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TV wireless remote technology
Robert Adler holds 180 patents for electronics devices, whose applications run from the
esoteric to the everyday; he is best known as the a pioneer in the development of the
Adler was born in Vienna, Austria in 1913 and was educated there; his academic career
culminated in his Ph.D. in Physics at age 24 from the
University of Vienna (1937). Soon thereafter, he emigrated to the US, and found
work in the Research division of Zenith Electronics
Corporation (then Zenith Radio Corporation).
During World War II, Adler specialized in military communications equipment, including
high-frequency oscillators and electromechanical filters for aircraft radios. Always
one to see the broader applications of a specific technology, Adler later relied on this
work, when in the 1960s he explored the use of surface acoustic waves in frequency filters
for color television sets. Today, acoustic wave technology is essential to both television
screens and touch-sensitive computer displays.
After the war, Adler turned his attention specifically to television technology.
One early invention of Adler's was the "gated-beam" vacuum tube, which eliminated a
great deal of sound interference in television receivers at one stroke, thus reducing
costs as well. Adler also led the team that invented a special synchronizing circuit
that improved reception at the fringes of a television station's broadcast area. But
Adler's greatest triumph was the wireless remote control.
Zenith produced the first TV remote in 1950, dubbed "Lazy Bones." It performed on/off and
channel-changing functions fairly well, but was cumbersome to use, and was attached to the
TV by a cord that soon proved a safety hazard to Zenith's less nimble customers. In 1955,
Zenith produced the "Flashmatic," a wireless remote that was basically a flashlight pointed
at photo cells located at the corners of the TV cabinet: unfortunately, the photo cells
reacted to sunlight as well as the remote.
Robert Adler's solution was for the remote to "communicate" with the TV by sound,
not light --- specifically, by ultrasound, that is, at frequencies higher than the human
ear can hear. Adler's remote control unit itself was very simple: it did not even require
batteries. The buttons struck one of four lightweight aluminum rods inside the unit,
like a piano's keys strike its strings. The receiver in the TV interpreted these
high-frequency tones as signaling channel-up, channel-down, sound on/off, or power on/off.
The necessary 30% increase in cost was imposing to consumers at first, but there was no doubt
about the popularity of the system.
In the 1960s, Adler modified his system to generate the ultrasonic signals electronically.
Over the next twenty years, the ultrasound TV remote control was slowly becoming a standard
adjunct to the television. By the time remote technology moved on to infrared light
technology in the early 1980s, more than nine million TVs had been sold, by Zenith and
others, with Adler's remote control system.
By 1963, Adler had risen to Vice and President and Director of Research at Zenith; he
was a technical advisor to the company until 1997. Adler has also won countless
prestigious awards, including the IEEE's Edison
Medal (1980). He died February 15, 2007 at the age of 94.