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Robert Alder, Inventor of the Remote Control, Dies

Ever since I read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, I wanted to be an inventor. To this day Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison are my heroes. I didn't want to become rich and famous. I didn't want to invent everything and anything like Edison. I simply wanted to say "I created that" about something that influences everyone's lives.

Robert Alder did that. Imagine the world without the remote control. There's an entire generation of people who have never stood up and walked across the room to switch channels. But let's look at the bigger picture. Remote controls allow me to personally navigate my life far better. But does that with all of us, but for someone in a wheelchair remote controls are essential.

They're useful for far more than switching between House, 24, and American Idol. They allow my mother-in-law to switch the channel during an unexpected nude scene on HBO, even though no one in the room is under the age of 30. Remote controls allow us to dim the lights, turn on soft music, and have a romantic interlude without ever leaving the sofa. The same technology allows me to use a portable doorbell so I can get the attention of my caregivers and my family when I need it, even from the opposite end of my long house.

Robert Alder you are a hero, at least to me. And until today, I didn't even know your name.

Below are some excerpts from an obituary, courtesy of the Associated Press.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- Hit the mute button for a moment of silence: The co-inventor of the TV remote, Robert Adler, has died.

Adler, who won an Emmy Award along with fellow engineer Eugene Polley for the device that made the couch potato possible, died Thursday of heart failure at a Boise nursing home at 93, Zenith Electronics Corp. said Friday.

In his six-decade career with Zenith, Adler was a prolific inventor, earning more than 180 U.S. patents. He was best known for his 1956 Zenith Space Command remote control, which helped make TV a truly sedentary pastime.

In a May 2004 interview with The Associated Press, Adler recalled being among two dozen engineers at Zenith given the mission to find a new way for television viewers to change channels without getting out of their chairs or tripping over a cable.

But he downplayed his role when asked if he felt his invention helped raise a new generation of couch potatoes. "People ask me all the time -- 'Don't you feel guilty for it?' And I say that's ridiculous," he said. "It seems reasonable and rational to control the TV from where you normally sit and watch television."

Various sources have credited either Polley, another Zenith engineer, or Adler as the inventor of the device. Polley created the "Flashmatic," a wireless remote introduced in 1955 that operated on photo cells. Adler introduced ultrasonics, or high-frequency sound, to make the device more efficient in 1956.

Zenith credits them as co-inventors, and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded both Adler and Polley an Emmy in 1997 for the landmark invention.

"He was part of a project that changed the world," Polley said from his home in Lombard, Illinois.

Adler joined Zenith's research division in 1941 after earning a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna. He retired as research vice president in 1979, and served as a technical consultant until 1999, when Zenith merged with LG Electronics Inc.

During World War II, Adler specialized in military communications equipment. He later helped develop sensitive amplifiers for ultra high frequency signals used by radio astronomers and by the U.S. Air Force for long-range missile detection.

Adler also was considered a pioneer in SAW technology, or surface acoustic waves, in color television sets and touch screens. The technology has also been used in cellular telephones.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published his most recent patent application, for advances in touch screen technology, on February 1.

His wife, Ingrid, said Adler wouldn't have chosen the remote control as his favorite invention. In fact, he didn't even watch much television.

"He was more of a reader," she said. "He was a man who would dream in the night and wake up and say, 'I just solved a problem.' He was always thinking science."

Adler wished he had been recognized for more of his broad-ranging applications that were useful in the war and in space and were building blocks of other technology, she said, "but then the remote control changed the life of every man."


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