The roots of X10 sprang from a little engineering company in Scotland called Pico Electronics, Ltd. (Pico is now part of X10 Ltd.). Before the X10 project, Pico pioneered the development of the microprocessor and introduced the world’s first single-chip calculator. Dave Rye joined Pico in August, 1974 and after many years of traveling to the USA, after the founders of Pico formed X10, he eventually relocated to the States to become X10’s Vice President and Technical Manager.
X10 was a founding member of the Home Automation and Networking Association, and is widely regarded as the founder of the Home Automation Industry. The first X10 products were introduced in 1978. Over the years X10 has developed and manufactured Home Automation products for GE, RCA, IBM, Philips, Magnavox, Gemini, Leviton, RadioShack, ATI, Black & Decker, and other big name consumer electronics companies. X10 is regarded as the De Facto standard for Home Automation. Dave Rye was there through it all. He is truly one of the pioneers of the Home Automation Industry. I recently asked Dave to tell me about his 30 years with X10. Here’s Dave’s story:
Pico was founded in 1970 by a handful of engineers who prior to that worked for General Instrument Microelectronics (G.I.). The founders of Pico had the idea that it was possible to develop a single chip calculator (most calculators at the time used at least 5 ICs). Pico did that, and that calculator IC was actually the world’s first microprocessor.
In 1974 Pico came up with the idea of a record changer that would select tracks on a regular vinyl LP record. Pico developed the entire product including the custom IC (their background), all mechanical aspects, the industrial design, etc. We needed a manufacturer, and BSR at the time was the world’s biggest manufacturer of record changers. So a new venture was formed called Accutrac Ltd., a 50-50 partnership between BSR and Pico. BSR manufactured the record changer, called the Accutrac 2000, and went on to manufacture several models developed by Pico.
The success of the Accutrac projects funded the development of the next great idea: The Accutrac had many unique features, one of which was that it was remote controlled. It used a Pico developed “ultrasonic” remote control (a “clicker”). Remember, this was back in the mid 70’s before it was even popular for TVs to be remotely controlled. The remote control aspect of Accutrac spawned the idea of remotely controlling lights and appliances, and so in 1975 project X10 was conceived (there were 8 different calculator IC projects and the Accutrac was project X9).
The idea of using the existing AC wiring to transmit signals to control lights and appliances was conceived (like so many Pico/X10 ideas) over several drinks in a bar. If we had known then how long it would take us to get to where we are now, we would probably have moved on to project X11.
In 1978 X10 was introduced to the American public, RadioShack being the first customer. RadioShack are to this day still one of the biggest retailers of X10 products (private labeled for them as the Plug â€˜n Power system). Sears, Roebuck soon became our second customer. We already had a relationship with BSR, they had a good name and good distribution, and so we formed another 50-50 venture with them and founded X10 Ltd. On the evening of the press announcement to introduce the system we still didn’t have a name for it, so engineers being engineers, we settled on the name “The BSR System X10.” (In later years it became the X10 Powerhouse system).
Right from the beginning we intended that X10 products would be produced at low cost and in high volume so we set out to manufacture the products in the Far East. At first we used sub-contractors in Malaysia. By 1984 we had moved manufacturing to Hong Kong, had set up an office there, and at one point were managing 17 sub-contractors. This became a managerial nightmare. We found out that some of our sub-contractors were sub-sub-contracting into China. We thought “if they can do that, so can we” so we set up our own factory in China. Our first factory was in an area of Shenzhen that at the time was little more than a village. Now, 20 years later that area looks just like Hong Kong. We have since moved further into China, outside the first Shenzhen border. X10 was one of the pioneer western companies to set up shop in China.
A significant milestone in the Home Automation industry was the introduction of the GE Homeminder in 1984. This was developed and manufactured for GE by Pico/X10. It was developed in less than a year and to this day represents a phenomenal product that was way ahead of its time. It was a set-top box that connected to a TV (like a cable box) and was operated by an IR remote. It put graphical representations of lamps and appliances on the TV screen and let you control your whole home from your TV. It also allowed control from an outside telephone. There was also a version built into a high end TV. Many of its features are available today in other products but this was back in 1984 and it retailed for under $500 (including X10 modules).
The idea for the Homeminder came about because the year before that we had developed the world’s first computer interface, for the Mattel Aquarius computer (anyone remember that one?). The Aquarius died before it was introduced and we swiftly re-packaged the interface and rewrote the software for the RadioShack Color Computer. In the mean time we “stuffed” the Mattel interface into a GE TV and demonstrated the concept of Home Control from a TV. We also showed it to RCA and Zenith, but GE was the company that got excited by it.
The Mattel interface, which became the RadioShack Color Computer Interface, later became the CP290, which evolved into the CM11A with ActiveHome software, today still one of X10’s (and the Home Automation Industry’s) most successful products. We also developed and manufactured a version of ActiveHome for IBM who marketed it under their brand name, Home Director. That spawned a Home Director division that later spun off from IBM.
In 1988 X10 started manufacturing universal remotes for Universal Electronics, Inc. (UEI) under the One-For-All brand. We expanded this business to the point where we were manufacturing 1 million remotes a month. We now make remotes for many OEMs and have the best IR code library in the business. X10 are now one of the biggest manufacturers of universal remotes in the world.
In the 1989 we introduced the world’s first low-cost self-installed wireless security system – The SS5400. It was a breakthrough product for its time and there’s still nothing that compares to it for price-performance. It retailed for $79 for a four-piece system. We went on to develop the DS7000 Voice-Dialer security system, the DC8700 Monitored security system, as well as “I’ve fallen – I can’t get up” Personal Assistance versions of both. Today X10 is the world’s largest manufacturer of wireless self-installed security systems. In 1995 X10 set up its own monitoring station called ORCA Monitoring Services in Seattle, Washington. Today it monitors security systems that we developed and manufacture for various OEMs as well as our own X10 POWERHOUSE brand.
In 1997 we expanded our computer related products with the introduction of a wireless RF MouseREMOTE that lets you control your PC from across the room (or from another room). This, together with our breakthrough 2.4 GHz Video Senders, lets you play DVD movies on your PC, and view them on your big screen TV in another room in your home. And you have full control of the PC from where you’re sitting!
In 2000 we introduced the XCam 2.4 GHz miniature color camera that lets you to see and hear what’s going on anywhere inside or outside your home on any TV – with no wires! More recently came X10’s Wireless PC photo viewer, and our popular Lola Music System that lets you wirelessly access and play all your digital music (stored on your PC) from the convenience of your TV screen, located in a different room from your PC.
I joined Pico as an electronics design engineer in 1974. From 1976 thru 1979 I spent most of my time providing technical support to BSR in Birmingham, England on the Accutrac products that they were manufacturing under our guidance and supervision. In 1980 I developed an X10 controller that allowed a physically handicapped person to control their environment via a puff â€˜n sip switch. In 1981, and again in 1991 I was awarded recognition in the Johns Hopkins National Search for products to aid the disabled.
I’ve seen many changes in technology over the past 30 years. In the early years with X10 there were no personal computers. Then in 1984 I discovered the Macintosh. I purchased one of the first Macs. It had 512K of RAM (yes that’s K not Meg) and it had no hard drive! But boy what you could do with that Mac. I was one of the pioneer users of desktop publishing software (I beta tested software that preceded PageMaker). It was truly a revolution within X10. I took on the responsibility of producing all X10’s owner’s manuals, literature, and packaging, etc. all of which I did in-house on that that little old 512K Mac. I was one of the first to purchase the original Apple LaserWriter. I was first (in X10) to use a scanner, a digital camera, and the Internet – I was the first person in X10 to have an e-mail address! (It’s still DaveRye@aol.com).
In 1984 we split off from BSR and incorporated X10 (USA) Inc. (previously a wholly owned subsidiary of BSR). In 1987 the principals of X10 Ltd. purchased the 50% back from BSR and X10 once again became independent. The business has grown in leaps and bounds since then. Today X10 has an installed base of over 100 million units, and is the De Facto standard for Home Automation.
In 1995 we set up ORCA Monitoring Services in Seattle, Washington to handle the monitoring of our own security systems as well as those we sell to RadioShack and others. ORCA still exists but from it spun off a telemarketing company to sell X10 branded products, which later evolved into an Internet Marketing Company. Today this division, X10 Wireless Technology, Inc. (www.x10.com), is growing at a staggering pace. 2 years after its incorporation Media Metrix ranked it as one of the top 100 e-commerce Web Sites. Today X10 has operations in Hong Kong, China, Scotland, France, Canada, Seattle, Las Vegas, New Jersey, and Florida.
X10 has changed a lot over the years and I’ve grown with it. I was 23 years old when I joined Pico. That was 30 years ago, I was a kid then, I’m a Granddad now. I’ve spent more than Â½ my life with X10! It’s been a fun 30 years and I’m looking forward to what the future brings. It’s had its ups and downs, as they say “pioneers usually have some arrows in their back.” But X10 is going from strength to strength and the future has never been brighter!
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Dave Rye is Vice President and Technical Manager of X10 (USA) Inc., and has been with X10 an incredible 30 years. Dave is responsible for technical liaison between Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and X10’s engineering staffs in Scotland, Hong Kong, and the USA. He procures industry approvals (FCC and UL) for all X10 products, as well as those developed and manufactured by X10 for its OEMs. His duties include technical writing, and production of X10 brand literature, manuals, and packaging, as well as supporting X10’s customer service department. He is an industry expert and has written many articles on Home Automation and Security. He has acted as an editorial consultant for several books on Home Automation. He has acted as a judge in the Home Automation and Networking Association’s (HANA*) Annual Mark of Excellence Awards. He has served on HANA’s Board of Directors, has served on several HANA committees, and has held the office of HANA Secretary/Treasurer. He holds 5 Home Automation related patents as well as others that are pending. * Note, HANA is now part of CEA.