capital.
In 2007, Logitech licensed Hillcrest’s technology for the MX Air, a mouse that could be used in the air.
In 2008, Hillcrest licensed its technology to Kodak, for the Kodak Theatre HD Player and Pointer Remote. Also in 2008, Universal Electronics and Texas Instruments licensed Freespace for use in remote controls.
In 2009, Hillcrest released the Loop pointer for sale directly to consumers. PC World Magazine named The Loop pointer one of the “top 100 products of the year” and one of the “greatest tech designs ever.” Also in 2009, Nintendo and Hillcrest settled a patent infringement lawsuit that Hillcrest had brought. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
In 2010, Hillcrest released the Kylo browser, a free Web browser for Windows and Mac OS X, optimized for viewing on a TV screen. Hulu blocked users of Kylo from accessing the site. Hillcrest released a new version that worked with Hulu, and Hulu blocked it again. Also in 2010, LG came out with the Magic Motion remote, which used Hillcrest’s technology to allow users to change channels with gestures.
In 2011, Hillcrest raised new funding from NEA, AllianceBernstein, Columbia Capital, and Grotech Ventures.
Technology and current products
Freespace Motion Control Technology
Freespace Motion Control Technology combines intelligent motion algorithms with MEMS accelerometers, gyroscopes and other sensors to translate natural motions into cursor movement. The software compensates for human tremor and inadvertent movement, consistently generating intended cursor movement.
The Freespace MotionEngine software is embedded in the Roku 2 Big Game Remote, released in 2011, which uses Freespace to control Roku’s streaming players.Freespace is also used by LG for its Smart TVs and Magic Motion Remote. The Logitech MX Air Mouse uses Freespace, and Popular Mechanics called this mouse the “best pointer we’ve tried.” Another Freespace-enabled product is the Universal Electronics remote control.
The Loop pointer
The Loop pointer, enabled by Hillcrest’s Freespace technology, is like a mouse for television. Replacing the traditional 50-button remote control, the Loop senses the viewer’s wrist movements and translates the gestures into onscreen movement. It has four buttons and a scroll wheel. The Loop uses radio waves to communicate with a USB antenna connected to a computer that is also connected to the television, so it doesn’t need to be pointed at the PC, or even have a direct line of sight.
The Scoop pointer
The Scoop pointer is a Freespace enabled in-air mouse that is lighter and newer than the Loop. It has nine buttons and a scroll wheel.
Kylo Web browser
Kylo is a free Web browser that is optimized for the TV screen with a 10-foot user interface. It has large fonts and buttons, and an onscreen keyboard. The Kylo browser was released in March 2010, and is available for Windows and Mac OS X.
|Business and economics portal|
- The Washington Post May 1, 2011. Steven Overly. As the TV market shifts, Hillcrest Labs may find its spotlight moment.
- The Wall Street Journal August 25, 2010. Nick Wingfield. Hillcrest Sees More Movement from TV, Game Companies.
- Engadget.com August 26, 2010. Tim Stevens. Hillcrest Labs brings LG's Magic Motion remote to life, cheekily points out that Sony uses it, too.
- PC Magazine August 26, 2010. Mark Hachman. Hillcrest Wireless Mouse Coming to LG TVs, Sony Gaming.
- The Daily Record August 19, 2011. Hillcrest Lab software licensed by Roku.
- CED Magazine September 30, 2011. New Products - October 2011.
- Engadget March 17, 2008. Steven Kim. Universal Electronics licenses motion control, hopes you don't put your eye out.
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- Engadget January 22, 2009. Paul Miller. Kodak's Theatre HD Player with gyro-based Pointer Remote unboxed and reviewed.
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- PC World October 26, 2009. The PC World 100: Best Products of 2009.
- PC World July 13, 2009. Hello, Gorgeous! 15 of the Greatest Tech Designs Ever.
- Macworld.com Mar 22, 2010. Christopher Breen. First Look: Kylo Media Browser.
- The Washington Post May 28, 2010. Rob Pegoraro. Kylo TV-friendly browser adds Hulu workaround (update: gets blocked again).
- Gigaom.com April 13, 2011. Janko Roettgers. Hillcrest Labs Raises $5.5M to Remake Your TV Remote.
- TechJournal South January 7, 2008. Hillcrest Labs rings up $25M D round.
- Electronic Design September 8, 2011. William Wong. Natural User Interface Employs Sensor Integration.
- Cable & Satellite International September/October, 2011. Stephen Cousins. A view to a thrill.
- Forbes.com November 16, 2007. Camilla Webster. Dream Tech Toys
- The New York Times June 15, 2009. Eric Taub. A Wireless Mouse That's Surfaceless Too.
- Gizmodo June 15, 2009. Mark Wilson. The Loop Controls Your TV Like the Wii for $100