Chris Pinder

June: uControl joins tech accelerator.


We are delighted to share the news that uControl has been accepted into the esteemed technology accelerator BetaDen after a rigorous multi-stage shortlisting and pitching process. This momentous step signifies a significant milestone for uControl as we embark on a transformative journey through the accelerator program in 2024.

Dillan Pattni, Chris Pinder and Justin Fothergill at BetaDen Cohort 7 Showcase.

Dillan Pattni, Chris Pinder and Justin Fothergill at BetaDen Cohort 7.0 Showcase on the 23rd May 2024.

The primary objectives of our participation in BetaDen, a strategic move, are to help navigate stringent regulations and compliance in global markets, fast-track the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into the uControl platform, and accelerate the next generation of uControl products and features.

We are already exploring the use of assistive AI in the setup, configuration, and personalization of a uControl system. This will allow users to customize their uControl experience more easily and quickly, making advanced technology accessible to everyone.

uControl is aiming to:

  • Learn user habits to suggest and create sequences and presets that enhance daily life.
  • Refine and expand the database of supported devices, enabling the intelligent creation of the uControl UI without human intervention.
  • Enhance troubleshooting conversations and resolve usability quirks with the assistance of uControl’s own LLM.

Our inclusion in BetaDen's Cohort 8.0 brings a host of benefits. These include access to potential investors, technology consultants, cutting-edge facilities, and an office at The Science Park—a picturesque setting under the Malvern Hills for nurturing high-tech companies. We are excited to leverage these resources for our growth and development.

BetaDen offices at the Malvern Hills Science Park.

Find the uControl Team based at the Malvern Hills Science Park moving forward.

We look forward to sharing more updates as uControl continues to innovate and grow within BetaDen's supportive ecosystem.

Chris Pinder

Chris Pinder

October & November: "specialise in making the impossible merely late."


We’re conscious that it’s been a few weeks since our last remote update blog, so we thought we should release a video of where we’re at with the latest prototype.

In the video Justin has taken a factory fresh uControl Remote and programmed it directly from the Zone Processor tasked with controlling the MHUB S in our office.

Will there ever be an end to prototyping the remote?

Yes, but sometimes you've just got to admit when things haven't gone as well as you planned! And that's how to sum up October and November - weeks of toil punctuated with a few more costly lessons regarding the fit and finish of the remote's plastic parts.

If you have been following the uControl Remote's journey so far, you will know that we were not 100% happy with the finish achieved with the plastic parts (casing, buttons and screen) from our first forays in to injection moulding.

But two steps forward and one step back is still progress. And with each "failure", the consequential design changes incrementally improve the overall quality, fit, finish and function of the final product.

We find solace in Elon's quote, "specialise in making the impossible merely late.” Even though we encounter setbacks, we remain committed to delivering the ambitious uControl Remote project soon!

We have learned an enormous amount from this prototyping phase, which has lasted nearly a year. We now move to the product’s final design-for-manufacture (DFM) phase, where we have made several changes to the parts and components, and how the remote is assembled.

I’ve picked out a few things here in the CAD to show you the evolution of parts.

  • Increase button height
  • Create a single piece screen and IR window
  • Improvements to battery housing
The OLED screen is no longer part of the front face and has been separated.

The OLED screen is no longer part of the front face and has been separated.

The buttons have been redesigned reducing the amount of plastic injected into the mould and the height has been increased.

The buttons have been redesigned reducing the amount of plastic injected into the mould and the height has been increased.

To further expand my knowledge of the technology, techniques, and innovation happening in the UK’s plastics industry, I attended the leading plastics exhibition and conference, ‘Interplas’, in September at the NEC. By the end of the day, I was enthused about several new approaches we could take with the remote’s manufacture and with the bonus of doing it all in the UK. I came away from the show with new and improved ideas to implement, including laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) metal additive manufacturing for essentially 3D printed mould tools, glass-like polycarbonate with laser plastic welding for the screen, sustainable polymers for the case, and LED UV printing for the button text, to name but a few!

A new manufacturing partner located close to our Malvern HQ!

Today, I am pleased to write this blog update from an advanced manufacturing facility we're using to produce parts of the uControl Remote, which is only a short drive from our Malvern HQ! Although it was frustrating to start over and push back delivery timescales, ultimately, I know we made the right choice.

When will we be shipping?

Honestly, we are now closer than ever to being able to ship the first batches of remotes. I would urge you to register your interest to ensure you’re the first to know!

Do you have a question about the uControl Remote? Ask it in our uControl Development Tips and Tricks group.

Would you like to become a beta tester and help us make the uControl Remote as good as possible?

We’re looking for helpful HDANYWHERE installers with an MHUB in their showroom or home to give feedback on the uControl Remote setup, configuration, operation and performance. If you’re interested, let us know here.

Chris Pinder

Chris Pinder

September: We won ‘Best of Show’! revealed pricing and broke the (injection) mould.


It’s been an eventful month! Quite literally, as September has been punctuated with exhibitions.

Firstly, we packed some pre-production working prototypes of the uControl Smart Remote into our rucksacks and travelled to the CEDIA Expo in Denver, CO - the USA’s biggest trade show dedicated to residential tech, with more than 20,000 home tech professionals in attendance. After three days of demonstrating the remote to US integrators we were pleasantly surprised to receive a ‘Best of Show’ award!

Crowds flocked over to our stand at CEDIA,Denver and EI Live! 2023 to see the new uControl Remote for the first time.

uControl Remote and MHUB S were amongst the winners of Residential Systems "Best In Show" Awards and Smart Building Awards in the UK.

The uControl Remote is £350 MSRP (UK).

Immediately after landing back in the UK, we headed to EI Live! in Farnborough to continue our uControl Remote demos to UK integrators. And more comprehensively showing control over AV, lighting and blinds. We also revealed that the MRSP of the uControl Smart Remote will be £350 inc VAT in the UK.

Colton showing off uControl Remote industrial design process Colton showing off uControl Remote industrial design process

Visitors got an insight into the (industrial) design journey where we showed the uControl Remote from concept to pre-production prototype.

Remote software and electronics are complete. (Dillan can be smug about this) Our prototypes are working great. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that I have continued to battle with the complexities of the remote’s design, and assembly in terms of plastics. There are 48 plastic elements in the remote’s construction and a very high degree of precision is required for the mechanics of the remote, particularly the buttons, to fit and feel right. We want the remote to have a high quality finish and are not prepared to ship until this has been achieved.

The uControl Remote rejects

We rejected all uControl Remotes we had prepared for the show(s). The buttons and their placement require a very high level of precision and finish and the recent modifications to the mould had pushed the plastics beyond their tollerance limits.

After a number of reworks, adjustments and retexturing of the moulds, we have still not been able to achieve the desired result. So my quest continues to fix this vital aspect of the remote. Unfortunately and frustratingly, taking what we have learned from our endeavours so far, the conclusion is that it's best that new moulds are designed and manufactured with a new and improved mechanical design. We have enlisted the help of a new partner on this, one with a reassuring track record, and we’re very hopeful for a swift resolution to our plastic problems in weeks rather than months.

Issues with the uControl Remote after mould changes

We've made the difficult decision to re-tool and rebuild the remote moulds.

Chris holding uControl Remote in new factory operating from the UK

We have appointed new partners to help us with the plastics.

We really appreciate your appetite and enthusiasm for the remote. We also appreciate your patience and understanding. We know that you know what we are trying to do is hard and we remain locked on to delivering a fantastic product that you will love.

Mike Ranpura, Director, Smart Life Audio Visual and respected member of the custom install industry voted uControl Remote one of his top ten products at EI Live! show. Thanks!

Do you have a question about the uControl Remote? Ask it in our uControl Development Tips and Tricks group.

Chris Pinder

Chris Pinder

July & August: Introducing the “uControl inside” campaign, more plastic surgery and a couple of button changes.


In 1991, with the home PC market booming, the “Intel inside” campaign made the microprocessor company a household name. In marketing-speak, it's called “ingredient branding” and well, basically, we've stolen been inspired by the idea to help uControl‘s own processor awareness.

The uControl Remote is a companion interface for HDA hubs that feature a uControl processor inside, i.e. a new MHUB, or ZP with “uControl inside”. You will start to see the ‘uControl inside’ logo throughout HDA’s marketing to help drive awareness. It also ties in perfectly with our ambition for uControl to be inside peoples’ homes, lives and minds.

The new uControl inside mark featured on all forthcoming MHUB and Zone Processor products

The new uControl inside mark featured on all forthcoming MHUB and Zone Processor products - we're really happy with it!

Talking of marketing, we’ve been hard at work updating the uControl info and collateral on our websites, which go live over the coming days. Time has been spent designing our EI Live! Booth, which takes place on September 13 in Farnborough. It will be the first UK public outing for the remote. Visitors can get hands-on and put the new remote through its paces with live demos on the HDA booth, Stand 11. It’s sure to be one of the main attractions at EI Live! Final pricing and shipping information will also be revealed at the show.

I have some more frustrating news regarding the plastics. You will have seen in my last post the non-textured versus textured plastics. Well, quite frankly, we just didn’t like how it turned out, so we’ve taken the decision to try an alternative, more-subtle texture from a new partner and we hope it will prove to be the final one!

The uControl Remote moulds being retextured

The new uControl Remote moulds after applying a finer, more refined, texture trimming about 0.001cm off the original plastic.

This has added some more weeks onto production but we are confident that we’ll have samples featuring the final plastics at CEDIA Expo in Denver on Sept 7 and at EI Live on Sept 13.

Finally, we have made some last minute changes to button naming...

A few small changes to the labelling and appearance of the uControl Remote

A few subtle changes to the labelling and appearance of the uControl Remote.

After playing with the remote for a little bit during our internal testing, we realised that the top three buttons would be easier to understand if we changed them, from Display/Audio/AV to TV/AUDIO/INPUT. And as you can see, we also changed all the text to capital letters for better legibility.

If you can make it, we’d love to see you at CEDIA Expo (if you're USA-based, use code: EXIV883372) and EI Live! If you’re in the UK which is FREE to register.

Chris Pinder

Chris Pinder

June: H/W - plastic surgery.


On the hardware front, 'the guts' of the uControl Remote's electronics are finished. Still, annoyingly, there are some ongoing cosmetic issues with the plastic enclosure injection moulds, which I promise I'm working hard to resolve.

A break down of the components inside the uControl Remote

The uControl Remote is complete but some problems still remain with the plastics.

I mentioned in my April update that I was focusing on improving the moulded plastic parts. Since then, I have been experimenting with different types of plastic, textures and paint finishes.

The texturing on the uControl Remote turned out to be too severe

The first attempt to texture the uControl Remote ended up feeling and looking a little too severe.

We are still not happy with the latest plastic enclosure results on the latest prototype, which you can see in the images and video. The feeling is that the texture is a little too severe and has had some unintended consequences when it comes to printing. So we are retooling the injection moulds with a finer texture, which will take 2-3 more weeks to complete.

We are still experimenting with finishes for the type of plastic we're using in the uControl Remote.

A new problem we've faced is making the ink adhere to the textures we've applied to the plastic.

In the meantime, here is a video demonstration of the remote as of today.

A demonstration of the uControl Remote working.

The software elements are 90% complete, with just final changes being made to add the remote setup into uOS, the uControl App and refinements to the remote firmware itself.

Now, we are targeting shipping the first deliveries to beta testers at the end of July 2023.

Do you have a question about the uControl Remote? Ask them here on our facebook group.

Would you like to become a beta tester and help us make the uControl Remote as good as possible? We’re looking for helpful HDANYWHERE installers with an MHUB in their showroom or home to give feedback on the uControl Remote setup, configuration, operation and performance. If you’re interested, let us know here.

Chris Pinder

Dillan Pattni

April: Software - putting the ‘u’ in uControl.


As Chris promised in his last post, here is my deep-dive on where we’re at with the uControl Remote software. This update is a five minute read, and a lot of it is about my approach to software design. I’m going to start by saying “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

I’m (almost) certain that anyone who’s worked in an engineering or a technical field before has been told this multiple times in their career. However, I feel this particular saying is pertinent when you work in software. Other engineering disciplines, such as chemical, electrical or mechanical, are bound by rules in the physical world which limit what is and isn’t possible. This limitation, generally, doesn’t exist inside software and the only restriction in most cases is the horsepower of the hardware your software operates on. You could, in theory, build any feature set your mind desires.

This is a trap.

Set a simple goal

We navigate around this by setting a simple goal at the very start of the design process. If feature X or upgrade Y doesn’t address that goal then we (often it’s me who has to be the bad cop here) brutally cut the idea out. Our design goal was: “keep AV first and foremost”.

A goal like this sets a clear restriction on all aspects of software design which hopefully becomes evident as you read through this post. The result (I hope!) is software:

  • That uses intelligent defaults so that most configuration options are ones that you would choose anyway or we automatically set based on data found in other settings.
  • Design the interface in a way that visualises the remote configuration so that the remote is presented to the user in a simulation mode before committing to the device.
  • Operates lean. Meaning that it works fast, fails less and could potentially function on any hardware we choose: no dedicated software and works entirely from a browser like all other HDA hardware.

A companion device

The uControl Remote has been designed to be a companion interface to HDA hardware (it will not work to the fullest of its capabilities on its own), which means that part of the process to get a uControl Remote working is to go through a mandatory basic configuration, which we call “First Boot”. In our latest operating system, uControl OS (uOS), this process is 3 steps (8 if you’re building a stacked system), and you will be guided through it from the uControl app. This will get your HDA hardware into an operational state by accomplishing three main things: connecting it to our cloud, defining zones or areas in your property, and assigning outputs or end-points inside them.

uOS First Boot Process

In order to setup the uControl Remote you will need to initialise your uOS controller in a process called First Boot. The image details how you add an output from MHUB in your Zone.

Controlling stuff

After the first boot process, it’s time to install uControl Packs for the sources, displays or AVRs that you wish to control. We’ve deployed tens of thousands of packs to date and we’ve refined this process in uOS so that it’s buttery smooth.

uControl Packs are files held on our cloud which contain device’s data for control, including the GUI layout for the app, all supported commands (IR or IP) and connection information.

Download uControl Pack screen in uOS

Choose if you want to control your device over IR or IP and then select the device you want to install control for quickly and easily.

Downloading a uControl Pack is very easy. Select if you want to browse IP or IR packs, then browse device type, manufacturer and range, that’s it. If more than one pack matches that criteria, then uOS will download them all so you can test each one quickly and from one page. Where our system differs from others is that our packs are arranged by popularity rather than model number. So the first pack presented for test is the pack most often installed. In most cases, this matches what you want the first time which is a neat little time-saving feature. Once your uControl Pack is installed they become immediately exposed to our app, remote, voice, watch or API.

In newer HDA hardware you will also find a CEC uControl Pack (pre-installed) which will allow control over sources and displays - as long as the CEC command is supported!

Connfigure uControl Remote screen inside uOS

The option to configure the uControl Remote will appear in uOS before the launch of the remote.

Adding the remote

You're almost there.

If you have set up a control system remote before, then this bit should feel quite familiar and we’re not doing anything drastically different here. Once the remote has joined the LAN it can be scanned for and added to uOS. After that, you’re asked 3 questions:

  1. Which zone do you want to add the remote to?
  2. Which end-point is in charge of volume control? (i.e. if there’s more than one audio output choice, for example an AVR and the TV speakers themselves, then we will ask you to nominate a default, as the remote can and will support 2 different volume commands if desired).
  3. Add an On/Off Sequence to the power button or list devices for individual power control.

Once that is done uOS will take all the configuration data and build your uControl Remote configuration. If you want to use the remote at this stage then you’re ready to go as this will match the app configuration almost exactly. BUT– we’ve added features that turn the remote into YOUR remote, it’s time to customise.

Customise the uControl Remote

The configuration for the uControl Remote simulates the remote itself which makes it very easy to see what the remote is doing and (if you want) to change that behaviour.

Customise

I think where we differentiate from a traditional control system is the level of customisation that’s possible in the uControl Remote. It’s easier to think of the base configuration as a blank slate upon which you can add customisations to tailor the device to suit your exact needs. Let me give you an example.

Family member 1
likes to use the Power button to turn the AV in their room on. They like to do this one-by-one as it is done inside the uControl app.

Family member 2
prefers if this was done based on the activity (selecting Sky Q, for example) that they want to do in the room.

I’ve used this to demonstrate a point: generally, in a control system, this is a locked behaviour which makes the system easier to program and deploy but comes at the cost of flexibility and these limitations are quite common amongst the big players. In uOS and our approach, we’ve built it to support a myriad of options from day 1 (because we’re focusing only on AV) and as you can see it’s as difficult as selecting the button and adding the extra action yourself. Almost every button on the remote can have its own secondary action applied to it, but just because you can doesn’t mean that you should!

Overall we are still targeting shipping first deliveries to beta testers at the end of June 2023.

Would you like to help us make the uControl Remote as good as possible?
We're looking for helpful HDANYWHERE installers, who have an MHUB in their showroom or own home, to give feedback on the uControl Remote setup, configuration, operation and performance. If you’re interested please let me know.

Dillan Pattni

Chris Pinder

April: Refinements


It's been two months since we revealed the uControl Remote at ISE in Barcelona. So I thought I would give you interested folk a progress update.

If you visited us at ISE, you already know that the uControl Remotes on the booth were fully functional, working prototypes. (Batch P#4, to be exact).

You would not believe how down to the wire it was in getting those remotes in time for the show - but that's a story for another day.

Pictures of stravax plastic moulds which have been laser finished

Our Stavax ESR steel moulds which offer high levels of precision finishing and polishability.

Prototypes

Dyson famously had over 5,127 failed prototypes. The uControl Remote is on prototype #5, and I'm pleased to say, at this stage, that we're working on refinements rather than failures. The PCB and electronics are finished. This is excellent news, as stable electronics mean we can press on with completing the software.

What is slowing things down is my focus on improving the moulded plastic parts, namely:

  • adding counter weights to the remote to improve the feel and balance
  • better structural rigidity
  • improved scratch resistance
  • a more pleasing button press feel
The uControl Remote pictured at ISE in Barcelona, Spain 2023

We aim to refine the plastics, texturing and construction in our next production run. (Picture: uControl Remote at ISE, Barcelona, Spain 2023).

I've chosen to tackle these elements of the BOM myself. To achieve a better quality final product, we are experimenting with different types of plastics, including ABS and glass-injected nylon. This process of testing and comparing materials will take a little more time.

It is a possibility that we may need to make new moulds adding to the production lead time.

Software

We have been working on the setup process for the uControl Remote since returning from ISE. This is progressing well.

The uControl Remote has been designed to be rapidly deployed if the system has already been set up for the uControl App because displays, AVR, source control and Sequences are already in place. Look out for the May update for a software deep-dive with Dillan.

We are still targeting shipping the first deliveries at the end of June 2023.

Would you like to help us make the uControl Remote as good as possible?
We're looking for helpful HDANYWHERE installers, who have an MHUB in their showroom or own home, to give feedback on the uControl Remote setup, configuration, operation and performance. If you’re interested please let me know.

Chris Pinder

About

uControl is a universal control and automation system for unifying audio-visual (AV) and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Our blog gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the company and the team behind the technology.