Turn a Tablet into a Remote Control for Almost Anything

By Ken Kaplan, Intel iQ Managing Editor @kenekaplan April 2, 2014

Controlling your TV or checking your home alarm system using your tablet is nifty, but what if you could create controls for all kinds of things around your home and beyond, like lights, window shades, even arts and crafts projects, without knowing a thing about electronics or coding?

Technologies that once remained in the realm of engineers and electronics hobbyists are making their way into high school science classrooms and arts and crafts clubs. Behind this shift is a move to simple, affordable and easy-to-program gear based on Intel Galileo technology that is enabling creators and makers to more easily develop computer controlled experiences such as a motion-controlled lamp.

During a recent gathering at Brit+Co, a hands on arts and crafts store in San Francisco, Intel Labs research scientist Carlos Montesinos showed what he called ConnectAnyThing technology.

To the naked eye it looked like an old telephone switchboard with blinking red lights, but became more interesting when you saw what it could do. Touching an area on the tablet turned on a light bulb, then a fan … then our imagination.

The collection of sensors, wires and a tiny computer board the size of a small wallet could actually be used for things like rapidly prototyping products, creating art installations, or tinkering and playing with electronics remotely using a tablet or smartphone. (Think remotely turning on your coffeemaker or stereo).

“We realized that there are a lot of builders and creative people who have no idea how to code or don’t want to code,” said Montesinos. “They want to go off and build stuff.”

Even those who are technically inclined, he said, would find this technology of interest, especially as a simple, quick way to test things remotely.

“We’re really technical, but even I like to test something quickly, so I just plug it in, grab my tablet or phone, and I’m up turning things on and off,” he said. “The beauty is in the simplicity of how it all works together.”

Montesinos said that it could even allow people to connect things and in a social way start interacting with the environment.

“We’re still working on it, but it’s the same philosophy: we want to keep it simple and enable the creator to realize their vision.”

The magic comes from a little piece of code that can be downloaded to an SD card then plugged into a Galileo board.

“The board turns into a hot spot, broadcasting its own wireless network. It also acts as a web server, hosting the graphical interface as a HTML5 website,” said Montesinos.

Grabbing his tablet, he connected to ConnectAnyThing, opened a browser and began tapping and swiping his finger to control things in front of him.

“You can turn on LEDs or hit the button and turn on the fan,” he said.

He hits buttons marked D3 and D13, which is plugged in to a tailgate that turns on the light.

“We have the fan down here, which is connected to D2, so we hit D2 and we turn on the fan.”

He points out the bunch of heat sensor pads with digital numbers above each one. When he touches a pad, the number value changes, revealing a change in temperature.

“This is very simple to get going,” he said. “It’s literally just three steps: download the code, put it in, turn on the computer, and you’re off and running. “

He said this will allow people to focus on building things rather than having to go through all the hassle of writing code and debugging software.

To try for yourself, visit GitHub and look for ConnectAnyThing.

In the upcoming EyeO festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Montesinos and his team will show new iterations of the ConnectAnyThing and Galileo as part of an interactive artistic installation.