What is the history of the remote control?

Remote-controlled World
Remotely controlled cruise missiles can destroy targets hundreds of miles away from their launch point.
Remotely controlled cruise missiles can destroy targets hundreds of miles away from their launch point.
Erik Simonsen/Getty Images

These days, you can find remote control capability built into a huge array of products. Toy cars and helicopters, video game consoles, ceiling fans, you name it -- there's a good chance you can find a version that's controlled by a remote. You can even buy a remote-controlled toilet, the Kohler C3 bidet.

And the remotes themselves come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from oversized versions for the near-sighted to tiny, pocket-size devices. Samsung's LED 9000 TV even comes with a remote that has its own built-in LCD touchscreen, letting you watch a TV program different from the one on the big screen.

Smartphones are becoming universal remotes that can control a multitude of digital products. With the right app, you can use your phone to unlock a car door from miles away, schedule your DVR to record a TV program, control YouTube on your laptop, or, you guessed it, change channels (and a lot more) on your TV.

Remote technologies have more serious purposes, too. There are now all sorts of precision-guided munitions used in conflicts all over the world. Laser-guided bombs are used to hit small areas that were much harder to attack using conventional "dumb" bombs. Cruise missiles can be launched from many miles away and guided into almost any target.

A variety of armored vehicles are now equipped with remote-controlled gun turrets that allow soldiers to sit beneath the weapon in relative safety, aiming and firing the gun using a camera and joystick controls. Pilotless drone aircraft provide remote surveillance and attack capabilities controlled by office-bound strike teams thousands of miles away.

Remote technology lets us pursue less destructive aspirations, too. NASA relies heavily on remote control for many of its projects. One of the organization's biggest triumphs came in 1997, when the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft deployed a roving probe to the surface of Mars.

Scientists on Earth sent instructions to the rover, commanding it to use different instruments to collect data regarding weather, soil conditions and much more. The success of this mission spawned a rewarding follow-up mission in 2003, in which the rovers Spirit and Opportunity explored Mars for years.

Remote controls have allowed humans to perform many tasks that would be difficult, if not impossible. And although remotes might have a long history, they are anything but over. As we continue to weave technology into every aspect of our lives, it's very likely that we'll need remotes to keep things under control.

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