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Universal Remote Console Standard - Toward Natural User Interaction in Ambient Intelligence

Gottfried Zimmermann, Gregg Vanderheiden
Trace Center, Univ. Wisconsin-Madison,

Maribeth Gandy
Georgia Tech, Atlanta

Sharon Laskowski
National Institute of Standards and Technology

Matthew Ma
Panasonic Technologies

Shari Trewin
IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

Mark Walker
Intel Corporation

Zimmermann, G., Vanderheiden, G., Gandy, M., Laskowski, S., Ma, M., Trewin, S., & Walker, M. (2004). Universal remote console standard - toward natural user interaction in ambient intelligence. Extended Abstracts for the 2004 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 1608-1609). New York: ACM Press.


The draft standard on a Universal Remote Console (URC) framework is on its way to be reviewed and released by ANSI in 2004. This standard will contribute to the goal of Ambient Intelligence by allowing users to interact with networked devices and services in their environments in universal and natural ways, utilizing technologies such as natural language interaction and wearable computing. This SIG will follow up on last year’s successful SIG, whose contributions helped to shape the URC draft standard.

Participants in this SIG will present and discuss the impact of the URC draft standard on the field of Ambient Intelligence. The goal of this SIG is to build a network of people from industry and academia who are interested in moving the Universal Remote Console standard forward, and in pursuing its wide-spread adoption in order to implement adaptable and usable user interfaces for networked devices and services.

Categories & Subject Descriptors: H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces - Standardization, Input devices and strategies, Interaction styles, Theory and methods, Universal Remote Console; D.2.2 [D.2 Software Engineering]: Design Tools and Techniques - User interfaces; H.1.2 [Models and Principles]: User/Machine Systems - Human factors; J.7 [Computers in other Systems] - Command and control, Consumer products.

General Terms: Design; Human Factors; Standardization.

Keywords: Ambient Intelligence; abstract user interface; intelligent user agent; natural language interaction; standards; universal remote control; universal remote console.


The vision of Ambient Intelligence as "user-friendly information and services anywhere and anytime" where appliances and devices "disappear" into the environment may soon be realized. Technologies for wireless connectivity and networked computing are available, providing methods for seamless discovery, controlling and eventing. However, user interfaces of networked devices and services still must be authored separately for each controller platform. Furthermore, many existing user interfaces are not intuitive and natural for human users.

What is needed is a standardized but versatile user interface description for devices and services, a "user interface socket" to which any Universal Remote Console (URC) can connect to discover, access and control a remote device or service. The user interface socket would provide an abstract description of the device's or service's functions, and the URC would build custom-tailored interaction mechanisms based on the description. Thus with only one user interface description diverse URC technologies can be supported, including direct manipulation techniques via desktop computers and PDAs, and voice recognition and natural language technologies employed by PDAs and wearable computers. It is important that the URC provide the necessary technologies for user interaction (e.g. natural language processing), so as not to impose this burden on the networked device or service.

Based on the abstract user interface description, the URC may employ URC - or user-specific extensions in building specialized user interfaces. Extensions may include modality-specific resources such as images, animations, or audio and video clips. M anufacturers of networked devices and services, m anufacturers of URCs and third parties can provide these extensions as supplemental resources, available on the products themselves or on the Internet. This mechanism also provides for easy localization of the interface to foreign languages and markets.


At CHI 2003, approximately 30 people attended the SIG "Toward a Unified Universal Remote Console Standard"[1] to present and discuss requirements and activities toward a unified URC standard. The results were incorporated into the URC standards work at the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) and its Technical Committee V2 [2]. By the time of CHI 2004, the URC draft standard should be available for public review.

It is now time to make sure that the standard does meet the requirements and can be widely adopted for improved adaptability and usability of user interfaces in Ambient Intelligence environments. Several prototypes have been developed, and some of them are available as open source. Early adopters of the URC standard may build on this experience and code base.


Within INCITS and under ANSI, V2 is developing standards for the discovery, selection, operation, and substitution of user interfaces and options. The purpose of V2's URC standard is to facilitate the development and deployment of a wide variety of devices (from different manufacturers) that can act as Universal Remote Consoles for an equally varied range of devices and services.

It is expected that the URC framework will be available for public review at the time of CHI 2004, and that it will be released as an ANSI standard in 2004. Also, work is underway to prepare the next version of the URC standard as an international standard. A new work item proposal is being prepared for submission to ISO-IEC Joint Technical Committee 1, Subcommittee 35 on user interfaces.


The URC framework harnesses existing technologies already in use in ubiquitous computing. Wireless technologies such as 802.11 and Bluetooth provide the basic connectivity while networking platforms such as Universal Plug and Play, Java/Jini or Web services provide higher level discovery and synchronization capabilities.

XForms defines a set of modality-independent user interface controls that can be bound to data models. The Resource Description Framework (RDF) can be used to describe resources that serve as building blocks for user interfaces, and the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative provides the necessary metadata vocabulary.

The Pebbles project at CMU has provided evidence that a remote user interface can contribute to more usability for networked devices [3]. Trewin et al.[4] compared the URC draft standard to similar technologies regarding their suitability for generating usable user interfaces.


The URC standard addresses user needs for adaptable and usable devices and services in the context of Ambient Intelligence. This work should be of particular interest for: M anufacturers of networked devices and services for the home, the work place and the public; m anufacturers of personal devices, cell phones and universal remote controls; communities for open networking platforms such as UPnP and Jini; researchers working on user interfaces for Ambient Intelligence; and organizations developing related standards.


The purpose of the SIG is to bring together people who are interested in Universal Remote Consoles to review the INCITS work, to discuss the implementation of this URC framework and standard, and to explore its potential application in the field of Ambient Intelligence.


As with last year's successful SIG, a mailing list will be set up to follow up on the SIG session, or the new CHIplace used for further discussions. The purpose of this network is to gather feedback and provide support for those implementing the URC standard.


This work was funded in part by NIDRR, US Department of Education, under grants # H133E980008, H133E030012 and H133E010804. Opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors only.


[1] Zimmermann, G.; et al. (2003). Toward a Unified Universal Remote Console Standard. CHI 2003 Extended Abstracts, pp. 874f .

[2] INCITS V2, Information Technology Access Interfaces,

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

[4] Trewin, S.; Zimmermann, G.; and Vanderheiden, G. (2003, Nov). Abstract User Interface Representations: How well do they Support Universal Access? 2nd ACM Conference on Universal Usability, Nov. 10-11, 2003 , Vancouver, BC, Canada.