VR Brings One Of The Earliest Computers Back

VR Brings One Of The Earliest Computers Back
October 30, 2018
Image captionLyons Electronic Office, built from 1949, was one of the world's first computers


One of the world's first computers, which "revolutionised" business, could be recreated in virtual reality.


Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) was created 75 years ago to help run J. Lyons & Co., a tea shop chain and food manufacturer, which had 35,000 workers.


The system managed stock control and could calculate staff pay in a fraction of the time it took to do manually.


The UK Computer Museum in Cambridge has been awarded £100,000 to digitise artefacts and documents related to it.

J. Lyons was founded in 1884 and decided to invest in computer research by Cambridge University in the 1940s.


It wanted an electronic system to streamline its business and improve efficiency.


As well as making administrative duties more efficient, orders could be placed by predicting stock levels, based on complex data including weather forecasts.

Jason Fitzpatrick, from the UK Computer Museum, said: "All the machines that went before had only been used by researchers and governments.


"LEO basically changed business forever, it was revolutionary and has had an effect on everybody's lives.


"It was a new way of thinking about computers and what they could do."


LEO in numbers

- Building began in 1949 and ran its first programme two years later

- The system had more than 6,000 valves

- Its cabinets and air conditioning occupied 5,000 sq ft (465 sq m) - larger than two tennis courts

- It could calculate an employee's weekly pay in 1.5 seconds, rather than the eight minutes it took a human to do the task

The company began to close tea shops in the 1960s and the business was eventually broken up, with its computing subsidiary ultimately forming part of Fujitsu.


Very little remains of LEO, as it was dismantled as technology advanced.


But a £100,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund will allow the museum to digitise its archive of manuals and documentation over the coming months, and explore the possibility of building a virtual reality replica.


"It's about inspiring another generation to take these ideas and to move forward with them," Mr Fitzpatrick said.

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