On this day in 1906, early-twentieth century Spanish civil engineer and mathematician Leonardo Torres Quevedo successfully demonstrated the precursor to the modern-day TV clicker, key fob, and video game controller: the remote control.
Born in Cantabria, Spain, and raised in Bilbao by his railway engineer father, Torres Quevedo became interested in science and technology from an early age and diligently pursued technological experimentation his entire life.
Fascinated by aeronautics, Torres Quevedo built an ultra light dirigible bolstered with a frame of flexible cables for rigidity. The problem? He needed a way to test his dirigibles without risking pilots’ lives. The solution turned out to be a radio controller. Lacking funds, Torres Quevedo first built a radio control for a tricycle. He created codes from the signals generated by a telegraph transmitter. He then built a receiver to read and respond to the signals, moving the tricycle forward or backward, or turning it.
He called it the telekino. Torres Quevedo’s invention was basically a robot that carried out commands transmitted by electromagnetic waves. It was the world’s first remote control.
Pleased with his invention, Torres Quevedo presented the telekino at the Paris Academy of Science in 1903. He also applied for and obtained a patent in France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States. But his greatest triumph was to take place a few years later.
On this day in 1906, in the presence of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and a crowd of awed spectators, Torres Quevedo successfully demonstrated the telekino in the port of Bilbao, where he controlled a vessel with eight people aboard, from a distance of two kilometres.
Recognising the potential of his invention, Torres Quevedo then sought funds from the Spanish government to develop the device to control dirigibles as well as underwater torpedoes, both his inventions. He was denied the funds and ultimately abandoned his work on the telekino.
In 1916 King Alfonso XIII bestowed the Academy of Science’s Echegaray Medal upon him. After a long and fruitful life during which he pioneered dirigible, chess automation, cable car, remote control, and analog calculating machine technology, Torres Quevedo died in Madrid on 18 December 1936.
Credit: Image Courtesy of www.torresquevedo.org
Caption: A photograph of the Telekino in front of the terrace of Club Marítimo del Abra in Bilbao in 1906.