You child wants a remote control car, but you’re not sure what that thing really is, and how it actually works? Well, let’s learn a few general things about radio control. This way you will actually know what you’re buying, and also you’ll see that remote control cars for kids are complex, even though they are “just toys”.
Nikola Tesla first demonstrated a remote control boat in 1898 and ever since, the remote control models are all around us. They had great usage during World War II, and development in radio control technology increased a lot. However, this technology wasn’t always used for the purpose of good. For example, German Luftwaffe used controllable winged bombs for targeting Allied ships. During the 1930s the Bill and Walt Good constructed vacuum tube based control units for remote control hobby use. Their “Guff” radio controlled plane can be seen at the National Aerospace museum. Next thing we know, Ed Lorenze published a design in “Model Airplane News” that was built by many hobbyists. The first general use of radio control systems in models started in the late 1940s with single-channel self-built equipment, and the commercial equipment came soon after that. Remote control systems firstly used escapement, often rubber driven mechanical actuation in the model. Commercial remote control models often used ground standing transmitters, shaped as long whip antennas with separate ground poles and single vacuum tube receivers. The first kits also had dual tubes. Early systems were super regenerative circuits. this means that two controllers that are standing close to each other would interfere. Heavy batteries to drive tubes were needed, so the model boat systems were more successful than model aircraft. In the late 1940s to mid 1950 many other remote control designs came out and some were even sold commercially, instead of being used just for hobby.
Originally they were built on simple ‘on-off’ systems. As the time passed by, remote control models evolved to use systems of relays to control speed and direction. In another, maybe a little bit more “smooth” version developed by the Good brothers called TTPW, information was encoded by varying the signal’s mark/space ratio. Commercial versions of these systems became available shortly after they were made. The tuned reed system used metal reeds to resonate with the transmitted signal and operate one of a many different relays. The availability of transistor-based equipment in 1960s led to the rapid development of fully proportional servo-based “digital proportional” system. This was achieved with discrete components, which were driven largely by amateurs and pure begginers, but resulting in commercial products, meaning that they were selling. In the 1970s, integrated circuits made the electronics small enough for the whole system to work.
Through the 90s, small equipment became widely available, and this allowed radio control of the smallest models. By the 2000s, radio control was most usual thing, even for the control of cheap rc car toys such as remote control cars for kids, that were usually the smallest models in the market.