IR remote is ideal solution for short range control. It can be a robot, medial player or simple on/off switch. This is not hard to setup an IR remote control circuit especially if you have Arduino around. Firestorm wrote a detailed tutorial on how to talk any standard TV remote to Arduino using only few parts.
First of all he’s chosen an out of shelf remote control and the first unknow here is codes generated for each button. Arduino library has a nice demo that captures remote commands and displays codes in a hex form. Having button codes this there is no problem to attach each of them to individual task. Firestorm made a simple circuit on breadboard with shift register and seven segment LED display attached. It simply displays the digit number pressed on remote. Having this bare-bone you can build fun projects with only few cheap parts.