From Flash-matic to ZigBee RF4CE

02.06.2013 16:20

From Flash-matic to ZigBee RF4CE –

we honor the memory of Mr. Eugene Polley, the developer of the first wireless TV remote control

by CeesLinks, CEO & Founder of GreenPeak technologies
ZigBee Rf4CE Marketing Chair


Televisions did not always come with remote controls. When TV sets first became available – before color, HBO and cable TV, they used mechanical dials to physically tune in the channel you and your family wanted to watch. The power on switch and the volume controls were mechanical as well. This meant someone had to get off the couch and trudge across the room to change the channels or adjust the set.

It wasn’t until 1950 that the first remote control appeared. Developed by the Zenith Radio Corporation, the “Lazy Bone” was able to turn television power on and off, and change the channels. This first remote was not wireless- instead it used a cable that connected to the TV set and then was strung across the room to the viewers. It got tangled, people tripped on it, it wasn’t user friendly.


It wasn’t until 1955 that a Zenith engineer, Eugene Polley created the first wireless remote control - the "Flash-matic".

The Flash-matic was basically a narrow beam flashlight that operated by aiming it at one of 4 photocells, each located in a corner of the TV screen.  One sensor controlled power, one controlled audio volume and the other two turned the channel tuner dial clockwise and counter-clockwise.

As a result, you may say that Mr. Polley created the first couch potato. People no longer had to get off the sofa to change channels or adjust the TV.

Sadly, in May of 2012, Eugene Polley died on at the ripe old age of 96.

We at GreenPeak are proud to remember this pioneer of first wireless remote control.

Since the development of his Flash-matic, we have seen the emergence of Infrared (IR) based remotes which can control dozens of different TV and home viewing functions.

GreenPeak and others are now in the vanguard of the next generation of wireless remote controls – using ZigBee RF4CE instead of infrared – which now adds several additional dimensions to the remote control experience.


Your current IR remote control, like Polley’s original Flash-matic, is also light based and requires aiming the remote control at the TV set. However, if you are too far way, if the room is too bright, or if there is someone or something in the way, it does not work.

In contrast, the new ZigBee RF4CE is radio based and goes through walls, furniture and even your pets and family. One RF4CE TV remote can control TV sets and other entertainment devices located throughout a typical home.  As it easily penetrates wood, you can now hide your ugly set top box and other electronics in closet or a cabinet.

ZigBee RF4CE was developed from Wi-Fi and shares many of the same capabilities regarding range and usability.

IR is a one way activity. It sends a beam to the light to the TV controller and tells it what to do – change channel, adjust volume, start playing a DVD, etc.

The new interactive remotes using RF4CE expand that control interface by enabling information to be sent from the TV and/or set top box to your remote. This can include alerts, polls, online voting, special deals and coupons, and even direct purchasing via the remote control.  RF4CE also supports a cool interactive function called “Find Me”:press the “Find Me” button on your TV or set top box and your “lost” remote starts beeping and flashing. No more lost remote controls.

It is even possible to feed your home’s security, HVAC, health monitoring, energy management information through the set-top box and then to your remote control.  GreenPeak is even working on a system to allow you to monitor and control your home’s rooftop solar panels from the comfort of your couch via the remote control.

A remote control that uses ultra low power RF4CE instead of IR can operate on a single small battery for many years – longer than the life of the remote itself. This means no more having to change the batteries once or twice a year. Not only does this make your life easier, it is much gently on the environment, requiring fewer batteries filled with heavy metals and hazardous chemicals.  Without the need for battery lid doors for battery replacement, manufacturers are now free to design remote controls of various innovative shapes. No more remotes held together with duct tape or rubber bands!

When Mr. Polley first thought of the Flash-matic, I doubt that he foresaw what his invention - designed to save a few steps between the couch and TV set - would eventually evolve into. His concept of the remote control has become so much more than just an easy to use interface between a TV set and the  user. Instead, it has become the enabler for a consumer to now have full control of all the home’s systems in their hand. Entertainment, power management, health monitoring, home security – it is now all in the remote.



Cees [“case”] Links is a pioneer of the wireless data industry, a visionary leader bringing the world of mobile computing and continuous networking together. Under his responsibility, the first wireless LANs were developed which ultimately became house-hold technology integrated into the PCs and notebooks we are all familiar with. He also pioneered the development of access points, home networking routers and hotspot base stations, all widely used today.

Cees was involved in the establishment of the IEEE 802.11 standardization committee and the Wi-Fi Alliance. He was also instrumental in helping to establish the IEEE 802.15 standardization committee to become the basis for the ZigBee sense and control networking technology and standardization.



GreenPeak Technologies is a fabless semiconductor company and is a leader in highly integrated IEEE 802.15.4/RF4CE silicon solutions for consumer electronics. GreenPeak is headquartered in Utrecht, The Netherlands and has offices in Belgium, Japan and Korea. GreenPeak is backed by venture capitalists: Gimv (Belgium), DFJ Esprit (UK), Robert Bosch Venture Capital (Germany) and Allegro Investment Fund (Belgium). For more information, please visit