i3 - November/December 2018 - 39

Consum

er

Techno

logy

FOUNDER, X-10 USA
(1935 - )

T

he smart home is now
a familiar concept. But
the seeds for today's
familiarity with the smart home
were planted by the introduction
of X-10 home automation
technology in 1978, and grown
by X-10 USA, founded by Peter
Lesser.
Lesser was born in 1935 in
New York City. His facility with
mathematics led him to enter
the pre-engineering program at
Queens College of the City of
New York in 1951. Lesser earned a
B.S. from Queens College and a
B.S. in electrical engineering from
Columbia University in 1956, then
an MBA from Harvard in 1960.
After four years at IBM,
Lesser was persuaded by a
former manager to form and
run a new division at computer
manufacturer Olivetti to sell
the company's Programma 101,
the first self-contained desktop
computer. In 1973, he was named
vice president of marketing
at General Instrument's
microelectronics division, which
made chips for the first massproduced chip-based calculators
and Atari's Pong.
The GI chips Lesser sold
had been designed by Pico
Electronics. By 1975, chip prices
had dropped precipitously,
so Pico developed a remotecontrollable turntable called
the Accutrac and gave Lesser a
demo.

C TA . t e c h / i 3

er
m
u
s
n
o
C

Techno

The seeds for today's
familiarity with the smart home
were planted by the introduction
of X-10 home automation
technology in 1978.

While the Accutrac failed,
Lesser saw value in remotely
controlling a wider variety of
home gear such as lights and
appliances. He asked Pico to
come up with a remote-control
solution that didn't use IR or
ultrasonics since neither could
penetrate walls, or RF because of
FCC restrictions.
Pico's engineers designed
and patented a protocol that
passed signals through standard
home electrical wiring. Since
the Accutrac project had been
dubbed X-9, Pico called the
home control effort X-10.

X-10 proved popular with tech
early adopters and engineers.
When Fry's Electronics opened its
first store in Sunnyvale, CA, X-10
played a significant part of the
franchise's success. In 1980, X-10
began producing products for
Leviton and, in 1984, GE introduced
its X-10 Homeminder, a set-top box
and remote that allowed control
of the X-10 system from a TV
and away-from-home control via
phone lines. Several PC interface
control modules followed as well. In
1984, Lesser and his Pico partners
bought out BSR's interest, and
Lesser became president of X-10
(USA) in 1984. In 1989, the company
introduced the world's first low-cost
DIY wireless home security system,
followed by several other security
monitoring systems and services.
While X-10 achieved a level
of success with major retailers,
the company suffered one big
problem: it was alone in the
market. With no competition, X-10
by itself couldn't build a totally
new market with mainstream
consumers. But within the
industry, X-10 was hailed for
establishing a product and market
that had never existed.
Lesser retired as president of
X-10 USA in 2000. In December
2003, Lesser was elected to the
board of VOXX International.
Lesser also served as a member of
CTA's executive board from 1999
to 2000, and Industry Executive
Advisor from 2005-2010. 

In 1978, Lesser started selling
the X-10 system, consisting
of a 16-channel command
console, a lamp module and
an appliance module. He soon
followed by adding a wall
switch module. Two years later
a timer was introduced. After
a demo, Sears was dazzled,
and the system got a full page
in the retailer's January 1979
catalog. Sears installed X-10
demo consoles in all its 800
stores. Lesser then sold X-10 to
Radio Shack, which featured
it in both their catalog and its
5,000 stores.

logy

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018

39


https://www.cta.tech/

i3 - November/December 2018

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