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History of the Remote Control: the Downfall of Western Civilization

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The History of the Remote Control:

The Downfall of Western Civilization???

By: Kyle

History of Technology

Research Paper

The typical American family has on average four remote controls in their household. Look around the room and count how many you have in your house. I count five in just this room alone, not including the wireless mouse and keyboard I am using right now to type this paper. Everyone has seen remote controls for televisions, VCRs, and stereos. However, can you imagine a remote control that can also control lights, the temperature, drapes, and even the front door lock! Remote controls have come along way since their first uses mainly for military purposes during WWI and WWII. There have been many different types of remote controls invented, some, which have helped society develop, and others that have led to our demise. Throughout this paper, you will learn about how the many different uses of remote controls have helped accomplish tasks once inconceivable by a human alone, but also have led western civilization into a "lazy" society. In addition, you will learn about the man who invented the first wireless remote control and other types of remotes used in modern day technology.

The first remote controls used to operate machines by the German and United States military during WWI and WWII. During WWI, the German navy used radio-controlled motorboats to ram enemy ships. By WWII, the use of remote controls was beginning to be more of a worldwide concept, controlling bombs and other remote control weapons. The military has a lot of uses for remote controls but beginning in the late 1940's, scientists in the United States began experiments to discover uses of the remote control for uses other then on the battlefield. One of them scientist, the famous, Robert Adler, holds patents for 180 electronic devices, but is best known for his contribution in the development of the remote control. The first television remote control, established in 1950 by the Zenith Electronics Corporation, which was then known as the Zenith Radio Corporation. The name given to the remote, "Lazy Bones," is all the irony I need to have you understand the title of this paper. "Lazy Bones" used a cable that ran from the TV set to the person watching TV's hand. A motor in the TV set controlled the tuner through the remote control. Of course, people liked the idea of not having to get up to change the channel, but there were many complaints concerning the cable that ran across the floor that everyone always tripped over. As an engineer working for Zenith, Eugene Polley formulated the electronic industry's first wireless remote control in 1955, called the "Flashmatic." The basic operation of the "Flashmatic" was that it shined a beam of light, like a flashlight, at four photo cells in each one of the corners of the screen of the TV. The main problem that arose with the "Flashmatic" was that if the TV screen was exposed to sunlight during the day, the tuner had a tendency to change itself. Nonetheless, the head-honchos of the Zenith Corporation loved the concept that Polley brought about with the "Flashmatic," and directed their engineers to develop a better remote control.

How a remote control sends commands to a television set.

The first thoughts were to use radio control, since by this time, radio controlled automatic garage door openers had been around for almost ten years. The problem with radio is that it travels through walls and would be picked up by other surrounding transmitters. Even today, if two garage door openers are set at the same frequency, it is possible for one opener to open both doors. At this time, Dr. Robert Adler spoke up and suggested using "ultrasonics" which is sound that is too high of a frequency for humans to hear. Zenith appointed him to lead a team of engineers to work on the first use of ultrasonics technology throughout the home and as a new approach for a remote control. Dr. Adler developed a transmitter that used no batteries; it was built around aluminum rods that were light in weight and, when struck at one end, emitted distinctive high-frequency sounds. The first such remote control used four rods, each approximately 2-1/2 inches long: one for channel up, one for channel down, one for sound on and off and one for power on and off. They were very carefully cut to lengths that would generate four slightly different frequencies. They were excited by a trigger mechanism, similar to the trigger of a gun, which stretched a spring and then released it so that a small hammer would strike the aluminum rod. The device was developed quickly, with the design phase beginning in 1955. Called "Zenith Space Command," the remote control went into production in the fall of 1956. The original Space Command remote control was expensive because an elaborate receiver in the TV set, using six additional vacuum tubes, was needed to pick up and process the signals. Although adding the remote control system increased the price of the TV set by about 30 percent, it was a technical success and was adopted in later years by other manufacturers. In the early 1960s, transistors began to replace vacuum tubes. Hand-held, battery-powered control units could now be designed to generate the inaudible sound electronically. In this modified form, Dr. Adler's ultrasonic remote control invention lasted through the early 1980s, a quarter century from its inception. Ultrasonics were, for a period of almost 25 years, used in TV remote controls but there were problems that occurred such as, other ultrasonic sound interfering and also the high frequencies bothered dogs since they can hear a lot higher frequencies then humans. Ultrasonics, are still in use today, in telephone answering machine.

By the early 1980s, the industry moved to infrared, or IR, remote technology. The IR remote works by using a low frequency light beam, so low that the human eye cannot see it, but which can be detected by a receiver in the TV. Zenith's development of cable-compatible tuning and teletext technologies in the 1980s greatly enhanced the capabilities and uses for infrared TV remotes. Also during this time, Zenith developed the world's first wireless trackball TV remote control, called Z-Trak. The remote is similar to that of an everyday computer mouse, click the ball and a cursor appears on the TV screen. Roll the ball and the cursor activates control menus hidden in different corners of the screen. Then you



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