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The Download: Hillcrest Labs navigates the smartphone market

In this 2011 file photo, Hillcrest Labs founder Daniel Simpkins holds up a remote that his company produced for their client LG. (Jeffrey MacMillan/FOR WASHINGTON POST)

The motion control software that Rockville-based Hillcrest Labs has built into remote controls for Internet TVs could soon be used on a much smaller screen: the smartphone.

The company is announcing plans today to enter the rapidly growing market by selling its Freespace software to the manufacturers that build the handhelds.

Many smartphones are outfitted with sensors that allow the device to detect movement and direction. They help keep your GPS on track and power motion-enabled applications.

But breaking into that business won’t be easy. Chad Lucien, the senior vice president for sales and marketing, said the firm has signed one customer, but many manufacturers already use cheap or free software from the companies that supply the actual sensors.

“Every new market has its challenges,” Lucien said. “It certainly won’t be easy. If somebody is getting a piece of software for free, we need to convince them why they need to pay for it. That’s the primary hurdle.”

Still, Hillcrest sees a thriving market.

“They need software to manage those motion sensors and do that in a way that allows them to swap between sensors from different suppliers easily,” he said.

For Hillcrest, smartphones present the potential for a more lucrative revenue stream. Internet-enabled televisions are still fairly nascent, so the remote controls that use the firm’s motion technology have yet to be broadly adopted.

Bits and bytes

Landover-based online education company 2tor is partnering with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to develop an online version of the university’s Master of Public Administration degree.

2tor aims to remove some of the stigma attached to Internet-based education by creating programs with well-regarded universities.

The Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon continues its spate of seed-stage investments, funneling $125,000 last week to Charlottesville-based ITI Health, a firm whose technology identifies the early stages of pancreatic cancer.

CIT’s GAP Funds program will close its fiscal year in June with its largest number of investments to date. The ITI Heath deal is the group’s fourth investment this month.

Steven Overly is a national reporter covering federal technology and energy policy with a focus on Capitol Hill. He previously covered the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital.
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