Jeri Ellsworth

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Jeri Ellsworth
Jeri Ellsworth
Jeri Ellsworth, 2008
Born (1974-08-14) August 14, 1974 (age 46)
Georgia, United States[1]
Known forEntrepreneur
Chip designer
Website Edit this on Wikidata

Jeri Janet Ellsworth (born August 14, 1974) is an American entrepreneur and computer chip designer and inventor. She gained fame in 2004 for creating a complete Commodore 64 system on a chip housed within a joystick, called C64 Direct-to-TV. It runs 30 video games from the early 1980s, and at peak, sold over 70,000 units in a single day via the QVC shopping channel.[2]

Ellsworth co-founded CastAR (formerly Technical Illusions) in 2013 and stayed with the company until it shut down on June 26, 2017.[3][4] In late 2014, she moved from Seattle to Mountain View, California with the CastAR team.[1][5]

Early life[edit]

Ellsworth was born in Georgia[1] and grew up in the towns of Dallas, Oregon and Yamhill, Oregon.[6] Her mother died when she was one,[6] so Ellsworth was raised by her father, a local Mobil service station owner. As a child, she persuaded her father to let her use a Commodore 64 computer which had been originally purchased for her brother. She taught herself to program by reading the C64's manuals. While at high school, she drove dirt-track race cars with her father, and then began designing new models in his workshop, eventually selling her own custom race cars. This allowed her to drop out of high school to continue the business.

Jeri Ellsworth stands in front of her store, Computers Made Easy, in December 2000.

In 1995, at the age of 21, Ellsworth decided that she wanted to get away from the race car business,[7] and she and a friend started a business selling PCs based around the Intel 486 microprocessor, assembling and selling computers. When she and her partner[who?] later had a disagreement, Ellsworth opened a separate business in competition. This became a chain of four stores, "Computers Made Easy", selling computer equipment in towns in Oregon.[8] She sold the chain in 2000 and moved to Walla Walla, Washington to attend Walla Walla College, studying circuit design. She dropped out after a year due to a "cultural mismatch"; Ellsworth said that questioning professors' answers was frowned upon.[2]

Hardware design[edit]

Ellsworth at Bay Area Maker Faire 2009

In 2000, Ellsworth attended her first Commodore exposition, where she unveiled a prototype video expansion for the C64. This project later evolved to become the CommodoreOne, a.k.a. the C-One, and C64-DTV, and a video on YouTube "Expo Jeri 1st". Ellsworth then began designing computer circuits that mimicked the behavior of her first computer, the Commodore 64. In 2002, she designed the chip used in the C-One[9] as an enhanced Commodore 64 which could also emulate other home computers of the early 1980s, including the VIC-20 and Sinclair ZX81. She and her fellow developer displayed the C-One at a technology conference, which led to Ellsworth receiving a job offer from Mammoth Toys, which hired her to design the "computer in a chip" for the Commodore-emulating joystick. She began the project in June 2004 and had the project ready to ship by that Christmas. It sold over a half-million units, in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. She didn't receive payment, nor the commission she was owed,[6] but a story in the New York Times brought her to the public eye.[10][6]

On December 3, 2010 Ellsworth released information on how to build a TSA "naked" scanner using repurposed satellite antenna parts.[11] Ellsworth has published numerous technical articles online regarding subjects as diverse as homemade semiconductors (2009), homemade electroluminescent (EL) displays (2010), EL phosphor manufacture from common ingredients and ways to make transparent EL backplanes and phosphor without using expensive indium-tin-oxide coated glass and hard-to-obtain chemicals.[12]

Ellsworth was named "MacGyver of the Day" on February 25, 2010 by Lifehacker.[13]

Augmented reality[edit]

In early 2012, Ellsworth and other hardware hackers were hired by Valve to work on gaming hardware.[14] Along with several other Valve employees, Ellsworth was dismissed the following year.[15][16][17]

On May 18, 2013, Ellsworth announced that she had developed an augmented reality development system named castAR with fellow ex-Valve engineer Rick Johnson,[18] with the blessing of Valve's Gabe Newell,[19] and would be funding it via Kickstarter later in the year. Her start-up company, Technical Illusions, started developing castAR.[20]

Ellsworth later revealed she had been secretly working to make castAR have "true VR and true AR" in addition to the previously announced projected AR capabilities.[21] The castAR Kickstarter,[22] launched on October 14, 2013, reached its goal of $400,000 in 56 hours and finished with $1.05 million, 263% of the original goal.[23] The project didn't deliver the devices and paid back the funds to backers before shutting down the company in 2017.[24]

In September 2019, Ellsworth initiated a Kickstarter for a new device based on the same principles of the castAR, called Tilt Five.[25]

Public speaking and webcasts[edit]

Ellsworth was a keynote speaker at the Embedded Systems Conference on May 5, 2011.[26] Ellsworth has made significant contributions[vague] to ongoing work on DIY transistors in relation to rapid prototyping as well as thick film fabrication of EL displays using off the shelf chemicals.[citation needed]

From December 2008 until March 2009, Ellsworth hosted a weekly webcast, Fatman and Circuit Girl, together with musician George Sanger.[27][28] On May 30, 2009, Ellsworth demonstrated her Home Chip Lab at Maker Faire Bay Area 2009.[29]

Personal life[edit]

Ellsworth is a pinball aficionado and owns over 80 pinball machines.[1] In 2016, she became a licensed amateur radio operator, holding an Extra Class license.[30]


  1. ^ a b c d Lee, Nicole (October 17, 2014). "castAR bets big on its augmented reality hardware with move to Silicon Valley". Engadget. Retrieved February 7, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Markoff, John (December 20, 2004). "A Toy with a Story". New York Times.
  3. ^ Benchoff, Brian (June 27, 2017). "CastAR Shuts Doors". Hackaday.
  4. ^ "#394 – Jeri Ellsworth and the demise of CastAR". The Amp Hour Electronics Podcast. May 29, 2018. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  5. ^ Takahashi, Dean (October 3, 2014). "The DeanBeat: Seattle makes its move to become the capital of virtual reality startups". VentureBeat. Retrieved June 13, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d Jeri Ellsworth, self-taught engineer, talks about her career, retrieved October 23, 2019
  7. ^ "Jeri Ellsworth, self-taught engineer, talks about her career". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  8. ^ Monahan, Matt (January 25, 2005). "Joy of electronics sticks with woman, sparking invention". Statesman Journal. Archived from the original on February 21, 2006. Retrieved March 22, 2011.
  9. ^ "C-One website". Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  10. ^ Markoff, John (December 20, 2004). "A Toy With a Story". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  11. ^ "Make Your Own TSA "Naked" Scanner". Hackaday. December 3, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  12. ^ "Make: Online | Jeri Ellsworth turns an LCD into an EL display". June 11, 2010. Archived from the original on April 26, 2011. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  13. ^ Torrone, Phil (February 25, 2010). "MacGyver of the Day: Electronics Hacker Jeri Ellsworth".
  14. ^ ""I'm working at Valve on nextgen gaming hardware" – Jeri Ellsworth".
  15. ^ "Jeri Ellsworth on Twitter: "Yup. Got fired today. Time for new exciting projects."". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  16. ^ "Gamasutra: Several out of work as Valve makes 'large decisions' about its future". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  17. ^ Ben Gilbert. "Engadget: Valve's Gabe Newell on reported layoffs". Engadget. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  18. ^ How two Valve engineers walked away with the company's augmented reality glasses
  19. ^ cast AR hands-on with Jeri Ellsworth at Maker Faire 2013,, retrieved October 6, 2014
  20. ^ "Technical Illusions". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  21. ^ "CastAR VR / AR System – The 18 Month Story". YouTube. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  22. ^ "castAR: the most versatile AR & VR system". Kickstarter. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  23. ^ "castAR: the most versatile AR & VR system". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  24. ^ Robertson, Adi (June 27, 2017). "Ambitious augmented reality startup CastAR reportedly shuts down". The Verge. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  25. ^ Hollister, Sean (September 24, 2019). "Jeri Ellsworth's unique AR glasses are back from the dead". The Verge. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  26. ^ "Jeri Ellsworth, self-taught engineer, talks about her career". YouTube. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
  27. ^ Branwyn, Gareth (April 28, 2009). "Latest Fatman and Circuit Girl vids". Make. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  28. ^ Joyce, Matt (June 25, 2009). "Fatman and Circuit Girl (Jeri Ellsworth – Rollerderby Superstar) Cover Noah's AR Rig at Notacon". NYC Resistor. Retrieved June 12, 2014.
  29. ^ "Events filled with DIY projects, science, demos, recycling, entertainment, and fun". Archived from the original on December 18, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2011.
  30. ^ "FCC ULS Search". Retrieved November 19, 2016.

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