1998 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents


Gregg C. Vanderheiden, Ph.D.
Chris Law, M.S.
David Kelso, M.S.
Trace R&D Center
University of Wisconsin-Madison


The Universal Remote Console Communication (URCC) is a new nonproprietary standard being developed with IrDA and other groups to allow remote devices to control products (target devices). Target devices can be televisions, VCRs, stereos, kiosks, telephones, air conditioners, microwave ovens, or any other product that has electronic controls and displays. Remote consoles can be special devices, laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), augmentative communication aids, braille devices (e.g., the Braille Lite (TM)), etc. URCC works over infrared, RF, or copper wire. The primary current implementation is via the IrDA infrared protocol (used on laptop computers, for example). Researchers internationally are contributing to the URCC development effort.


More and more electronic appliances and systems are being introduced into our homes and communities, and many if not most of these are coming with remote controls.  However, current remote controls are fixed and uni-directional.  They are also limited to a small number of fixed functions for which there are standard codes. 

The Universal Remote Console Communication (URCC) protocol is being proposed as a way of providing a mechanism that would allow easy, flexible control by a very broad range of devices, including the assistive technologies that a person with a disability may already be using. 

The original work on the URCC protocol was carried out in an effort to develop an infrared link that could be used between public information systems and assistive technologies.  However, if it were targeted only to this use, the protocol would not be implemented on a widespread basis, and would therefore be of limited utility to people with disabilities.  Instead, the URCC protocol is being targeted toward providing general-purpose remote console capability to any product using an infrared remote controller.  The goal is to have the protocol supported on televisions, stereos, appliances, etc., as well as on public information systems. 

The URCC protocol is a remote console protocol rather than just a remote control: that is, with an URCC compatible remote console the user can both view information from all of the displays on a target device as well as operate all of its controls.

Target devices can be:

Remote consoles can be special hand-held devices designed specifically for this purpose. However, the remote console could also be:

The display on the remote console need not be a visual display; an entirely audio system could be used. In fact, a system could be built that could allow you to operate appliances directly over the telephone (you'd phone the "remote console," which would then allow you to interact with the target devices).

Simple and Universal -- No Preprogramming

Unlike typical "universal" remote controllers, an URCC-based controller gets the information about what controls are available on a target device from the target device itself.   The URCC-based controller therefore:

Works Over IR or Other Medium

The URCC is a communication protocol, and as such can be used over any transmission medium: that is, it could be used over infrared, RF, or copper wire. The primary use of the URCC at this time, however, is envisioned as being in connection with the IrDA (Infrared Data Association) infrared protocol. In this capacity, it would allow individuals to use a single controller (a dedicated controller, or an electronic pocket organizer, or a laptop computer, etc.) with an IrDA port to control any URCC-compatible device (VCR, stereo, thermostat, kiosk, etc.).

It would also allow those individuals with disabilities who cannot use the displays and controls on the standard devices to use a special assistive technology as a remote console, allowing them to access and use the standard devices.

Text and Graphic Formats

Flexibility is also provided in terms of the formats that can be used. Three URCC formats are currently proposed. Format 1 is text-based and presentation-mode independent: that is, it could be used with any size or type of display, including a purely auditory display. This format consists essentially of a list of the commands or functions available on the device at any given time. 

Format 2 allows for a product to send simple touchscreen-like console images to the remote console (in one or more resolutions). These are essentially simple line drawings of the buttons for the available commands and functions. 

Format 3 allows photo-realistic images to be used in "image map" like fashion. 

Flexibility of Presentation

As discussed previously, the URCC protocol allows the remote console to display the buttons and controls specific to each particular product.  The figures below show what the display might look like for three different devices using the graphic (Format 2) presentation. 

An URCC controller controlling a TV set.
Controlling a television

An URCC controller controlling a thermostat.
Controlling a thermostat

An URCC controller controlling CD portion of a stereo.
Controlling the CD portion of a stereo

Multiple Language Support

Another advantage of the fact that URCC-based controllers get the information about what controls are available directly from the target device, manufacturers also have the ability to design their products with multiple languages.  A user could therefore request, for instance, that their device display its controls in Spanish rather than in English.  This would provide great flexibility for developers of public information systems, who may wish to provide access to their information for a diversity of populations and backgrounds represented in a given community. 


The guidelines developed by the Access Board implementing the new Telecommunication Act require a standard such as URCC to developed and used to allow alternate interfaces to be connected to and used with standard technologies. If standard product manufacturers and home electronic manufacturers can be convinced that the URCC protocol provides them benefits as well, a whole new era in assistive technology connectivity may be possible. In order for this to happen, however, we need to out the very best protocols, that have the greatest advantages for all users, not just people with disabilities. Furthermore, this effort needs to be international in scope, with people from around the world working together to come up with the best possible protocol.

People interested in participating in the discussion and development can log onto the listserv that has been set up for this topic: irlink-l@trace.wisc.edu.

To subscribe to irlink-l….

Send a message to


and in the body of the message type

    subscribe irlink-l Joe Smith (assuming your name is Joe Smith; if not, use your own name).


This project is funded in part by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Education under grants number H133E30012 & H133E5002. The opinions herein are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education.

For More Information

More information on the URCC Protocol is available at:


Gregg Vanderheiden
Trace R&D Center
Department of Industrial Engineering
College of Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706

Go to previous article. 
Go to next article. 
Return to 1998 Conference Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings

Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.