Sunday, February 18, 2007

TV Remote co-inventor dies aged 93.

Eugene Polley and Robert Adler were two of a dozen engineers at Zenith Electronics Corporation tasked with creating a wireless remote control for the television. In 1955, Polley invented the ‘Flashmatic’, using photocells to transmit information to a television screen, somewhat reminiscent of the infrared technology used in many of today’s lounge room remote controls.

In 1956, Robert Adler invented what he called the Zenith Space Command remote control which used ultrasonics, or high-frequency sound. This made the remote control more efficient, and in turn is mimicked today by some remote controls that use wireless technology to avoid the problem of needing to transmit and receive infrared signals.

In 1997, both Adler and Polley were honored with an Emmy Award for their work on creating the wireless remote control. Adler was an astounding inventor, with more than 180 US patents to his name – with the last issued as recently as February 1.

A CNN article from the Associated Press lists more of Adler’s history which details his zest and ability for solving problems, and his history in World War II with military communications equipment and ultra high frequency signals.

Since the mid 1950s, today’s remote controls have evolved into multi-buttoned affairs, with notable examples of a successful remote control including Apple’s simple remote control included with all current Macintosh computers, desktop and laptop, and the easy-to-use TiVO remote control.

Advanced universal remote controls with various button arrangements, and some using a touch screen to offer advanced or self-created layouts continue pushing forward the boundaries of remote control design, although most remote controls still end up seriously over-buttoned and prone to easy loss under one of the couch cushions.

Arguably the most advanced consumer remote control is the Wii-mote, or the wireless control wand that comes with the Nintendo Wii console, allowing more realistic physical game play than previously possible without actually going outside and playing the real game itself. So far, the Wii has proven an enormously popular games console, and truly indicating how far the humble remote control has come.

Could we have modern civilization without it?


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