Dedicated TV fans will recall with sadness that Eugene J. Polley, inventor of the first wireless TV remote control, died recently at the age of 96. In keeping with Polley's wishes, he was buried between two couch cushions.
We kid, we kid! But Polley's invention, the Flash-Matic, really was a game changer -- it ushered in the dubious era of the remote control, leading to that pile of cryptic matte-black wands on your coffee table right now. How do remote controls actually work? What does a universal remote do? Trace Dominguez drops the science in today's DNews dispatch.
The household remote control basically harnesses the power of the electromagnetic spectrum to control your electronic devices, fast-forward Seinfeld re-runs, or what-have-you. Most modern remotes use infrared light flashed through LEDs at the business end of the clicker. We can't see this light, as it's below the human range of vision, but it acts just like visible light in that it you have to aim the beam at the TV, and the light can be blocked by objects.
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In a standard remote control, the code being sent is basic and binary, and is specific to the paired device. That's why your TV remote doesn't turn on the Xbox or mute the CD player.
A universal remote, on the other hand, is designed to do exactly that. When you press mute on a universal remote, it simultaneously broadbands dozens of different codes for various products supplied by the manufacturers. America's young people have discovered that this is good for pranking.
Most consumer electronics now use infrared remotes, but some devices still employ the older RF technology, which uses radio frequencies instead. RF remotes can work over longer distances and carry more information in the signal. Almost all car door key chain clickers use radio frequencies.
Finally, the growing ubiquity of smart phones -- and the impending Internet of Things (IoT) -- is spurring development of new systems that control devices and home appliances over the Internet. For devoted couch sitters, it really is a golden age.
-- Glenn McDonald
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