September 1934 Radio-Craft
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
See articles from Radio-Craft,
published 1929 - 1953. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
Once again, electronics and
overall tech visionary Hugo Gernsback, editor at the time of Radio-Craft
magazine, prognosticated in the 1930s what was then
a pipe dream but what is today commonplace - remote control of multi-functioned apparati
(sic) via secure wireless digital communications. Adolph Hitler had risen
to power a year earlier and was a precursor to what would officially become World War II.
By 1937, nations were thinking about what kinds of technologies would be necessary
should the little mustachioed dictator decide to invade his neighbors' countries
in an attempt to rule over the Earth. That this was so is apparent in many magazine
articles in the decade of the 1930s: The Saturday Evening Post, Life,
Popular Mechanics, and even Good Housekeeping.
An Editorial by Hugo Gernsback
One of the branches of the radio art - although one of the most spectacular - is
very seldom heard of, even among radio technicians. This is to be regretted, because
there is a great future in store for this particular branch of radio. By Radio Telemechanics
is meant that art whereby it is possible to perform work at a distance, without
the presence of man.
Not so many years ago, the United States Navy sent one of their obsolete battleships
from shore, out into the ocean, without a single human being on board the ship,
Yet the ship was made to run in any direction desired; it could turn to port or
starboard, in a circle; the stoking of its boilers was attended to; guns were discharged
all from shore, without a human being on board having anything to do with the entire
operation of the vessel. It all resolved itself into impulses sent by radio to the
ship, where they were correctly interpreted and the ship made to obey these impulses.
The same thing can, of course, be done with airplanes the French government, having
experimented extensively with this idea, frequently sending airplanes aloft without
anyone being on board. The airplane, in these tests, was made to undergo its usual
routine of rising, heading into the wind, circling about at will; later on returning
and making a perfect landing, all by radio control from the ground.
Fundamentally the idea is simple. Radio impulses are sent out, which are received
on a certain wavelength over an especially engineered radio set. A small motor continues
making contacts at certain stated intervals; in a series which must be known to
the control operator on the ground. By using either a different wavelength or different
impulses, the desired effects are translated into action, on board a ship or airplane
as the case may be; a relay mechanism operated by the impulses performs, in turn,
the required work demanded by ship or airplane, etc.
Radio technicians will also be interested to know that lately experiments have
been made whereby it is possible to do all this on a single wavelength or frequency,
by means of tuned audio amplifiers. In other words, suppose we have a special receiving
set installed on an airplane. The man on the ground, with his transmitter, will
have a half-dozen tuned whistles, which he will blow in front of a microphone. Each
sound is interpreted by the receiving set on board the plane; the sounds being filtered
from each other so that each separate sound can be used as a directing means.
While all this may seem complicated, in practice it really is not so. In fact,
the art is becoming simplified more and more. Naturally, the thought comes to everyone
that in wartime such a radio-controlled airplane would not be of much use, because
the' enemy could interfere by sending similar impulses. That is not necessarily
The well-known inventor, John Hays Hammond, Jr., has a number of radio patents
on this particular branch of telemechanics, whereby it becomes possible, by locking
mechanisms, to prevent the receiving set from operating unless a certain sequence
of signals is sent at certain intervals; and without that key, you cannot do much
damage because, no matter what the interference would be, you would still not be
able to interfere with the correctly keyed radio impulses.
There are many applications in industry and the sciences for radio telemechanics.
For instance, high-tension switches can be operated, if necessary, over great distances,
when the necessity arises. Doors can be opened, elevators can be run; as a matter
of fact, almost anything that you can think of in mechanics can be accomplished
at a distance should this become desirable, all by radio telemechanics.
In wartime, of course, the operation of small war vessels such as submarines,
torpedo boats, bombing planes, etc., all can be operated without any senseless cost
of human life when it becomes necessary to so operate war weapons. The same is true
in the case of tanks, mines, and other war machines.
No doubt, it will also occur to most readers immediately, that, in the instance
of an airplane, the radio control does not mean much if you cannot see what the
airplane is doing. For example, if you were to send an airplane aloft, how would
you keep it from dashing into a mountainside, if you could not see where it was
The answer to this is television. Many years ago, I made the proposal of a war
airplane which I termed "The Radio-Controlled Television Airplane." In this particular
instance, the airplane is radio-controlled from the ground. In addition to the radio
impulses, the airplane also has on board a television outfit which sees in six directions
simultaneously. This is easily accomplished by a system comprising photo-electric
cells, and lenses, one looking upward, one downward, and one, each, looking east,
west, south, and north. These "photoelectric lenses" are all connected with the
television transmitter. The television impulses are then sent from the plane to
headquarters where an operator sits in front of a screen divided into six parts.
From this, he will see exactly where the airplane is at any time. He not only will
see over what territory the plane is moving, but he also will see if there is another
airplane overhead attacking it. By means of his radio-control mechanism he can thus
guide the plane in any manner he sees fit. He can bring it back to his own lines,
or he may send it over enemy lines, or he may make the airplane perform any duties
he sees fit.
The same instrumentality can, of course, be used in connection with submarines,
warships, tanks, automobiles, etc., and to be certain, a like instrumentality can
be applied to peacetime uses as well. There is, in fact, no limit to which the system
cannot be applied.
Radio telemechanics is a comparatively new art. It is a most fascinating branch
of radio, one that will become of great importance as time goes on.
It has many uses which have not, as yet, been dreamt of.
Posted September 13, 2023
(updated from original post on 7/29/2015)