Hillcrest Labs wants to take gestural sensors in smartphones and tablets to the next level. On Monday, the Rockville, Md.-based company announced the availability of its motion control technology, called Freespace, for OEMs of Android and Windows 8 mobile
The company said that its Freespace MotionEngine for Mobile, an embedded software solution, "manages and enhances" the performance of accelerometers, magnetometers, and gyroscopes currently found in mobile products and used for motion-based applications.
Golf Club, In-Air Mouse
Applications include enhanced navigational control, such as adjusting the volume of a phone by tilting it to the left or right. A smartphone using MotionEngine, the company said, could be swung like a golf club to play a virtual game, or used as an in-air mouse to control the cursor and game action on smart TVs.
More advanced applications can be developed using head-mounted peripherals and augmented-reality applications, Hillcrest said. GPS sensing can be enhanced so that, for instance, a smartphone would know when a user was walking by a certain store and could show a coupon or special offer for that retailer.
Safety applications could include a smartphone sensing a car accident or a bad fall, followed by a beeping query to the user and an emergency call sent out if the user does not respond.
Chad Lucien, Hillcrest's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement that, while motion sensors are now standard in mobile devices, "today's motion software implementations impose significant restraints that limit sensor choice, integration flexibility and performance." He added that his company aims "to change that."
'Essential Patent Portfolio'
The company said that its static and dynamic calibration processes offer the "industry's highest motion-processing performance," and its software works with a wide range of sensors.
Hillcrest's technology is being used by smart TVs, set-top boxes and other products from such manufacturers as LG Electronics, Logitech, Roku and Sony Computer Entertainment. Other companies, such as Qualcomm, have also shown gesture-enhancing technology for mobile devices.
Avi Greengart, an analyst with industry research firm Current Analysis, said that "a lot of the things that Hillcrest claims they can do with their engine" can already be done with APIs, such as tilting controls. He added that he wasn't sure "how much more precise control is possible."
The company says its technology offers other benefits, such as saving battery life because sensors become context-aware and know when they are needed and when not. Greengart also noted that Hillcrest's technology appears to "provide a pretty complete framework that could save a lot of time" for developers.
But, he pointed out, "a big part of this announcement" may be a warning shot about patents.
In its announcement, the company said that its "essential patent portfolio" includes more than 60 issued patents and over 200 patents pending, and "provides reassurance" to licensees looking to bring new motion-based products to market.