1902 – Telekine (Telekino) – Leonardo Torres Quevedo (Spanish)

THE TELEKINE (or Telekino in Spanish)
Torres Quevedo started to develop the idea of a remote control around 1901 or 1902, as a way of testing his airships without risking human lives. He was the first person to lay down the modern remote control operation principles, which he expressed in a prototype that he patented in 1903 under the name Telekine (Fig. 4) [4]. This term came from two Greek words: tele (far away, in the distance) and kine (force, movement), resulting together in “movement at a distance,” which is basically what the inventor was trying to achieve. He carried out his first Telekine experiments a year later with a simple tricycle. He managed to make it go forward and backward, as well as change direction, by sending orders from a wireless telegraph transmitter from a distance of up to about 32 yd [5].
After this, Torres Quevedo decided to extend the use of his remote control to engine-driven boats. The tests he performed in 1905 and 1906, in Madrid’s Royal Country House (Real Casa de Campo) pond, with a small boat and short distances, as well as in Bilbao estuary, where he successfully took full control of a dinghy with a crew of eight at distances of over 1.25 mi, are well known [5].
The positive results of those experiences encouraged Torres Quevedo to apply to the Spanish government for the financial aid required to use his Telekine to steer submarine torpedoes, a technological field which was just starting out. His application was, sadly, denied, which caused him to abandon the development and improvement of the Telekine.

Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain and
Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain

[1] J. Garcia Santesmases, Obra e Inventos de Torres Quevedo (Works and Inventions of Torres Quevedo). Madrid, Spain: Institute of Spain, 1980.
[2] J. M. Ballester, Leonardo Torres Quevedo. Madrid, Spain: Spanish Assoc. Civil Eng., 1978.
[4] Patente de Invención por un Sistema Denominado Telekino para Gobernar a Distancia un Movimiento Mecánico (Patent Application for a System, Called Telekine, to Steer a Mechanical Movement at Distance. Madrid, Spain: Spanish Patents and Trademarks Office, Jun. 10, 1903.
[5] A. Pérez Yuste and M. Salazar Palma, “The first wireless remotecontrol: The Telekine of Torres Quevedo,” presented at the IEEE Conf. History of Electronics (CHE 2004), Bletchley Park, U.K. (see pdf here).


Leonardo Torres y Quevedo was a world-renowned Spanish engineer. His fields of interest were very extensive and included mechanics, aeronautics, and automatics.

Electrical Engineering Hall of Fame

These proposals, and others not cited above, were all based on a very simple technique known as "on/off", so they were able to discriminate whether an electromagnetic wave was being received, acting in a different way depending on the case. For example, the rudder could be steered to the left when the electromagnetic wave was received and to the right otherwise. This means that operation could be easily accomplished, for example, by actuating the valve of a steering engine that was worked by compressed air, jointly with a counter spring that turned the steering appliance in the opposite direction. Then, by switching the aforesaid valve continuously on and off, it was possible to maintain a certain direction of movement. In the case of Tesla, the receiver was even a bit more complex because it had three states of operation, not two: "on", "off", and "still". So, the rudder could be turned to the right, turned to the left or kept unmoved. These three states allow the selection of a direction for the vessel by means of an approximation process so, once reached, it was very easy to maintain it: ordering the rudder to turn in one direction, stopping it, ordering it to turn in the opposite direction, stopping it, ordering it to turn in the first direction again, stopping it, and so on, until obtaining the exact course desired. But in Tesla’s remote-control system, the propelling engine could not be directly controlled at a distance. Furthermore, it was coupled to the rudder in such a way that the motor was stopped when the rudder was turned beyond an angle of 45 from the zero position (no matter to the left or to the right) and was put in motion when the rudder was turned less than the said angle. Keeping all these restrictions in mind, Torres-Quevedo suggested a very innovative idea by establishing an easy method for controlling any mechanical or electrical device with different states of operation. He devised a remote-control system that required two things: a transmitter, which was capable of sending a family of different codewords by means of a binary telegraph signal, and a receiver, which was able to set up a different state of operation in the device being used, depending on the codeword. Putting both things together, he invented the Telekino, a word that came from Greek: tele (far, at distance) and kino (movement), resulting "movement at a distance", which was the desire of the Spanish engineer. In the description of his patent, Torres-Quevedo wrote about the Telekino in these terms:
"The invention comprises essentially a telegraphic transmission with or without wires determining the position of a needle which regulates a 'servomotor' (controller, switch or motor) that actuates any apparatus"(Fig. 3).

By applying the Telekino to electrically powered vessels, Torres-Quevedo was able to select different positions for the steering engine and different velocities for the propelling engine independently. He was also able to act over other mechanisms such a light, for switching on or off, and a flag, for raising or dropping it, at the same time. Specifically, Torres-Quevedo was able to do up to 19 different actions with his prototypes.

Vol. 96, No. 1, January 2008 | Proceedings of the IEEE

Complex trials were followed by extending the use of his Telekino to an electrical engine-driven boat at the Royal Country House Lake of Madrid, achieving distances of up to about 250 m [17]. Fortunately, theMayor of the City of Bilbao happened to be present at one of those trials. Being so astonished by the view of an unmanned boat, he immediately organized a fundraising campaign to promote new trials with the Telekino of Torres-Quevedo at the famous Estuary of Bilbao, sited in the north of Spain. Those were finally carried out on November 7, 1905, using a dinghy with a crew of eight, which was controlled at a distance over 2 km.

The Bilbao tests.

Patent Information:

[14] L. Torres, "Système dit telekine pour commander à distance un mouvement mécanique," France Patent 327 218, Dec. 10, 1902.
[15] L. Torres, "Sistema denominado 'telekine' para gobernar a distancia un movimiento mecánico," Spain Patent 31 918, Jun. 10, 1903.
[16] L. Torres, "Means or method for directing mechanical movements at or from a distance," U.K. Patent 27 073, Dec. 10, 1904.

Click on above image to go to the full patent copy. Note that the Patent is under Torres, not Quevedo.

Patent number: GB190327073 (A) 
Publication date: 1904-10-27 
– international: 
– european: 
Application number: GBD190327073 19031210  
Priority number(s): FRX190327073 19021210

Tags: , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Friday, December 17th, 2010 at 8:50 pm and is filed under Early Robot Enabling Technologies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Responses to “1902 – Telekine (Telekino) – Leonardo Torres Quevedo (Spanish)”

  1. Programación lúdica: La máquina de Torres Quevedo | unocero Says:

    […] Qué Aprendemos Cybernetic Zoo  […]

  2. 6 Modern-Day Tech Advances (That Your Grandparents Had) - DenverEnterprisesLLC | DenverEnterprisesLLC Says:

    […] t"arget="a">electric cable cars, remote-controlled machines. As impressive as those things are, none of them are quite on the level of what's arguably his […]