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Toward a Unified Universal Remote Console Standard

Gottfried Zimmermann
Trace Center, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison

Marney Beard
Sun Microsystems

Bill LaPlant
US Census Bureau

Sharon Laskowski
National Institute of Standards and Technology

Toby Nixon

Eran Sitnik
Panasonic Technologies

Shari Trewin
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

Gregg Vanderheiden
Trace Center, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison

Zimmermann, G., Nixon, T., Beard, M., Sitnik, E., LaPlant, B., Trewin, S., Laskowski, S., & Vanderheiden, G. (2003). Toward a unified universal remote console standard. Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI2003 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, USA, 874-875.


Wireless communication technologies make it feasible to remotely control devices and services from virtually any mobile and stationary device.  However, there is no standard available today which would allow manufacturers to define an abstracted user interface for their product whose functionality can be instantiated and presented in different ways and modalities on a wide variety of controller technologies, such as, phones, PDAs, and computers.  Such a standard could also facilitate usability, natural language agents, internationalization, and accessibility.

Participants in this SIG will present and discuss requirements and current activities that could contribute to the development of a ‘Universal Remote Console’ standard.  The goal of this SIG is to gather requirements, identify related research, development, commercial, and other activities, and to initiate an ongoing effort developing a unified Universal Remote Console standard in the future.


Abstract user interface, accessibility, assistive technology, disability access, mobile devices, remote control, standards, universal remote console, universal usability.


We define a Universal Remote Console (URC) as a combination of hardware and software that allows a user to control and view displays of any (compatible) electronic and information technology device or service (or “target”) in a way that is accessible and convenient to the user.

A typical URC platform is a personal device that a user carries, such as a PDA, cell phone, wrist-watch, braille-based note-taker (for people who can read braille), or other assistive technology devices such as used by people with limited manual dexterity.  A URC can be operated in any one of a wide range of methods, including touch-screen, hard buttons, switches, speech and natural language.  Although people with disabilities and their assistive technologies would be beneficiaries of the standard, the vast majority of users of such a standard would be mainstream users who want a more convenient way to control things in their environment, including the ability to control them by simply talking to a special low cost URC.  Note that one study found that operating a device from a personal universal controller (PDA) rather than using its built-in controls improved its usability[1].

Possible targets include TVs, VCRs, stereos, thermostats, microwave ovens, lights, and home security systems in the home environment; and information kiosks, ATMs, electronic directories, elevators, and copy machines in the public and work environment; as well as Web services such as online travel agencies, or world time services.

A stable URC standard would allow a target manufacturer to author a single user interface (UI) per target that would be compatible with all existing and forthcoming URC platforms.  A URC provider would similarly need to develop only one product that would interact with all existing and forthcoming targets that implement the URC standard.  Users would then use any URC that fits their preferences, abilities, and use-contexts to control any URC-compliant target in their environment.

However, such a standard does not currently exist and requires participation of manufacturers of targets and URCs, as well as user groups and researchers, to develop.


Two of the core components of such a standard are:

Target User Interface.  This must be specified in a way that supports usability, natural language interfaces, internationalization, and accessibility.  W3C’s XForms[2] offers a set of modality-independent UI controls, and allows for references to external labels and other resources.  Web services may be employed to seamlessly offer trans-modal and localized UIs.  An OASIS Technical Committee on UIML[3] has been formed recently to develop a specification for an abstract meta-language that can provide a canonical XML representation of any UI.

User and Device Profile Information.  This is needed to tailor an abstract UI specification to a specific user employing a specific URC platform.  The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative[4] defines a metadata standard that could be applied to profile specification.  A content model for smart card encoding of user preferences[5] has been proposed by TC224 WG6 of the European Standards Organization CEN.  Extensions to UAProf[6] have been proposed[7] to include information about the user along with device profile information in the CC/PP framework.

Technologies for network connectivity and discovery are available and may be employed by a forthcoming URC standard.  Examples include UPnP[8], Java/Jini[9], and the pertinent Web technologies SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI.  Pertinent security and privacy mechanisms should be applied to the networking layer, but not restricted to it.  For example, the management of access rights would build on secure access mechanisms in the networking layer.


One effort for a URC standard is an open and consensus-based activity hosted by the INCITS V2 Technical Committee[10].  V2 is working on a standard for alternate user interfaces which would comprise a specification for a URC as defined above.  The evolving V2 standard strives to use existing technologies and standards wherever appropriate, and to allow for implementation of the standard in different networking environments and platforms (such as UPnP, Java/Jini, and Web technologies WSDL/SOAP).

Identified requirements for a URC standard include usability, support for natural language interfaces and intelligent agents, internationalization and accessibility.  The current draft V2 standard addresses these requirements by:


The purpose of the SIG is to gather people who are interested in this topic or in components of the topics, in order to harmonize the V2 effort with related activities, and ultimately work towards a unified URC standard that meets the requirements of users and industry.  Draft agenda:

  1. Introductions and hands-on demonstration of V2 URC prototypes (20 min)
  2. Discussion of requirements for URC standard (20 min)
  3. Report on INCITS-V2 standardization work (20 min)
  4. Open discussion, including reports from other URC related efforts  (20 min)
  5. Wrap-up & discussion of follow-up activities (10 min)


The list of SIG participants (with email addresses) will be distributed among the participants, if they agree.  Follow-up activities will leverage on the network of SIG participants and focus on the harmonization of related standardization efforts in order to work toward a unified URC standard.


Partial funding was provided by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.  Opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors only.


[1] Nichols, J., & Myers, B.A. (2001). Studying The Use of Handhelds To Control Everyday Appliances.

[2] XForms – the next generation of Web forms,

[3] Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) User Interface Markup Language TC,

[4] Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (DCMI),

[5] Tiresias – Scientific and Technological Reports.  Coding of user requirements for people with special needs.

[6] User Agent Profile Specification (UAProf), Wireless Application Protocol Forum,

[7] Velasco, C.A.; Mohamad, Y. (2002). Web Services and User/Device Profiling for Accessible Internet Services Provision.  CSUN 2003 conference proceedings,

[8] The Universal Plug and Play Forum,

[9] Jini Network Technology,

[10] InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) Technical Committee V2 on Information Technology Access Interfaces,