Almost all hobbies improve from year to year, but like full-size motor sports, RC is highly competitive (on the racetrack and hobby-store shelves). As such, the innovations come out at an accelerated pace. Not only do we see refinements and improvements, but we are often treated to real innovations that change the hobby—sometimes drastically. Here are RC Car Action‘s editors and their picks on what they believe are the most important RC innovations of all time.
Matt Higgins, Editor-in-Chief
Electronic Speed Control
There are many innovations that have improved the hobby over the years, but none have made as big an impact as the electronic speed control. When I got in this hobby, mechanical speed controls were standard equipment and the only real choice. I can’t believe electric racing survived the mechanical speed control! They typically offered only three speeds, required frequent maintenance (after every run) and often failed (during every run). Electronic speed controls don’t require any maintenance and will essentially last forever if you don’t push them beyond their limits. They also offer true proportional control, which greatly improves performance.
Kevin Hetmanski, Senior Editor
I’ve been RC racing for along time, and I can remember going to the track and having my laps counted by hand; that was a little sketchy at times. You were never sure that the guy who counted your laps was paying attention, and if you had a close finish, there was no way to tell who won. When the transponder was introduced, we were blown away by the information this little box mounted in our vehicles could provide. Not only did it count our laps, but thanks to the computer system that recorded the laps, it also gave us our lap times so we could a better idea of how we were doing against other drivers. These shared transponders had their drawbacks, though: you typically had to get a transponder from a driver in the previous race and install the unit in your vehicle, and if it wasn’t fully charged, it would stop counting laps halfway through your race. The invention of the personal transponder is one of the greatest things to happen in RC racing. When they were released, I bought two of them, and I’d never been so happy to go to the track because, from then on, I never had to worry about forgetting to install a transponder at the start of a race, let alone wait for the last dude bring it back or wonder if it’s fully charged. And best of all, I could take it home, the track owner wouldn’t yell at me.
Jason Sams, New Media Editor
I call it the “LiPo learning curve”: when a newbie quickly excels at racing because of the enormous amount of run time and practice they get with the use of LiPo power. LiPo packs provide run times two to three times longer than that of the batteries of yesteryear. They also hold their charge for up to six months (no more re-peaking) and are significantly lighter. The latter helped make 1/10-scale electric off-road vehicles more durable, sparking a revival of their popularity. With NiMH packs, you were stoked if you got 8 to 10 minutes of run time and didn’t break anything because of their weight in the chassis. Now, with high-capacity LiPo packs (and proper gearing), 30-minute run times are achievable. A power source that exceeds lofty expectations is now available to the masses.
Lito Reyes, Editor-at-Large
Like the rest of the staff, I’m an old-school racer, and that means I got my start with electrics—1/10-scale off-road, to be exact. It wasn’t enough that I had to build my kit and learn all about setting it up, I had the harsh world of stock brushed motors to deal with—45, 36, and 24 degrees of timing, slotted or full cans, brush compounds, brush cuts, spring tuning, etc.—that’s a lot of stuff for a newbie to absorb. And then, there was maintenance—the biggest part, of course, was cutting the comm. The local hobby shop offered commutator cutting as a service, but they didn’t tell me that the reason I had to have it done so often was because of my tendency to overgear. With the brushless motor, I don’t have to cut commutators anymore, and I make fewer gearing goofs. I don’t dump before the end of the main, and most important of all, I’ve had the same can of motor spray for more than a year now.
For me it is 2.4ghz radios. Over the years both nitro and electric vehicles have improved by leaps and bounds so they can run faster and for longer periods of time. But if you have to wait for your frequency channel to open up (ever have to attach a clothespin with your channel to your radio antenna before?), or you get glitching from your carbon fiber parts, then it doesn’t matter how fast your vehicle can go when you can’t control it. Thanks to this radio advancement you can turn on your radio and hit the track right away which means more track time and less waiting for you. This also solved a common problem for race directors when more than one racer would have the same channel for a popular RTR car (anyone using blue?) and the built in fail safe technology meant less nitro runaways.