A remote control is an electronic device that can operate another piece of electronic equipment wirelessly from a short line-of-sight distance.
Although it goes by many names, it is most commonly called the remote. They are usually small wireless handheld objects with various buttons and settings. Most of the time, the remote contains a much larger majority of controls than the small amount of primary controls the device itself has. Remotes communicate either through infrared or radio signals. They are usually powered through AAA or AA size batteries.
Nikola Tesla had a patent for a remote control in 1898. He used his remote to control a boat by radio waves. Leonardo Torres Quevedo created the Telekino, which was a robot control by electromagnetic waves. This was the first apparatus for radio control. In 1932, the first remote-controlled model airplane was flown. Philco Mystery Control created a battery-operated low-frequency radio transmitter, thus being the first to create a wireless control for a consumer electronics device. Zenith Radio Corporation made the first remote for TV in 1950. This remote was connected to the TV by a wire, soon it was realized this was a cumbersome way to operate the TV and the “Flashmatic” was created which operated through shining a beam of light into a photoelectric cell. The problem with this type of remote was the cells couldn’t tell the difference between light from the remote and light from other sources.
In 1965, Robert Adler created a wireless remote that used ultrasound to change the channel. When a button was pushed the remote clicked and struck a bar. The channels changed based on the noise, however, this also confused the TV when outside noises where at the same range as the remote. In the 1970’s BBC created the Ceefax teletext service. These remotes had buttons to select each channel number as well as the previous buttons of next channel, previous channel, and volume/off. These early remotes were connected by wire. Soon it was obvious that a wireless device was needed. This was when infrared communication came to remotes.
Paul Hrivnak founded Viewstar Inc. which created a cable TV converter with an infra-red remote control. The Viewstar was an instant success and sold 1.6 million by 1989.
These remotes gave the power to the viewers allowing them to interact with the TV without touching it. Users no longer watched a program just because they didn’t want to get up and change the channel. This was when commercials started airing in the middle of shows instead of before and after.
By the early 2000’s the average American home had four remotes. For a home theater it is possible to need five or six remotes. Due to the increase in remotes needed to operate electronic devices, the universal remote has gained in popularity.