A race of computers spanning eight decades was won by a BBC micro:bit operated and programmed by a nine-year old student.
The Grand Digital computer race was a fun event held to celebrate the tenth anniversary of The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park. Seven computers and one calculator, spanning a period of eight decades, were given 15 seconds to find numbers in the Fibonacci sequence.
Nine-year-old Connie, of Christ the Sower Ecumenical Primary School in Milton Keynes, wrote a program for the BBC micro:bit, a bare bones computer, which found 6843 numbers in the sequence in the allotted 15 seconds.
An iPhone 6s found only 4 numbers in that time – but it used Siri voice command and response to demonstrate just how far computers have come since the 1940s.
The slowest was the 1951 Harwell Dekatron / WITCH computer, the world’s oldest working digital computer. It found only three numbers.
Kevin Murrell, trustee of The National Museum of Computing and the Grand Digital race starter, said: “This is the first time that machines from so many decades of computing have raced together. We don’t think such an event could happen anywhere else in the world! The spectators loved it especially as our youngest operator won the race with a BBC micro:bit. Nine-year old Connie wrote the Fibonacci program herself – a fantastic achievement for someone so young and an inspiration for young computer scientists everywhere.
“I suspect this was the first of many Grand Digitals as we have many other original working computers, skilfully restored by our Museum volunteers, that could enter the race to demonstrate the advance of computing.”
Other machines in the 2018 Grand Digital race were a 1940’s Facit calculator (7 numbers), a 1965 PDP-8 (16), a 1977 Apple II (38), a 1981 BBC Micro (70), and a 1998 Windows 98 (1477). Not all computers were able to stay the full 15-second course because although their processors might be speedy and willing, their memory could not cope with the number of bits to store large numbers.
Operators (or jockeys) of the machines were mostly volunteers at the Museum: Peter Hoath (Facit), Delwyn Holroyd (WITCH), Adam Bradley (PDP-8), Robert Dowell (Apple II), BBC Micro (Sheridan Williams), Jill Clarke (PC with Windows 98), Connie (BBC micro:bit), and Daniel Mason and Charlotte Day (iPhone 6s). Steve Kay was clerk of the course and PJ Evans was the BBC micro:bit trainer.
By generating numbers in the Fibonacci sequence, the race honoured Fibonacci, the twelfth-century Italian mathematician regarded as the most talented Western mathematician of the Middle Ages. That sequence starts with 1 and progresses by adding the two numbers preceding it: 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 and so on.
About The National Museum of Computing
The National Museum of Computing, located on Bletchley Park in Block H, one of England’s ‘irreplaceable places’, is an independent charity housing the world's largest collection of functional historic computers, including the rebuilt Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer, and the WITCH, the world's oldest working digital computer. The Museum enables visitors to follow the development of computing from the ultra-secret pioneering efforts of the 1940s through the large systems and mainframes of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and the rise of personal computing in the 1980s and beyond.
The Museum runs a highly successful Learning Programme for schools and colleges and promotes introductions to computer coding amongst young people to inspire the next generation of computer scientists and engineers.
Sponsors of the Museum have included Bletchley Park Science and Innovation Centre, Fujitsu, InsightSoftware.com, Paessler, Sophos, Lenovo, Bloomberg, Ocado Technology, Ceravision, CreateOnline, 4Links, Google UK, IBM, NPL, HP Labs, FUZE and BCS.
The whole Museum is open to the public from 12 noon – 5 pm on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, spring and summer Bank Holidays. During long school holidays, there are additional opening days. The Colossus and Tunny galleries are open daily. Public and private Guided Tours are available and bookable online – see the website or the iPhone app for details. Educational and corporate group visits are available by prior arrangement.
For more information, see www.tnmoc.org and follow @tnmoc on Twitter and The National Museum of Computing on Facebook and Google+. A TNMOC iPhone App is also available from the iPhone App Store.
Stephen Fleming, Palam Communications, for The National Museum of Computing 01635 299116