Research & Innovation

Smart Phones Turned Into Universal Remote Controls by Senior Innovators

The average number of remote controls per household worldwide continues to increase. Even a basic setup with a television, cable box, and DVD player already requires three remote controls. Add an audio system, video game console, and internet-streaming box, and the number of remote controls quickly becomes overbearing. According to a recent study, 9 out of 10 Americans believe their home-entertainment experience would be more enjoyable if they could just push a single button to enjoy the content they want.

A cross-disciplinary senior design team from Stevens Institute of Technology students has developed a low-cost device that allows any mobile phone or computer to function as an advanced remote control for any number of media devices, making controlling media devices simple. Electrical Engineering majors John Martelle and Jake Thibault and Computer Engineer Salvatore Amato combined their skills and expertise to create the Total Control Remote Control, a user-friendly solution that can turn any smartphone into a universal remote control.

Essentially, a remote control is a transmitter that sends instructions to other devices. In the case of most consumer audio/visual devices, the transmitter passes instructions in the form of binary codes over infrared light.

Although there are commercially available products that allow smart phones to act as a remote control, most require an external attachment, or dongle, to connect an infrared emitter to the phone. “In addition to being an inconvenience, using a dongle also has other limitations, such as requiring line-of-sight, and requiring a specific phone model to fit properly,” says Salvatore.

The team created an innovated design that houses the infrared emitter in a base station that is placed near the electronics. Using a custom universal remote app on an Android or iOS phone, the user can connect to the base station either through WiFi or Bluetooth. The base station transmits instructions entered from the mobile app through its two infrared LEDs to the desired entertainment device.

“We’ve also added the ability to control media devices through any web browser,” says John, who worked on the web browser interface. “This increases the number of devices that can be used as a universal remote control, such as non-Android or iOS phones and tablets and computers.”

The group hopes to continue expanding the functionality of the Total Control Remote Control. “Our design can utilize the processing power of smartphones, which is far more advanced than any commercially available stand-alone remote control,” says Jake. “The extra power allows for advanced functions, such as fully programmable macros that can launch a series of instructions for devices to automate frequent tasks.”

The team was advised by Electrical and Computer Engineering professor Bruce McNair. “These seniors have designed and built a fully functional device that the general public would love to have,” says Professor McNair. “I am excited to see where this project goes in the future.”

The Total Control Remote Control will demonstrate their prototype at the Stevens Innovation Expo on April 24th from 1-4 PM alongside hundreds of other innovative technologies, products, services and businesses across a wide range of. For more information, visit

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