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 prognosticated in the 1930s what was then a pipe dream but what
is today commonplace - remote control of multi-functioned apparati via secure wireless digital
communications. Adolph Hitler had risen to power a year earlier and precursors of what would
officially become World War II in 1937 had nations 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
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
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
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
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 going?
The answer to this is television. Many years ago, I made the
proposal of a war airplane which I termed "The RadioControlled
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 photoelectric 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 July 29, 2015