When you get your hands on your very first remote controlled toy, you’re probably not thinking about what exactly makes it work because you’re more focused on the fun you’re going to have.
How do RC cars work then?
These amazing little RC devices have been around for decades and we often take for granted that there’s quite a lot of science and technology behind them, so it’s worthwhile to learn more.
The basic principle for any remote controlled device is that the user has a transmitter or remote that sends the signal to the car using radio waves, giving directions on what they want it to do. All remote control vehicles operate differently though, with changes in power sources or transmission ranges making them all unique.
To get a better understanding of how your RC car is working, we’re here to explain the science behind it and what’s required to remotely control another device.
With the current technology we use today and promises for the future of these devices, it’s fascinating to learn more about how they actually work to gain more appreciation for our favorite hobby.
What Parts Are Needed for a Remote Control Car?
Before we can get into how they work and the science behind them, we need to understand the exact parts and functions that make these RC vehicles run, which happens with four different parts.
Whether it’s a remote control car or a submarine or plane, they all rely on the same basic parts to allow the user to send commands to the vehicle, so every RC toy will have:
- Power source: This is required to supply power to the whole operation and enable all the parts to work. In a remote control car, the power source is typically batteries, but there are some variations like gas.
- Motor: The motor is responsible for moving all of the parts necessary and performing the basic function including turning the wheels, steering, and applying acceleration or braking.
- Transmitter: The transmitter is the remote control and it’s the thing that you hold in your hands to give directions to the RC car or toy.
- Receiver: This is found in the RC car and features an antenna and circuit board that allows it to receive the signals that the transmitter is sending and move the required parts.
What is the Science Behind Remote Control Vehicles?
In most remote controlled vehicles, the transmitter uses radio waves to send a signal to the receiver.
The receiver then causes the motor to work, powered by whatever source it’s using, and does the required action.
Although this sounds straightforward, there’s a little more to each part that we need to explore further to understand.
- The transmitter in the controller sends a signal to the car over a specific frequency using the battery power. For RC cars, this is usually 27 MHz or 49 MHZ, with most controllers having the option for either so you can play with two of the same cars together without interference. The controls will depend on the specific car but usually include forward, reverse, and left and right combinations.
- When the controls are touched, they cause electrical contacts to touch which transmits a number of electrical pulses. The sequence of these pulses relates to a specific action, like forward and right, and it’s transmitted to the RC car and receiver using radio waves.
- From there, it knows which part of the car to move, like the wheels, and it uses the motor and a detailed circuit board to achieve this. The receiver is constantly scanning for signals from the transmitter which is why it can instantly follow commands that you give it.
All RC vehicles are made differently and so what’s controllable and from where will depend on their design.
RC cars require most of their parts to be controlled by the operator but something like an RC plane will have a motor to control the flaps but will use an engine to make its propellers spin.
An RC boat will use the motor just for the rudder but might rely on the wind to actually move it forward.
The Range of Remote Control Signals
One important thing that people look at when choosing an RC car is how far the transmission range is.
This refers to the length that the user can stand away from the vehicle for it to still work and pick up signals from the controller, and the longer this is the better.
When looking at something like a television remote control, these are operated with infrared technology because they only need to send a signal over a short distance.
However, when looking at RC toys and cars specifically, you’ll need radio control which is the technology described earlier.
These signals are capable of traveling much further and without interference, so they’re ideal for any type of RC vehicle.
RC cars come in many different lengths when looking at their range and usually, the more expensive a car is the further it will be able to reach.
There are a few factors that come into play when determining how far the signal will reach including:
- Quality of radio and controller: Better quality radios and controllers will be able to send signals further.
- Potential interference: Other signals coming from technology like wi-fi routers can affect the range.
- Obstacles: Controlling an RC car in the middle of an urban area will get you less range than in open spaces like parklands, and driving indoors will usually reduce the range.
The average RC car has a transmission range of between 150 and 300 feet, running on a 2.4 GHz band.
This can vary depending on the factors mentioned above and the quality of the vehicle, but it’s a good general guide to consider when shopping for one with an adequate range.
What Are Some Breakthroughs in RC Tech?
The introduction of 2.4 GHz radios was a huge advancement for the world of RC racing, as was the invention of brushless motors.
These have changed the way that remote controlled vehicles are enjoyed today, but what can we expect for the future of this hobby?
Thanks to the boom in drones and UAVs, we’ve seen a lot more interest in first person view (FPV) and how this can be applied to RC cars.
There are some models being designed for this type of technology but it seems set to become the norm in the next decade, however you can expect a wait until they perfect it for these types of vehicles.
Another area where things are changing is data collection, and more specifically how racers can use it get information about their performance.
With the ability to see what areas need improvement it will add a whole new level to racing, and give us, as users, the power to make adjustments based on real data from our races.
Finally, advancements in robotics will mean the overall construction and possibilities of these cars will improve significantly.
Hybrid RC toys that are able to transform from a car into a helicopter or a boat into a rock crawler don’t seem that far away, giving us so many more possibilities for racing and competing as a sport.
The science behind RC cars can be a little overwhelming, but as passionate hobbyists, it’s important to have a basic understanding.
We’ve got the answers to some commonly asked questions about RC cars to improve your knowledge even further and help you get the most out of your vehicle.
Can RC Cars Be Powered by Gas?
In addition to battery operation, remote control cars can also be powered by gas.
The most common gas source is nitro which is a methanol-based fuel that’s had oil and nitromethane added to it.
The benefits of a gas powered car are increased speeds and powers, but they can be harder to maintain and are noisier.
How Fast Can RC Cars Go?
Depending on the power source and their quality, the average remote control car can reach speeds between 30 and 60mph.
High powered RC cars are capable of going over 100mph but they are usually more expensive models and better suited for racing and professional users.
What Frequency Does an RC Car Use?
Modern RC cars usually rely on a 2.45 GHz frequency controller which is the Spread Spectrum System.
The range of frequencies is larger and they suffer from fewer interferences, which means fewer issues with glitches and signals.
Most RC vehicles and toys will operate on either the 27 MHz or 49 MHz frequency, with more advanced devices running on 72 MHz or 75 MHz.