CHAMPAIGN – Champaign-based Horizon Hobby is unveiling a product this weekend that the company predicts will revolutionize the radio-controlled airplane industry.
At the International Hobby Expo in Los Angeles, a Horizon Hobby delegation is introducing a transmitter that eliminates channel interference. Such interference can cause radio-controlled airplanes to lose altitude and crash.
"This will absolutely blow away our industry when this is released," said John Adams, director of engineering for Horizon Hobby. "Five years from now, all manufacturers will be utilizing this technology. This will eliminate current technology."
Radio-controlled airplane operators must make sure they're operating on different radio frequencies from other fliers. Otherwise, they can interfere with someone else's plane.
"If someone turned on a channel, it would cause problems and you'd crash your airplanes. ... We were very susceptible to interference," Adams said.
The new technology – known as "spread-spectrum technology" – was developed by the military and NASA to provide "bulletproof" radio communications. It's since been adopted by the cellphone industry, and Horizon began using it in transmitters for radio-controlled cars earlier this year.
Airplanes proved to be a challenge. Cars have a relatively constant orientation, with the modeler relatively close to the vehicles, but airplanes can roll and make big changes, creating a problem that was "extremely technical and difficult" to solve, Adams said.
The new six-channel transmitter system, called a DX6, will retail for $200 and be available in November, Adams said. It will be sold in hobby shops nationwide and at Horizon Hobby's Web site, www.horizonhobby.com.
The system comes with a receiver that goes into a model airplane. Hobbyists can equip up to 10 different models with receivers, at a cost of $60 per receiver, he said.
"If you already have a radio-controlled model or purchase one, you can replace the existing receiver with this receiver," he said. "You can do it literally in five minutes."
Consumers won't have to pay a premium for spread-spectrum technology. Adams said the new receivers will sell for the same price as conventional "narrow-band" receivers.
Adams said he expects the new product to result in "millions of dollars" of additional revenue for Horizon. He couldn't quantify how many additional people Horizon might hire.
"Certainly as we generate revenue, we have to have people to sell the product, design the product, write instruction manuals. ... Any time we generate revenue, we have to hire employees to support that revenue," he said.
Horizon's local operations at 4105 Fieldstone Road, C, include its corporate office, a wholesale distribution center, catalog division and proprietary product development section, Adams said. There is a second distribution center in Ontario, Calif.
Adams, a Danville native who now lives in Champaign, said he's been working on the spread-spectrum product for seven years. He's done testing and development at Danville's radio-controlled airplane field for more than a year.
Several engineers from California also worked on development of the product, with Paul Beard serving as lead engineer and Chris Huhn as product manager. The company has applied for "about 30 patents" related to the technology, Adams said.
Beard is among those participating in the unveiling this weekend in Los Angeles.
Adams called the DX6 transmitter system "an absolutely bulletproof link." He said the system relies on globally unique identification codes, with 4.2 billion different codes available.
"In order to have interference, you'd have to have another vehicle that has the same code number," he said. "There are only 7 billion people on the planet."
Adams said Horizon has confidence the DX6 system will catch on immediately.
"Expectations are quite high. It's probably the most dynamic, impactive product introduced by Horizon or by anyone else in the industry," he said.