The bloke who invented the TV remote control, which, next to hydrogenated vegetable oil, is probably one of the main reasons that Americans are fat, Eugene Polley has switched off at the ripe age of 96.
Polley came up with the first wireless TV remote which became vital as the US started to bring in hundreds of channels.
He worked for Zenith technology and in 1956 came up with a television which had Flash-Matic tuning. It looked like a green ray gun with a red tuner.
According to the advertising, the “flash tuner” was “absolutely harmless to humans” and it could shut off annoying commercials while the picture remains on the screen.
Flash-Matic system had a few bugs. Direct sunlight shining on the receiver’s photo cells could also trigger the remote control functions A better device was developed just a year later by Robert Adler, who also worked at Zenith, which is now owned by LG Electronics. Adler’s Zenith Space Command used ultrasound instead of light to trigger functions on the TV receiver.
Nevertheless Polley was proud of his invention and would show visitors at his assisted-living apartment his original Flash-Matic and how it had evolved into the technology of today.
While he owned a flat-screen TV and modern remote, he always kept his original remote control with him, a Zentith spokesman said.
Polley’s Flash-Matic pointed a beam of light at photo cells in the corners of the television screen. Each corner activated a different function, turning the picture and sound off and on, and changing the channels.
PC Mag said that Polley and Adler were honored in 1997 with an Emmy for their work in pioneering TV remotes. His invention also moved people away from the idea of mechanical knobs and levers being required to do everything.
Polley was an inventor, with 18 US patents. At Zenith, he worked his way up from the stockroom and worked on radar advances for the US Department of Defense during World War II.
He also invented the push-button radio for cars and the video disk.
Polley’s number one fan was Intel’s Geneviee Bell. She thinks that the remote control defined everything in personal relationships. “It turns out that one of the great things in relationships is who is in charge,” particularly in relation to remote controls for television, she once told us.