TV Remote Co-Inventor Robert Adler Dies

dell takes a slice at apple with super thin latitude z dellz closed

Thousands of new inventions are registered (or stolen) and reach the global marketplace every year, but only a tiny handful become staples of modern life. The telegraph, the telephone, the lightbulb, and radio were each breakthroughs which had tremendous impacts on today’s culture, but one de facto standard of modern life probably rests in your hand every day: the television remote control.

Robert Adler, the co-inventor of the wireless television remote control, died of heart failure last week in Boise, Idaho, at the age of 93. Born in Vienna in 1913, Adler earned more than 180 patents during his long career (applying for the most recent one involving touch-screen technology on February 1, 2007), and spent six decades with Zenith Electronics, joining its research division in 1941 and eventually retiring as research vice president in 1979, although he stayed on as a technical consultant until Zenith’s merger with South Korea’s LG Electronics in 1999. (Zenith was the last of the original American television manufacturers.)

Amongst consumer electronics users, Adler and Zenith colleague Eugene Polley, however, will go down in history as the inventors of the wireless television remote. Zenith was making a “Lazy Bones” tethered television remote control as early as 1950, enabling users to change the channel and turn televisions on and off from across the room, but (as we all know) the cable proved a nuisance—and even a safety hazard for viewers trying to cross the living room. By 1955 Zenith was marketing a “Flashmatic” wireless remote which basically aimed a beam of light at photo cells in corners of the television cabinet. This design meant that you could change channels with a flashlight instead of an expensive, proprietary remote…but it also means the channel changed when, say, sunlight reflected off a coffee table.

Adler’s innovation was to use high-frequency sound to communicate with the TV. The initial ultrasonic remotes were purely mechanical devices which struck tuned aluminum rods inside the remote—the famous “clicker.” In the 1960s, Adler developed new remotes which produced the ultrasonic signals electronically, a system which was the standard for remote control technology until the development of infrared systems in the 1980s.

Adler also developed the “gated-beam” vacuum tube which eliminated significant amounts of sound interference (and reduced production costs) in television receivers; he was also responsible for a synchronizing circuit which improved television reception in poor-signal areas, and won the IEEE Edison Medal in 1980. But if your fanny seems extra wide today—and your coffee table is crammed with a small herd of devices sporting a myriad of colorful buttons—you have Robert Adler to thank.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Building a 4K home theater? Grab a discounted Denon A/V receiver from Amazon

Denon makes some of the best 4K A/V receivers on the market, and a handful of Denon’s latest models are on sale on Amazon now. If you’ve been thinking about building a home theater and are looking for a 4K receiver that doesn’t cost…
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (March 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny, muffled TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Smart Home

Is your Keurig making gross coffee? Might be time for a cleaning

No one likes a dirty, scaled, or smelly Keurig, but how are you supposed to clean them? Before you throw yours out the window, here is a quick guide on cleaning your machine out thoroughly.
Smart Home

Which is better, the original Echo or the Echo Dot? We compare them

Amazon Echo vs. Dot: Having Alexa answer your questions is nothing short of futuristic, but which device should you get? There are some big differences between the two, especially in size, sound, and cost.
Product Review

Gate’s Smart Lock is locked and loaded but ultimately lacks important basics

In a world of video cameras and doorbells comes the Gate Smart Lock, a lock with a video camera embedded. It’s a great idea, but lacks some crucial functionality to make it a top-notch product.
Smart Home

Viral porch pirate videos freak people out, cause unrealistic concern

Viral porch pirate videos convince others crime is more prevalent than facts indicate. According to polls, even though FBI reports show property crime rates are at historic lows, more people worry about crime today than ever before.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.

Amazon slashes $77 off the iRobot Roomba 690 multisurface robot vacuum

This special offer comes just in time for you to get a head start on spring cleaning. The Roomba 690 robot vacuum sucks up dust, dirt and pet hair — all while you're away at the office.
Smart Home

Get sweaty with the best smart home fitness gadgets on the market

Are you looking for smart fitness devices that will really help your workouts, no matter where you like to exercise? These smart home gadgets are designed to help you analyze your workouts and keep track of how you are doing.
Smart Home

Our favorite coffee makers make flavorful cups of joe from the comforts of home

Whether you're looking for a simple coffee maker to get you through the morning or a high-end brewer that will impress your taste buds and your friends, you'll find some of the best coffee makers around on this list.

Vivint’s Car Guard keeps tabs on your vehicle when you’re not in it

A simple plug-in that you can place in just about any vehicle, Vivint's new Car Guard will automatically detect if your car is bumped, towed, or stolen and will alert you about it.

Fibaro smart devices are now compatible with the Samsung SmartThings hub

Samsung SmartThings now supports even more devices with the integration of Fibaro, a company known for its smart home sensors. Several Fibaro devices are already compatible, with more on the way.