Here is a list of what I believe are the top ten innovations of the R/C industry. Of course, my choices are based on my own R/C experiences.
In the 90s, the only way to be informed about races results was to read R/C magazines. At this time, there were only one or two R/C magazines available. Races reports were limited to few pictures and the race article was two or three pages long and published one or two months after the event. Now in 2013, it is quite easy to be informed about races results and R/C news. This is particularly true with LiveRC.com that broadcasts live R/C racing from all around the world. For me, LiveRC.com has to be in the list of the best R/C innovations!
9) Rubber compound tires
In the beginning of R/C racing, tires were more made out of plastic than rubber. The compound was really hard and the tires were not doing very well on harder surfaces. Now, tires are offered in many different compounds going from hard to super soft to best suite tracks conditions. Their design is also very different, today, mini pins type of tires have now replaced the long studs type of tires. Tires manufacturers work hard to lower wear rate and to increase stability. I’m not sure we can do a one hour long main with plastic tires!
8) Ball bearings
The first kits came with oiled bushings and ball bearing were an option! Bushings were cheaper to produce than bearings but they were wearing out quite faster and were causing a lot of drive train drag reducing overall runtime. At this time, racers were ready to do anything they can to finish a 4 minutes race!
7) Team Associated RC10 buggy
The Team Associated RC10 buggy is responsible of a lot of things in the R/C racing history. Released 30 years ago, this little buggy completely changed off-road racing. Completely new design with full independent suspension, long oil filled shocks, slipper clutch, gears diff. It was the buggy to buy to finish first. Few years later, all others manufacturers have released a buggy similar to the RC10. When you are copied, you are a pioneer!
6) Lap counting systems
Can you imagine manually counting laps with thousandth of a second precision? Of course you can’t… Nobody can’t! This is why electronic lap counting systems are now so important for R/C racing. Specialized softwares record all the heats and races laps from all cars into a database to create statistics, standings and results. A transponder is mounted into the car and each time the car passes on the “loop”, the time is recorded. Some of those softwares can also post directly results on the web. I can’t imagine a race without a lap counting system.
5) 2.4 GHz radios
The first radios were AM (27Mhz) with only 6 channels available, then came the FM radios with 30 channels. The major problem were frequency conflicts. Imagine you are racing on a 27Mhz frequency and someone turns on his transmitter which is on the same frequency as yours. Immediately you’ll lost control of your car. Today, radios use 2.4Ghz frequency and the radios automatically change the frequency many hundreds of times per second to prevent frequency conflicts. Definitively, the new 2.4Ghz radios save us a lot of frustrations!
4) Electronic speed controllers
There was a time where speed controllers were mechanical and were activated by a servo. A “wiper arm” was installed on the servo horn and when you were giving gas, the arm was rubbing on a huge resistance. Of course, those parts were wearing out quite fast and were not precise but in the 80s, this is how things were made. Luckily, electronic speed controllers hit the market and replaced those ugly and heavy mechanical speed controllers. Electronics speed controllers are smoother and are lighter, have less power resistance and they are maintenance free.
3) Brushless motors
The word “com lathe” has completely disappeared of the R/C vocabulary when brushless motors have hit the market. In the past, motors were using brushes to transfer electricity to the rotor to create a magnetic field. Those brushes required to be replaced frequently and the surface on the rotor where brushes were rubbing needed to be cleaned/cut with a com lathe to keep maximum contact with the lowest resistance. Brushless motors have been an immediate success. They are more powerful, more precise and most of all, they require minimal maintenance.
2) LiPo batteries
LiPo batteries drastically changed R/C in term of runtime. The first races I’ve assisted were 4 minutes long because the NiCd packs didn’t have the capacity to do more. Many racers even have difficulties to finish a four minutes race! Now, four minutes is the time allowed for the warm up! Then came the NiMh packs with more power and capacity. They have been popular for more than a decade until the LiPo packs hit the market. At first LiPo technology scared many racers (me the first) but manufacturers have increased stability and today LiPo packs are quite safe if you charge and use them correctly. LiPo batteries are lighter deliver power more equally than NiMh batteries. There is no “fade” in the power, power still almost the same until the battery hits its minimal voltage. This gives you the same power during all your race.
1) Ready-to-run vehicles
What would be R/C without ready-to-run vehicles? The RTR vehicles have popularized RC to the mass. No matter if the new comers will go racing or bashing. What is important is the fact that RTR vehicles popularized our hobby. They have all what new comers need to have fun with a RC car. They are fully assembled, generally made of good quality parts, they can be upgraded with many aftermarket parts, they are powerful and are relatively cheap. You can now buy a RTR stadium truck (including 2.4Ghz radio, brushless motor and ESC) for less than 200$. This is almost what I’ve paid for my first electronic speed controller in the early 90s! Without hesitation, ready-to-run vehicles are the best innovation of R/C history.