A Remote Control for Your Whole Life

A knob-shaped universal remote wants to simplify your device-filled world. Courtesy of SPIN Remote

Ebola. ISIS. Downed airlines. Ukraine. 2014 threw up some confounding dilemmas. Our "Silver Bullets" series comes to the rescue with seven big solutions to some of the most complex problems the world is facing. But we also decided to turn our attention to some of the world's smallest problems, from getting out of a date with a click of your heels to an eternal question: Where am I going to find the perfect dive-bar T-shirt?

Each day for a week, we'll roll out one idea dreamed up by an enthusiastic entrepreneur or company to solve a problem that seems quite small in the context of the world's biggest issues, petty even. Unless it's your problem. Are these solutions as important, and as inspiring, as our "silver bullets"? No, but they prove once again that there are no limits to human ingenuity—or to the messes humans can cook up.

There are many ways technology simplifies life, but it also brings its own new complications. Many of our nifty devices—from speakers to televisions to air conditioners—need remote controls, which end up cluttering our brains and our living rooms (if they don't get stuck inside the bowels of the couch first). Why do we need 50 buttons to control our environment? Do we really need five remotes to turn devices on and off?

The makers of the new SPIN Remote say the answer is "no," and they want to bring the simplicity back into your life.

SPIN is a universal remote in theory, but it is even more intuitive: You just turn it. The ultra-sensitive motion sensor, shaped like a knob, works when you rotate it, in the same way you would turn a doorknob or the key in your car's ignition. With a spin of the SPIN, you can control the volume of a movie, fast-forward or rewind a TV show, or turn your devices, such as stereos, on and off. You can even use it to dim or brighten smart lighting by simply pointing the remote at a lamp.

Dutch inventor Ruud de Vaal conceptualized the remote several years ago when he thought about how many buttons on contemporary remote controls are useless. According to Mathijs Vaessen, SPIN's business development director, the standard remote control has about 40 buttons, and each household has an average of three such devices—but most people just use remotes for the most basic of commands: to turn things on and off, control volume or surf channels. In addition, says Vaessen, the team discovered that many people hide remotes when company comes over to de-clutter a space or to avoid having to explain to guests or babysitters how to use them—all the more reason to come up with something beautiful and simple.

De Vaal and his team are currently using Kickstarter to raise the funds for a beta run of their sleek gadget. Vaessen says they wants enthusiasts and fans to be directly involved in future iterations of SPIN so that it can be more useful to them. "We really want to use the Kickstarter backer community to make the SPIN fit perfectly for their needs," he says.

Since SPIN is still in its fund-raising stages, the remotes aren't being manufactured yet. But Vaessen says that if they reach their about $124,000, SPIN will be priced around $122.99. Of course, SPIN is not without its competitors—smartphones and iPads have remote control-esque capabilities, for example. But Vaessen believes the SPIN is easier to use, since it doesn't involve fiddling with screens in order to make other screens work.

The desire to simplify and stylize bred the SPIN, which Vaessen says takes inspiration from the simple dials of old radios. But SPIN also wants to add "personality" to your coffee table, according to Vaessen. The current Kickstarter fund-raiser offers SPIN remotes circled with an M.C. Escher pattern of infinite fishes, and in the future Vaessen hopes to give users the option of customizing their own remotes.

SPIN enables ultimate comfort on your couch, but also comments on how cluttered our lives are with technology: Do we have so many devices that we can't keep a lid on all of them anymore, and need something to remind us what's important? Take a SPIN and see.

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