History of the Remote Control

 

General History

The first machines to be operated by remote control were used mainly for military purposes. Radio-controlled motorboats, developed by the German navy, were used to ram enemy ships in WWI. Radio controlled bombs and other remote control weapons were used in WWII.

Once the wars were over, United States scientists experimented to find nonmilitary uses for the remote control. In the late 1940's automatic garage door openers were invented, and in the 1950's the first TV remote controls were used.

 

History of the TV remote control

Zenith began playing around with the idea of a TV remote control in the early 1950's. They developed one in 1952 called "Lazy Bones," which was a long cable that was attached to the TV set. Pushing buttons on the remote activated a motor that would rotate the tuner in the set. This type of remote wasn't popular for long considering that, at the time, there were very few channels to choose from.

In 1955, the Flash-o-Matic was invented. A flashlight was shined toward light sensitive cells in each of the four corners of the TV. Each corner had a different function. They turned the TV on and off, changed the channel, and controlled the volume. However, people often forgot which corner of the TV operated which control. Also, if the set was in sunlight, the sun's rays would affect the operations of the TV.

In 1957 a group of engineers developed the Zenith "Space Command," a wireless remote control using ultrasonic waves. The problem with the ultrasonic control was that clinking metal, such as dog tags, could affect the TV set. High frequencies sometimes also made dogs bark. The ultrasonic remote was used for two decades until engineers discovered a better way to operate TV's, the infrared remote control.

On the infrared control, each button has it's own command, and is sent to the TV set in a series of signals. There is a digital code for each button, and in the TV there is a tiny sensor called a photodetector that identifies the infrared beam, and translates the code into a command.

Manufacturers used to only make remote controls that operated one TV set. However, they've recently begun making universal remote controls that can operate any TV set.

Experts predict that someday remote controls will control almost every device in the home.

 

History of the Mechanical Remote

R.C. Goertz developed a mechanical manipulator in 1948 to aid in radioactive lab work. Goertz gave the machine mechanically and geometrically similar "master" and "slave" parts. The master was the part of the machine the Goertz controlled, and used to send the slave commands. The slave followed the master's movements exactly. In 1954 an electrical machine was made to replace Goertz's machine, which was operated by cables. Since '54 better designs have been developed, but the electric manipulator remains relatively unchanged to this day.


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