[vcf-midatlantic] MOBIDIC replica project
evan at vcfed.org
Tue Nov 28 13:19:19 EST 2017
I want us to build a MOBIDIC replica at the museum.
Background for any newer list members who aren't aware: MOBIDIC --
Mobile Digital Computer -- was a first-gen (1956) transistor computer
designed by the staff of Camp Evans, which is the Army Signal Corps
secret electronics R&D facility that's now the InfoAge Science Center,
which hosts the VCF museum among many other groups.
MOBIDIC was not the "first" mobile computer. For example, the National
Bureau of Standards (today called NIST) made DYSEAC in 1953. However
DYSEAC was a one-time prototype, whereas Sylvania (in Massachusetts,
under contract to Camp Evans) built six MOBIDIC computers all of which
were successfully used in field operations for several years. Sylvania
also made two 9400 computers which were faster versions of the MOBIDIC
"Mobile" is relative. :) Each MOBIDIC was installed in two 30-ft.
trailers. One for the computer itself, one for power, cooling, etc.,
with the trailers attached by cables/hoses when in use.
None of the six MOBIDICs or two 9400s exist today.
Our museum has a beat-up scale model of the computer trailer. Computer
History Museum (our friends out in California) have a better model.
There are various pictures on the Internet. There are large amounts of
public/private documents from the Army/Sylvania about details of the
electronic design, architecture, components, programming, etc., most of
(all?) of which I obtained while writing my book "Abacus to smartphone:
The evolution of mobile and portable computers" published in 2015
From this information, I believe a replica MOBIDIC could be
constructed. At least, a fullish-scale model could be made, and we could
let visitors walk inside to see it. At best, someone could emulate the
software so the model could "work". (I can't fathom building a complete
truly "working" exact clone.)
Conveniently, there are two 50s/60s-era Army-green trailers parked at
InfoAge. They're under control of the electronic warfare group, whose
leader (John C.) is a super-nice guy. We get along well. A while ago I
asked him if we could use one trailer for this purpose. We "just" need
the know-how and money to do it.
So if we do this, the replica would only be of the computer trailer, not
of the support trailer. I envision plenty of signs explaining to
visitors that this trailer is HALF an installation.
I have some ideas about how to fund the project, but there's no point
getting into that until we understand how much work is really involved
and what it would cost.
* I wrote "fullish-scale", not full-scale, because I haven't measured
the length of the available trailers. It would be close.
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