Why handsfree ? Any user who cannot use their hands because of an injury or due to illness (stroke, MS, cerebral palsy , Parkinsons, ALS etc.) may wish to access a computer, control a home theatre or home automation system in a handsfree fashion.
Computer handsfree solutions typically use a head tracker which follows a reflective dot on the users glasses etc. This handsfree setup replaces the mouse for people who cannot use a standard pointing device.
Some users cannot use the headtracker/reflective dot solution because of head movement impairment. If a head tracker is not a feasible option then I would encourage that you investigate voice control software such as Dragon or the built in voice recognition software in Windows 7 and 8. Voice recognition works best for users with clear speech, good diction and a quiet environment.
Give it a try, it may work for you.
Some users have implemented handsfree computing successfully by utilizing a simple mouth held pointer.
The rest of this blog assumes that your computer (laptop, netbook, all-in-one etc.) has been equipped/configured for handsfree operation.
The remote control solution that is described in the rest of this Blog utilizes readily available inexpensive or free components wherever possible.
Windows platform for handsfree and remote control functions
The computing platform of this solution is based on Windows 8.1. I believe that this solution could also work on Windows 7, Vista and XP but cannot attest to that with my personal experience.
The hardware could be any Windows laptop, all-in-one or desktop computer. Touch screens are nice to have if someone else occasionally uses your computer but is not essential for this solution.
The mouse cursor movement on the screen is generated via special purpose handsfree hardware.
There are a handful of excellent contenders available at this time.
I use the Tracker Pro from Ablenet which costs approximately $1,000USD.
I will update why I chose this headtracker in a later blog.
The mouse clicking function is provided by handsfree software which utilizes a "dwell and click" approach. I tried several different dwell and click products and settled on Smartclick for several reasons (email me for more details).
Smartclick from Innovation Management Group costs only $9.95 for individuals and it works extremely well under Windows 8.1 which sets it apart from its competition.
Remote Control functionality
The remote control component is the feature rich Logitech Smart Control. The Harmony Smart retails for around $130 but goes on sale occasionally for $90.
Why the Harmony ?
The Harmony can control over 270,000 kinds of devices via a vast database. Chances are extremely high that any of the devices that you may have in your home theatre system will be in the Harmony database and will allow you to control your home theatre system handsfree with ease.
You need to configure your Harmony for all the components in your home theatre system. Once the Harmony Smart works properly you are ready for the next step: pairing (or integrating) the Harmony remote with your handsfree Windows computer.
For that we need the Harmony Smart control specifically.
The Harmony Smart comes with a basic remote control but it also comes with a free app that can turn your Smartphone into a remote control. (N.B. The more expensive Harmony Ultimate also comes with the same app). This app is an awesome essential key component which I used in my solution.
The app runs on iOS units like iPhones and iPads and it also runs on Android platforms.
You're probably saying "It's nice that I can use my Smartphone as a Harmony remote control but I really need a handsfree solution and my handsfree system runs on a Windows computer platform."
So how do we get an iOS or Android app to run on a Windows computer?
Fortunately there are 2 great contenders:
1) iPadian is an iOS emulator
2) Bluestacks is an Android emulator for Windows www.bluestacks.com
I picked Bluestacks for reasons that are beyond the scope of this Blog.
Bluestacks is free with one minor caveat. Please email me for details.
An added bonus: any games that are available from the Google Play app store can also be used on this handsfree Windows system.
We now have the following components:
- a handsfree Windows computer with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth ,
- a Logitech Harmony Smart remote control, with a Harmony Hub
- Bluestacks running on the Windows computer
- Harmony Android App (available from Google Play) which is running under Bluestacks
How do we integrate all of this?
First make sure that the Windows computer and the Harmony Smart Hub are on the same Wi-Fi network. Then you start the Harmony App (under Bluestacks on your Windows computer) and start the configuration procedure. I had a bit of trouble with this and I found the following Youtube video to be extremely helpful. Helpful Youtube video.
I have been using this solution for two months now.
It works flawlessly. I am extremely pleased with it.
As you can see from my older blogs I have tried several different approaches to handsfree home theatre automation in the past but this latest design is by far the most flexible, reliable and easiest to use.
The expansion capabilities of this system into home automation for handsfree lighting and environmental control are very promising.
I'm positive that the Nest Android app should also work with Bluestacks.
This could implement a handsfree way to control the thermostat temperature in your house. N.B. - I have not tried this yet but hope to Blog about this as soon as possible.
I would also appreciate hearing from anybody who has tried this or other solutions.
I would definitely be more than happy to assist anyone who needs help with any of this.
Here's a representative screen of the finished product.
In this picture you can see the Windows 8.1 desktop. Bluestacks is up and running and it is in turn running the Android Harmony app. A handsfree user would then move the mouse pointer around the screen by moving the head left and right, up and down followed by the headtracker and a reflective dot on glasses or a hat. The click is generated by Smartclick (the 6 button bar near top centre-4 buttons are in blue).
So for example in the above screen if we wanted to select channel 100 on the Rogers cable box we would:
select 1 (dwell) click,
select 0 (dwell) click,
select 0 (dwell) click
The channel would get changed and then you could control your volume up or down, mute, put on Closed Captioning etc. whatever your Home Theatre system allows you to do.
The last thing I want to point out is the on-screen keyboard on the bottom right of the picture. This is the standard built-in Windows on-screen keyboard with the incredibly handy word prediction turned on. Letters are selected by pointing, dwelling and clicking. Word prediction will offer up several words based on the first few letters that you typed. Quite often you don't need to type out the whole word thereby saving you a lot of point/dwell/click time.
Alternatively voice commands could select a screen position or a button and also generate clicks, dictate text and many other things.