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Savant’s New Virtual Control Could Be a Game Changer

Photographer shoots 360-degree views of each room; users navigate and control the home using gesture control, like flicking the virtual blinds to raise or lower the motorized shades.


Savant’s new “virtual control” interface uses swipe technology just like an iPhone. The touchpanel skin is an actual photo of the home itself, like this great room. Users simply press directly on the light, shade, TV, etc. to turn on, off, dim, etc.

Savant Systems -- the same company that created the funky candy-dish remote control, the flying-icon on-screen display (OSD) and the industry's first iPhone interface -- now has another potential game-changing product: its new intuitive "virtual control" user interface (UI).

Making a touchpanel's user interface intuitive is one of the keys to satisfying a homeowner with a whole-house control system.

With that in mind, Savant debuted a new intuitive "virtual control" interface that allows users to touch or swipe an actual photo of their home as the touchpad skin to turn on and off (or dim) a light, lower or raise shade, change the thermostat or even turn on and off the TV screen.

No more icons of light bulbs. No more mentions of the word "zone" on the touchpanel. If you want a light to turn on, you simply touch the actual light.

Not only does the light in the room turn on, but it also "turns on" via animation on the touchpanel. Even a stranger to the home could intuitively control functions with little to no instruction.

That new iPhone-like swipe control is just one of the new innovations unveiled by Savant during its third annual Dealer Conference in Hyannis, Mass.

Virtual Control Tech Uses Tethered Touchpanel

Specifically, the yet-to-be-named virtual control technology is a tethered tabletop 9-inch touchpanel with full capacitive touch technology delivering iPhone-like gestures and active control of lighting and shading, and other subsystems via images of residence.

The installation requires only power and a single Cat 5 for full functionality. The capacitive glass allows to gesture control.

As part of several "stimulus packages," dealers in attendance at the Savant Dealer Conference were given a special price on a virtual control demo unit.

One potential monkeywrench to the system brought up by attendees is how to create the UI in a new construction situation. Most likely, the home and individual rooms are unfinished when the integrator is creating the interface.

One solution would be to use architectural renderings as placeholders for the touchpanel skin, then replace them with actual images later.

Professional Services Division to Handle Photos

What about the photos themselves -- are integrators supposed to be professional photographers?

Savant has that handled too. It newly announced Professional Services division will coordinate the photography on behalf of the dealer.

The product was debuted to the group by CEO Bob Madonna, who admittedly could not stop "playing with it" during the demo.

In the design, one room of the home would be the background skin on the touchpanel, while all the other rooms of the home will be located in a scroll box across the bottom of the screen that can be swiped left or right, just like an iPhone.

The new virtual control UI follows up Savant's previous debuts that made many CE pros turn their heads including the candy-dish remote, flying-icon on-screen display, the first iPhone interface, iTunes integration and AppleTV integration.

Check out video of the virtual control in action.

Attendees at the Savant Dealer Conference play with the swipe control on the new virtual interface. New capacitive glass enables the technology. Savant's Professional Service division helps dealers get the professional photography shot for jobs.

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Article Topics

News · Product News · Opinion · Control Systems · All topics

About the Author

Jason Knott, Editor, CE Pro
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

26 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  06/11  at  07:48 AM

Very cool!

JDS has the poor man’s version - really nice piece of software for cheap. Been around for many years.

Posted by Ranger Home  on  06/11  at  08:51 AM has a simimlar suite of products called Mainlobby. Very powerful and super inexpensive (as is JDS but never heard of them).

Is it just me or do the pictures in the Savant piece not look that “pro”?

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  06/11  at  09:32 AM

still no match for Savant, though, with its Mac OS X-based architecture.

Posted by Jason Knott  on  06/11  at  12:53 PM

The YouTube video does not do the demo justice. The touchpanel has swipe control just like an iPhone. I will try to get something better. For example, the lights turn on, off and dim on the touchpanel via animation when you place your finger on the lamp.

Posted by Jive Turkey  on  06/11  at  02:14 PM

OS X-based products are for Booger Eaters who are willing to overpay just because.  Really Julie, you’re now on the Apple bandwagon?

Posted by HOooOoOoo  on  06/11  at  02:19 PM

By referring to it an “actual photo” and calling it a “skin” implies that this is something applied to a static controller—and that certainly is not an accurate description of the product!

And as for you, Jive Turkey, lighten up. Next you’ll be throwing rocks.

Posted by Jive Turkey  on  06/11  at  02:23 PM

I be light.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  06/11  at  02:25 PM

@Jive (coincidentally, I do eat my boogers).

By that comment I meant that JDS and Cinemar have great GUIs, but can’t take advantage of the native Apple gesture capabilities.

Posted by YaHerdMe  on  06/11  at  02:38 PM

A cool interface matched up with a weak company with no real go to market stratagey is surely a recipe for success!! lol
JDS probably has hundreds of times as many installs as Savant does at this stage so I doubt that they can really be a “game changer”

@Julie I thought I saw something funny going into your mouth at EHX, but now I know for sure what it was.

Posted by Casey  on  06/11  at  03:30 PM

Not to sound like a Savant hater or Crestron/AMX fanboy, but aside from the gestures, is there anything here that couldn’t be done with Crestron, AMX, or other Control Systems using similar background photos and animated buttons for on/off state? Can this support multi-mode buttons to show multiple levels of dimming feedback in the photo, or is it simply on/off. This could be done with Crestron with their multi-mode buttons.

The problem with this approach is there is no way to take a natural looking photo that encompasses 360 degrees of the room. If you want to adjust a light that is behind you and not in the photo, you will need to (I assume) swipe/pan to another photo in order to get access to that light. Not only is this slightly disorienting, but it requires additional clicks and gestures for simply turning on a light.

Although a list of generic icons is not as sexy as the real life photo approach, at least it’s intuitive and requires less touches/clicks which are two major goals of successful UI design.

I applaud Savant for their efforts, its a major improvement over their previous UIs which I thought looked outdated. I just take exception to the game changer claims.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  06/11  at  03:38 PM

@Casey, from what I understand, a 360-degree panning camera is used so you can spin around the room (like they do to showcase homes for sale).

All of the typical automation scenarios are available as well (macros, icons, etc.). This is just another tool and something to throw into the Wow bucket.

What dealers tend to like most about Savant is the ease of programming and the ability to incorporate applets into the programs.

Posted by Casey  on  06/11  at  03:55 PM

The video above certainly doesnt show any kind of smooth panning, rather jumping from one static photo to another, again nothing that could not be done with another control system.

I fully agree the ease of programming is huge, but I have not seen any in-depth coverage of the RacePoint Blueprint software, just a few screenshots and vague outlines of what it does.

When I last spoke with Savant they were using Photoshop to create their UI templates and using some kind of exporter to their native template format. This in my opinion IS a game changer, eliminating much of the headache of making revisions in Photoshop then having to slice and export graphics to VTProE or TPDesign, then having to re-assemble the graphics in those tools. Unfortunately I have not seen any in depth coverage of this. That could make a great follow up feature.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  06/11  at  04:01 PM

@Casey, I defer to the experts…

Posted by Casey  on  06/11  at  04:52 PM

Sorry to be a pest, If this was completely lame, I would just move along and not comment, but there is potential here and I do appreciate what they are doing so I have questions.

If they have done away with icons for individual lights in lieu of touching the actual light, how do you adjust a light that isn’t exactly visible. In the video above I saw some indirect lighting hidden behind molding, Is someone supposed to know that if they touch wood trim, it will turn on a light? I also saw some lights in a dark theater ceiling that weren’t at all visible, yet the user knew to touch a blank dark area of the photo. On many usability levels, this just fails.

I have seen hybrid approaches that use a true photo of the room as seen above but provides an icon to indicate a hot spot of activity where the user can interact. The design above could benefit from such an approach.

Posted by Julie Jacobson  on  06/11  at  05:23 PM

I don’t think you’re being a pest Casey. These are great questions. I’ll let Jason K or Savant chime in.

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