Telekino: The First Remote Control

Torres Quevedo Museum

The story of one of Torres Quevedo's most sensational inventions and how it was tested on a small boat.

Leonardo Torres Quevedo was the man who created and promoted automation.

He put this new science to practical use in 2 of his inventions: the telekino, believed to be the first ever radio control device, and his 'chess players' - the product of electromechanics.

The World's First Remote Control
In its day, the telekino was one of Torres Quevedo's most sensational inventions. It was the first ever remote control and was tested on a small boat.

Torres Quevedo invented and built the telekino to remotely control airships, which were his main area of interest at the time.

Airships were dangerous because they were full of explosive hydrogen, so Torres Quevedo created the remote control to avoid endangering airship crews during test exercises.

The telekino's transmitter encoded commands and sent them using a telegraph key as electromagnetic waves to the receiver, which converted them into movement using a numerical code.

Torres Quevedo built his first telekino in the newly created Aeronautical Testing Center in Madrid, in 1904. The first demonstration was at the Beti-Jai fronton (a court for playing the Basque ball game jai alai), where his laboratory was based, and involved moving a tricycle. He later tried again outdoors on the Casa de Campo lake, where he managed to move a boat.

The final test, which drew the most interest, was carried out on the Bilbao estuary in 1905.

On September 6, 1906 a new demonstration took place in the presence of King Alfonso XIII.

Large crowds gathered in the Port of Bilbao to see a boat controlled from the terrace of the Club Marítimo del Abra sports club.

With Torres Quevedo's help, Alfonso XIII himself was able to remotely steer a boat carrying passengers.

The invention of the telekino was such a significant achievement that commemorative stamps featuring the device have since been issued.

An exhibition on the history of physics and chemistry in Spain was held in April 1953, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Spanish Royal Society of Physics and Chemistry.

Torres Quevedo's telekino and chess player were both exhibited at the event.

The machine was displayed at the "Nikola Tesla: His is the Future" exhibition, in a section focusing on Spanish scientists of his time.

In 1898 Tesla designed the first ever remote control - a switch with 2 possible positions.

Torres Quevedo improved on this prototype with a telekino that could move a real, life-sized boat rather than just a model.

One of Leonardo Torres Quevedo's greatest achievements was receiving recognition from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) for his key role in developing the remote control with his work between 1901 and 1903, which resulted in the telekino.

His achievements were marked in 2007, when a milestone was erected in the Torres Quevedo Museum at the Higher Technical School of Civil Engineering at the Technical University of Madrid (UPM).

In 1903 he presented the telekino at the French Academy of Sciences with a thesis and experimental demonstration. In the same year, he was granted patents in France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States.

Addendum to the telekino patent obtained in France.

Museo Torres Quevedo
Credits: Story

Torres Quevedo Museum (Madrid)
School of Civil Engineering
Technical University of Madrid (UPM)

Director: Francisco Javier Martín Carrasco
Secretary: Felipe Gabaldón Castillo
Museum Manager: Manuel G. Romana
Editing: Miriam Guerrero Pérez
Texts: Miriam Guerrero Pérez and Consuelo Durán Cermeño
Advisors: Francisco González Redondo, Antonio López Vega, and María Pascual Nicolás
Documentation: Manuel Romana García, Consuelo Durán Cermeño, Miriam Guerrero Pérez
Image Sources: Museum collection, Francisco González Redondo Collection, Manuel Romana Collection, National Newspaper Library, Public Works Journal
Video Source: YouTube

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.