iPhoneOgraphy – 03 Aug 2016 (Day 216/366)
In consumer electronics, a remote control is a component of an electronic device such as a television set, DVD player, or other home appliance, used to operate the device wirelessly from a short distance. Remote control is a convenience feature for the consumer, and can allow operation of devices that are out of convenient reach for direct operation of controls.
Commonly, remote controls are Consumer IR devices which sends digitally-coded pulses of infrared radiation to control functions such as power, volume, tuning, temperature set point, fan speed, or other features. Remote controls for these devices are usually small wireless handheld objects with an array of buttons for adjusting various settings such as television channel, track number, and volume. For many devices, the remote control contains all the function controls while the controlled device itself has only a handful of essential primary controls.
Earlier remote controls in 1973 used ultrasonic tones. The remote control code, and thus the required remote control device, is usually specific to a product line, but there are universal remotes, which emulate the remote control made for most major brand devices.
Remote control has continually evolved and advanced over recent years to include Bluetooth connectivity, motion sensor-enabled capabilities and voice control.
In 1894, the first example of wirelessly controlling at a distance was during a demonstration by the British physicist Oliver Lodge, in which he made use of a Branly’s coherer to make a mirror galvanometer move a beam of light when an electromagnetic wave was artificially generated. This was further refined by Guglielmo Marconi and William Preece, at a demonstration that took place on December 12, 1896, at Toynbee Hall in London, in which they made a bell ring by pushing a button in a box that was not connected by any wires.
In 1898 Nikola Tesla filed his patent, U.S. Patent 613,809, named Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles, which he publicly demonstrated by radio-controlling a boat during an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. Tesla called his boat a “teleautomaton”.
In 1903, Leonardo Torres Quevedo presented the Telekino at the Paris Academy of Science, accompanied by a brief, and making an experimental demonstration. In the same time he obtained a patent in France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States. The Telekino consisted of a robot that executed commands transmitted by electromagnetic waves. With the Telekino, Torres-Quevedo laid down modern wireless remote-control operation principles and was a pioneer in the field of remote control. In 1906, in the presence of the king and before a great crowd, Torres successfully demonstrated the invention in the port of Bilbao, guiding a boat from the shore. Later, he would try to apply the Telekino to projectiles and torpedoes, but had to abandon the project for lack of financing.
The first remote-controlled model aeroplane flew in 1932, and the use of remote control technology for military purposes was worked intensively during the Second World War, one result of this being the German Wasserfall missile.
By the late 1930s, several radio manufacturers offered remote controls for some of their higher-end models. Most of these were connected to the set being controlled by wires, but the Philco Mystery Control (1939) was a battery-operated low-frequency radio transmitter, thus making it the first wireless remote control for a consumer electronics device. Using pulse-count modulation, this also was the first digital wireless remote control.
The first remote intended to control a television was developed by Zenith Radio Corporation in 1950. The remote, called “Lazy Bones”, was connected to the television by a wire. A wireless remote control, the “Flashmatic”, was developed in 1955 by Eugene Polley. It worked by shining a beam of light onto a photoelectric cell, but the cell did not distinguish between light from the remote and light from other sources. The Flashmatic also had to be pointed very precisely at the receiver in order to work.
In 1956, Robert Adler developed “Zenith Space Command”, a wireless remote. It was mechanical and used ultrasound to change the channel and volume. When the user pushed a button on the remote control, it clicked and struck a bar, hence the term “clicker”. Each bar emitted a different frequency and circuits in the television detected this sound. The invention of the transistor made possible cheaper electronic remotes that contained a piezoelectric crystal that was fed by an oscillating electric current at a frequency near or above the upper threshold of human hearing, though still audible to dogs. The receiver contained a microphone attached to a circuit that was tuned to the same frequency. Some problems with this method were that the receiver could be triggered accidentally by naturally occurring noises, and some people could hear the piercing ultrasonic signals. There was an incident in which a toy xylophone changed the channels on such sets because some of the overtones from the xylophone matched the remote’s ultrasonic frequency.
The impetus for a more complex type of television remote control came in 1973, with the development of the Ceefax teletext service by the BBC. Most commercial remote controls at that time had a limited number of functions, sometimes as few as three: next channel, previous channel, and volume/off. This type of control did not meet the needs of teletext sets, where pages were identified with three-digit numbers. A remote control to select teletext pages would need buttons for each numeral from zero to nine, as well as other control functions, such as switching from text to picture, and the normal television controls of volume, channel, brightness, colour intensity, etc. Early teletext sets used wired remote controls to select pages, but the continuous use of the remote control required for teletext quickly indicated the need for a wireless device. So BBC engineers began talks with one or two television manufacturers, which led to early prototypes in around 1977–1978 that could control many more functions. ITT was one of the companies and later gave its name to the ITT protocol of infrared communication.
In 1980, a Canadian company, Viewstar, Inc., was formed by engineer Paul Hrivnak and started producing a cable TV converter with an infrared remote control. The product was sold through Philips for approximately $190 CAD. At the time the most popular remote control was the Starcom of Jerrold (a division of General Instruments) which used 40-kHz sound to change channels. The Viewstar converter was an immediate success, the millionth converter being sold on March 21, 1985, with 1.6 million sold by 1989.
Some television manufacturers now include Bluetooth remotes to control the television without requiring line of sight, overcoming the limited range in IR-based remotes.
By the early 2000s, the number of consumer electronic devices in most homes greatly increased, along with the number of remotes to control those devices. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, an average US home has four remotes. To operate a home theater as many as five or six remotes may be required, including one for cable or satellite receiver, VCR or digital video recorder (DVR/PVR), DVD player, TV and audio amplifier. Several of these remotes may need to be used sequentially but, as there are no accepted interface guidelines, the process is increasingly cumbersome. One solution used to reduce the number of remotes that have to be used is the universal remote, a remote control which is programmed with the operation codes for most major brands of TVs, DVD players, etc. In the early 2010s, many smartphone manufacturers began incorporating infrared emitters into their devices, thereby enabling their use as universal remotes via an included or downloadable app.