A Complete History of the TV Remote Control
Everyone is familiar with the term “wireless” these days. It most often refers to Internet or video game uses. However, many don’t realize that their TV remote control is yet another example of wireless technology.
Remote controls were originally invented back in the 1890s. Nikola Tesla, best known for his work with electricity, invented and patented a remote control for a boat in 1898. Then, in 1903, a man named Leonardo Torres Quevado presented the "Telekino" at the Paris Academy of Science. The "Telekino" was basically a robot that would act out commands that were transmitted by electromagnetic waves, the same waves used in remote controls. That made the "Telekino" the world’s first device for radio control, breaking down countless barriers when it came to research. Three years later, Quevado made another remote control demonstration when he guided a boat in from shore. He would have been able to do more research and even apply remote control technology to projectile weapons like torpedoes, but he never received the funding.
In 1950, the first ever TV control was invented. This remote control, called the “lazy Bones,” was actually connected to the television set up by a wire attachment. As it was rather cumbersome, the Zenith Company came up with a different approach: a wireless remote that used beams of light and photoelectric cells to operate. However, the remote, called the “Flashmatic”, was largely a failure because the cells couldn’t properly distinguish natural light from the control’s light.
Then, in 1956, Dr. Robert Alder developed a remote called the “Zenith Space Command.” It used ultrasound waves to change the channels and volume on television sets. Users simply had to push a button and it clicked, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “clickers.” Interestingly, this remote released waves that some people could hear and there were other problems associated with it as well.
The Ceefax teletext service, created in the 1970s, spawned a new generation of remotes: these remotes could actually type in numbers as opposed to just going up and down. Eventually, remotes needed to evolve to the point where they could select things like contrast and brightness from a menu, so from 1977 to 1978, companies began to expand their horizons.
Today, wireless technology has progressed to a point where remote controls are more advanced than car stereos. It’s hard to think that it all started with a small remote control boat.