Friday, September 4, 2015

Cosmac Elf Computer - Tales from the Crypt

Humanoido discovered an ancient historical dusty crypt with tons of original COSMAC Elf stuff from the 1970s, topped with the original color photo album over 40 years old (when common digital cameras did not exist).

The time capsule was opened on Friday September 4th, 2015, exactly 36 years from January of 1979. 

Remarkably, almost 4 decades later, near a half a century of time has passed, propelling the contents of the lonesome COSMAC ELF computer system and its original photos into a future world. Photos, amazing they survived the time travel experience, show the working COSMAC Elf computer, with power supply, an analog meter monitoring supply voltage, SONY 5-inch diagonal TV, Motherboard and ASCII keyboard for expansion.

Humanoido got his start on the 1802 processor chip, and by home brewing a wire wrapped 1802 computer system on a phenolic electronics board. This system was later expanded with Netronics boards.

This COSMAC Elf may have become the first vehicle computer, being placed in a Dodge pickup truck to keep track of mileage, navigation distances and directions, rates of travel, and displaying graphic trip maps.

The system was also the first to calculate telescope design data from the observatories first Telescope Systems Design Program as written and expanded by Humanoido in Tiny BASIC. This was instrumental in creating 40 and 50-inch telescopes, the largest amateur telescopes in the world at that time. The Elf program has survived the time and evolution of 8 different computing systems and language variances, and is currently in use today for designing CCD telescope systems.

Humanoido used the Elf computer in another science mechanics application to design a mirror grinding machine for astronomical telescope making. The program written calculated the size and rates of belts, pulleys, and motors.

The Elf was also used to compose and reproduce classical music and explore computer programming with the 1802 chip. The chip is often referenced to the 1802 chip series found in the Voyager spacecraft, the longest lasting probe in NASA's space program which has left the outer boundaries of the solar system and is approaching deep space.

This Netronics Cosmac Elf version with the RCA CDP1802MPU primary processor chip is running the famous Star Ship program. The graphics at the top are actual program code. The system has an RF modulator to feed the video to the TV, and since the photos were taken in 1979, this system was fully expanded and can run Tom Pittman's TINY BASIC software in 4K of RAM.

Like the Voyager Spacecraft in Deep Space, this COSMAC Elf computer system is working perfectly.  We can only speculate on the discoveries from new worlds in the next 40 years.

The materials and contents of the Crypt are now donated to the science museum. More information will appear at the COSMAC Elf web pages, links given below.