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2018 CT Hall of Fame: Peter Lesser

The Consumer Technology Hall of Fame honors visionaries who have made a significant impact on the consumer technology industry. These leaders and entrepreneurs have laid the foundation for the technologies, products, services and apps that are improving lives around the world.

Peter Lesser will be inducted along with 13 other industry leaders at an awards dinner on Wednesday evening, November 7, at Capitale in New York City. Over the next several months, i3 will highlight this prestigious class. Please join us for the awards dinner as we celebrate this extraordinary group of honorees. Register now!

Peter Lesser, Founder, X-10 USA

"Smart home" is now a familiar concept. But the seeds for today's familiarity with "smart home" were planted by the introduction of the X-10 home automation technology in 1978, and grown by X-10 USA, founded by Peter Lesser.

Lesser was born in the spring of 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 Olivetti to sell the company's Programma 101, the first self-contained desktop computer. In 1973, he was named VP of marketing at General Instrument's microelectronics division, which made chips for the first mass-produced chip-based calculators and Atari's Pong.

The GI chips Lesser was selling had been designed by Pico Electronics. By 1975, chip prices had dropped precipitously, so Pico developed a remote-controllable turntable called the Accutrac, and gave Lesser a demo.

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.

In 1978, Lesser started selling the X-10 system, consisting of a 16-channel command console, a lamp module and an appliance module, and soon followed with 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 of its 800 stores. Lesser then sold X-10 to Radio Shack, which featured it in both their catalog and its 5,000 stores.

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 before existed.

Lesser retired as president of X-10 USA in 2000. In December 2003, Lesser was elected to the board of VOXX International. Lesser was heavily involved in CTA, serving as a member of its executive board from 1999 to 2000, and Industry Executive Advisor from 2005-2010.

CTA Staff