Robert Adler, inventor of the TV remote control, died last week at 93. His remote was based on ultrasonics; infra-red wasn’t used in remotes until the 1980s.
Apparently the founder and president of Zenith Radio, Commander E.F. McDonald Jr., didn’t like TV commercials and asked Adler, who was associate director of Zenith’s R&D department, to come up with something which would “tune out annoying commercials”. In 1956, an Adler-developed remote went on the market and sold in millions. In fact Zenith had brought out a couple of remotes before Adler’s, but they weren’t successful. The first, called ‘Lazy Bones’ worked via a cable which people kept tripping over, and the second worked via light flashes which were affected by bright sunlight. It seems a bygone age in which the boss directs the focus of the R&D department based on his personal whims. However, more recently, Akio Morita of Sony was a boss who pursued his fancies, pushing the Walkman when everyone else thought it daft. And today we have another example of the genre in Steve Jobs of Apple.