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FreeSpace motion detection technology coming soon to smartphones

March 27, 2012
Hillcrest FreeSpace

[Update] Due to a mistake on our side, the original post included media showing a different motion detection technology than Hillcrest’s FreeSpace technology. We’ve updated the post with more information on Hillcrest’s FreeSpace and a demo video.

You know how you sometimes try to avoid seemingly crazy people who are yelling at themselves while walking down the city streets? Most of the times, it turns out to be a false alarm, and they are just talking, albeit crazily, on their phones using a headset. Now prepare for a different type of awkward moment, as the scientists at Hillcrest Labs have perfected their gesture recognition technology for smartphones.

Here’s an extract from Hillcrest’s press briefing on its new FreeSpace technology:


The mobile industry has a specific set of sensor requirements, including the need to work with a variety of sensor suppliers and application processors across multiple mobile operating systems, maintain low costs, minimize battery usage, and extract the maximum performance out of the available sensors. The expanded use of multiple sensors in smartphones and tablets will require better sensor fusion and calibration to improve accuracy and support more advanced applications.

Freespace MotionEngine for Mobile is a necessary foundation for a variety of mobile applications, such as:

• Context Awareness: The accurate sensor fusion provided by the MotionEngine software enables precise tracking of a phone’s motions and surroundings that can be applied to context awareness applications. For example, the phone could perceive a car accident or a bad fall, query the user with a beep, and send a distress message or an emergency call if the user does not respond in a timely manner.

• Pedestrian Navigation: The MotionEngine software provides a key building block to support improved navigation applications to augment GPS for use in instances when GPS is not available or not accurate enough. For example, the phone could sense that a user was walking in a shopping mall, calculate location using Wi-Fi signals, monitor the user’s pace, and present the user with a coupon or special offer when they approach a certain store.

• Augmented Reality: Smartphone suppliers can benefit from Hillcrest’s proven experience providing companies such as Kopin and Sensics with advanced motion control for their head mounted computers and augmented reality applications. Using similar technology, the MotionEngine software can provide the foundation to create more advanced applications or improve the performance of existing augmented reality applications.

• Health and Fitness: The MotionEngine software can be used in mobile devices to monitor users’ physical activities. By calibrating and fusing sensor data, a more accurate picture of user activity can be created, without excessive battery use. Therefore, MotionEngine software can enable new health and fitness applications, such as activity tracking for calorie counting and diet purposes and effectiveness assessments of exercise regimes and physical therapist treatment.

• Immersive Gaming: The MotionEngine software can support more immersive and precise motion gaming applications that make full use of the gyroscope and the complete sensor configuration. For example, the phone could be held and swung like a golf club to play a virtual outdoor game of golf on the sidewalks of San Francisco. The phone could also be used as an in-air mouse to control an onscreen cursor and play casual games on Smart TVs.

• Gesture Control: Accurate sensor fusion coupled with the Freespace Gesture Recognition Engine allows users to perform motion gestures to accomplish simple tasks. For example, users can flick their phone to the left to go back in browser, or adjust the volume by tilting the phone to the left or right.

Freespace Benefits and Advantages for Smartphone and Tablet Suppliers

Hillcrest’s core Freespace MotionEngine software, on which the new smartphone platform is based, was recently selected as a prestigious 2012 International CES Innovations Design and Engineering Awards Honoree. Hillcrest has been a pioneer in this field for more than 10 years and offers unique benefits and advantages to the smartphone market, such as:

• Sensor Agnostic Solutions: Hillcrest’s MotionEngine software works with sensors from all major suppliers and Hillcrest can help companies qualify sensors based on specific performance and pricing needs. Hillcrest’s sensor agnostic solutions enable lower costs by providing multiple supply choices to manufacturers and suppliers, while maintaining high performance standards.

• Superior Sensor Performance: Hillcrest’s proprietary static and dynamic calibration processes deliver the industry’s highest motion processing performance, backed by proven mass-market deployments of major CE companies.

• Minimal Power Consumption: With Hillcrest’s MotionEngine software, sensors can be context-aware to know when they are needed or not, shutting on and off to preserve battery life.

• Essential Patent Portfolio: Hillcrest’s global intellectual property portfolio includes more than 60 issued patents, with more than 200 applications pending, and provides reassurance to customers bringing new motion-based products to market.

• Flexible Implementation Options: With a modular software architecture and flexible implementation options for processor locations, sensor configurations, and operating system support, Hillcrest can support a wide range of applications and devices.


Hillcrest seems very sure that their FreeSpace motion engine will be used in various tablets and smartphones by the first quarter of next year. Talking to AllThingsD, the company’s Senior VP, Chad Lucien, said that they already have a customer – a secret one, you see – eager to harness the power of gesture recognition.

The FreeSpace motion engine has been deployed in a number of TVs and set-top boxes (notably on the Roku), so we’re inclined to believe that the first gesture-enabled phones will come sooner rather than later. The right question to ask is just how useful the technology will be.

Here’s a video that depicts just one of the potential use cases for Hillcrest’s FreeSpace technology:

Lucien said that the technology would work great for gaming and augmented reality. Utilizing the FreeSpace technology, the phone can also change its UI automatically from normal mode to GPS, mode once inside the car.These are just some of the things that gesture motion technology for smartphone has in store.

If you can’t wait until next year, check out the Sony Xperia Sola and its touch-free control that will come in Q2 2012. And the next time you see someone on the street waving frantically to a phone, you should know better not to judge and run away.

Would you be interested in using a gesture-enabled smartphone or tablet?