Home » History of the Remote Control: The Downfall of Western Civilization

History of the Remote Control: The Downfall of Western Civilization

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 would choose from the menu either bass, treble, contrast, color temperature, channel, etc… Infrared remote controls are the most commonly used remotes as of today. The only real disadvantage to the infrared TV remote control is that it cannot control TV operations when something is blocking the infrared beam. Since the beam cannot penetrate other objects, TV’s cannot be turned on or controlled from other rooms or around a corner.

Other remote controls that are infrared controlled are palm pilots and other similar touch-screen devices. Another type of remote control is laser control; this uses a system of algorithms on a computer to control the path or direction of the device or vehicle. Most of the use of laser control is used by the military and others to control things such as, airplanes, missiles, ships, rockets, torpedoes drones, and material transport vehicles. The computer uses a guidance system to utilize the knowledge of where the vehicle is and where it should be.

This difference is then processed by the guidance algorithm and then outputs, to the vehicle, a steering command to reduce the difference between the desired path and the actual path. The effectiveness of the guidance system is based upon a few important attributes. The first is accuracy, which depends on the quality of its sensors, and the second is speed of response. The system needs to be able to recover from any errors that occur and correct for them quickly. There is also a need for a stable response. A guidance system cannot react so quickly that it will overshoot its target.

Another attribute is durability. Nothing behaves like its model and the guidance system needs to overcome these differences and give a good overall performance. Reliability is the final concern. Many times, backup components are used to insure the guidance system works properly. The last kind of remote control that has been developed is mechanical control, or mechanical manipulators. Mechanical manipulators allow people to do manual labor while separated from the work site. They are used in hazardous environments that are impossible for humans to have access to.

There are two parts of a mechanical manipulator; the operator’s control site, or master part, and the remote task site, or slave part. The operator uses handles and switches to demonstrate exactly what he wants the machine to do. The machine then moves on wheels or tracks, and imitates the controller’s movements. The manipulator has many joints and links arranged to resemble an arm. On the end of the arm is a gripper that grasps or picks up objects, and can push buttons or open doors. If the operator is nearby the work site, the manipulator is simply mechanical and works like a puppet.

However, if the operator is located far from the work site, the manipulator must run by electric or hydraulic power. As we continue to explore new and previously unreachable areas, the demand for manipulators increases. There are now computer-aided manipulators that can retain the information they were sent, and repeat the exact operation at a later time. This allows the computer and sensors at the work site to function for quite some time without the operator intervening. Remote controls are used in many different aspects of our lives, a lot more then one might imagine.

To begin with some advantages of remote controls, remotes have actually played quite a big role in the past couple centuries through the development of new technologies. The newest and becoming the most intricate type of remote controls are the mechanical manipulators. Manipulators have gone into space and underwater to retrieve objects in places where humans could not. They have also been used in microsurgery on eyes and ears. Without the knowledge and development of mechanical control, there are many medical procedures, which have saved many peoples’ lives that would be impossible to do with just human hands.

Also, when it comes to handling radioactive materials, mechanical manipulators are useful in protecting human health. The military has adopted the use of laser control, in which to guide many different military vehicles and weapons. There are even military tests currently being conducted to use radio control aircraft for surveillance and air strikes, which could save the lives of soldiers. Also, the development of remote keyless-entry for cars and trucks has become very important to the safety of our society. Now, for the reasons remote controls are major parts of the downfall of our society.

Today, remote control is a standard feature on other consumer electronics products, including VCRs, cable and satellite boxes, digital video disc players and home audio receivers. And the most sophisticated TV sets have remotes with as many as 50 buttons. Today, there are remote controls that are sold to control just about everything you could imagine in your house. These remote controls can turn on and off every light in your house from where ever you are, let visitors in without getting up, adjust your temperature, turn on music, and more.

There are systems set up now so that a person can perform all the operations listed above from their office or anywhere else, just by picking up the phone and calling the house. Other problems presented by the use of remote controls are when using mechanical controls, human hands are almost always better suited for the job, mainly because a remote control will do the job slower than a human would be able to. Also, possession of the TV remote control has become a source of conflict in many households. Some even claim that the remote has attributed to laziness.

Even though the development of remote keyless-entry has helped in many ways, it also has led to such things as remote ignition starters, which is just another thing to make our society lazier then it already is. There are even remote controls that can operate a person’s audio and video equipment that is installed in their vehicle. So that’s what one must ask oneself, has the development of remote controls helped or hurt our society over the years? I feel in many ways that through the use of remote controls, we have been able to accomplish a lot of tedious tasks that would have been almost impossible for a human to do with hands alone.

In other cases, remote controls are used to protect human health in the event of handling hazardous materials and the numerous military uses controlling planes and other vehicles, decrease the need to risk the innocent lives of our soldiers. There is also a big downside to way the use of remote controls have affected our society. The idea of having a remote control to make something easier to do has expanded into the phenomenon of people wanting a remote to do normal everyday tasks. Now that they have developed remote controls to do pretty much anything you can imagine, it has led our society to become lazier and lazier.

When the first TV remote control was invented, its purpose was to not have to get up to change the tuner on the television set. Now, today, just about any electronic you can think of is mostly likely equipped with a remote control, straight from the factory. Yes, the progress of electronics and technology has matured immensely over the past 50 years, but there is no excuse for our society’s grasp of the use of the remote control that has made us one of the top, if not the laziest country in the world.

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