TV Remote Control Inventor Robert Adler Dies

Dr. Robert Adler, a prolific inventor in the field of television, but best known for his work with TV wireless remote control, died on Feb. 15.
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Dr. Robert Adler, a prolific inventor in the field of television, but best known for his work with TV wireless remote control, died on Feb. 15. He was 93.

Born in Austria, Adler emigrated to the United States after receiving his Ph.D degree in physics at the University of Vienna in 1937. In 1941, he began a career with the Zenith Electronics Corp. that would span six decades. Adler officially retired from Zenith in 1979, but remained as a consultant until 1999 and Zenith's merger with LG Electronics.

Adler received more than 180 U.S. patents, but his contribution to consumer electronics with the "Space Command" TV wireless remote control became his most visible legacy.

Along with another Zenith engineer, Eugene Polley, Adler perfected a remote control system based on the generation and reception of ultrasonic tones. (Prior to the Adler/Polley invention, remote control was available on some television receivers, but the control was tethered to the set via a multiconductor cable.)

Adler also contributed to the field of television engineering with work on gated-beam tubes, improvements in synchronizing circuitry and electromechanical filters. He suggested the use of SAW (surface acoustic wave) filters in television IF amplifiers, a technology that was ultimately adopted in all television receivers and later became an important part of cellular telephone technology.

Adler rose through the ranks at Zenith, being named associate director in 1951, vice president in 1959 and vice president and director of research in 1963. He was an IEEE Fellow and recipient of the IEEE Edison Medal in 1980.

In 1997, Adler and Polley were honored with an Emmy award in connection with Zenith's launch of wireless remote control television sets 50 years earlier. Adler also received the 1967 Inventor-of-the-Year award from George Washington University's Patent, Trademark and Copyright Research Institute and the IEEE's 1970 Consumer Electronics Outstanding Achievement Award.