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Inventor's idea has changed TV viewing

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

In the history of mankind, Robert Adler will be but a footnote. To many of us however, Adler ranks right up there with the movers and shakers of history. Simply put, were it not for Adler our lives would be much different.

Robert Adler invented the television remote control. It was way back in 1956 that Adler and fellow designer Eugene Polley were working on a design to allow television viewers to change channels without leaving their chair. Adler had worked with the military during World War II in high-tech electronics. His inventions for the military undoubtedly saved countless lives. But it will be the TV remote that marks Adler in history. He died of heart failure last week at a nursing home. He was 93.

Television was relatively new in 1956 when Polley and Adler had their brainstorm. Without their remote device, I suspect television would have grown at a much smaller pace. But Adler - without knowing it at the time - helped to create generations of couch potatoes.

Adler today would probably have trouble recognizing his simple invention. For his efforts, Adler won an Emmy Award much later in his career. Today's remote controls, as we all know, are capable of doing much more than simply changing channels.

Adler's 1956 Zenith Space Command was a major leap forward for television viewing. Until then, viewers had to physically switch a knob on their television to change channels. But the Space Command changed our viewing habits. During his lengthy career, Adler held 180 patents for various electronic devices. To call him a pioneer would actually be an understatement.

It's hard to think of one invention that has had a greater impact on changing our lives. Granted, the remote doesn't save lives and history will not treat this device in the same category as others. But if you really think about it, just how different would your life be without that simple device?

The only problem is that Adler's unique idea has expanded and improved greatly over the years. It has now reached a point where most of us have not a clue on how to work the darned things.

I suspect somewhere Adler is quietly laughing to himself.



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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen