Jerry Lawson contributed to designing the Fairchild Channel F, which was a video game console released in 1976 that was specifically designed to use game interchangeable game cartridges. The Channel F also had a pause button on its controller, which was the first time this function was available on a home video game system.
One of the biggest hurdles for Lawson to overcome was designing a game cartridge that contained its own ROM storage and could be inserted and removed from the game console repeatedly–without shocking the user with electricity. This idea was so innovative and unique at the time, every game cartridge produced for the Channel F had to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to verify that the user would not be at risk for shock.
Most game systems in the 70s, including the more popular-selling Atari Pong, contained the games within the console itself on ROM storage and could not be removed or modified. While the Atari 2600 in 1977 was the most popular selling game console and had integrated the removable cartridge design, the concept of the commercial game cartridges has been attributed to Lawson’s work. The design, concept, and sales potential of the game cartridges remains the industry standard in video game consoles today.
How Jerry Lawson Helped Change the World
Gerald A. Lawson, known to everyone as Jerry, was largely self-taught and like most engineers, he had an interest in taking things apart and building them back up again into something better than before. By the age of 13, he earned an amateur ham radio operator license and in high school, he earned money repairing television sets. These interests fueled his electronic engineering passion and he cultivated skills for his future career.
Joining the Fairchild Semiconductor team in 1970, he created the arcade game Demolition Derby in his garage, making it one of the earliest microprocessor-driven games. He was one of two African-American members of the Homebrew Computer Club. This club of computer hobbyists included such members as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and played a key role in the development of the computer and “the rise of the Silicon Valley information technology industrial complex.”
In 1980, Lawson left Fairchild and founded a company called Videosoft that developed video game software for the Atari 2600. In March of 2011, he was honored for his game cartridge concept by the International Game Developers Association (IGDA). He was also posthumously named a Gaming Hero at the Independent Games Festival in 2019 for his contributions to the industry.
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