Feeds

Wireless remote control inventor zaps out at 96

Eugene Polley took the knobs off technology

High performance access to file storage

The man who took the knobs off the TV set and made a significant innovation in wireless technology, Eugene Polley, died yesterday in Illinois, aged 96.

Polley invented the first wireless TV remote control in 1955. Called the Flash-Matic, the remote was produced by US firm Zenith Electronics. The wireless remote has been hailed for freeing TV specifically and tech more widely of some of its wires and knobs.

Before Polley's invention, Zenith had produced a wired remote called the Lazy Bone, available from 1950. It allowed users to change channel from the sofa, but also meant lots of people tripped up.

Flash-Matic Advert, credit Honest John's Vintage Goods, Amazon

Shut off long, annoying commercials

With the 1955 Flash-Matic, Polley used light-sensitive photocells on the TV set to pick up up a flashlight on the remote. Shaped like a small gun, the green-and-gold Flash-Matic had a red trigger and different commands were activated by pointing the controller at different corners of the television – with the receiving photocells triggering different commands. It could change channel and turn the sound off, and was advertised as "Harmless to Humans" and a way to "shut off those long, annoying commercials".

A downside with the Flash-Matic was that it had a tendency to flip channels on sunny days.

Working with Robert Adler in 1956, Polley was involved with the the Zenith Space Command, a second gen wireless remote that used ultrasound signals instead of light. The Space Command mechanically produced ultrasound by clicking aluminium bars inside the box. Different buttons clicked different bars and each bar emitted a different frequency to control the TV. The receiver had a microphone attached to a circuit that was tuned to the same frequency.

Zenith Space Commander. Credit: Jim Rees (Licence http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Since the '80s, infrared has been the most commonly used remote control mechanism for TVs.

Zenith was founded in 1918 in Illinois, as a small radio technology firm. The company is still based in Illinois, but is now owned by LG – and specialises in HDTV sets.

Polley worked his way up to the role of Division Chief engineer at Zenith after being hired as a stockroom worker. During his time at Zenith, he was also involved in creating the push-button car radio and contributed to the development of "video disks", a precursor of the DVD, in the 1980s. Along with Robert Adler he received an Emmy in 1997 for his services to TV. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Feast your PUNY eyes on highest resolution phone display EVER
Too much pixel dust for your strained eyeballs to handle
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Report: Apple seeking to raise iPhone 6 price by a HUNDRED BUCKS
'Well, that 5c experiment didn't go so well – let's try the other direction'
Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'
Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Nvidia gamers hit trifecta with driver, optimizer, and mobile upgrades
Li'l Shield moves up to Android 4.4.2 KitKat, GameStream comes to notebooks
AMD unveils Godzilla's graphics card – 'the world's fastest, period'
The Radeon R9 295X2: Water-cooled, 5,632 stream processors, 11.5TFLOPS
Sony battery recall as VAIO goes out with a bang, not a whimper
The perils of having Panasonic as a partner
NORKS' own smartmobe pegged as Chinese landfill Android
Fake kit in the hermit kingdom? That's just Kim Jong-un-believable!
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.