BBC Micro designer gets New Year's Honour

BBC Micro designer gets New Year's Honour

Summary: A CBE goes to Steve Furber, who was a principal designer of the legendary BBC Micro and is now leading a project to model the human brain using a million ARM processors

TOPICS: Hardware

A principal designer of the BBC Micro computer has been recognised for his services to computer science in the Queen's New Year's Honours.

Steve Furber (pictured), who is now a professor of computer engineering at the University of Manchester, was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

"I'm delighted. It came completely out of the blue," Furber told on Wednesday.

His success with the BBC Micro came during a 10-year spell in the R&D department of Acorn, the computer's manufacturer. In his time there, he was the primary hardware architect behind the "Beeb", as it became affectionately known. "Most of the electronics on the PCB were my design," he said. "They were based on a machine I'd built at home a year earlier."

Furber also helped to develop ARM's 32-bit RISC microprocessor, the evolution of which is now widespread in mobile devices. His efforts contributed at the time to a Queen's Award for Technology, which was received by his employer.

Furber is now a fellow of both the British Computer Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and has become an author with a book on ARM's system-on-chip architecture.

He is currently heading the University of Manchester's Spinnaker project, which aims to build a machine that incorporates a million ARM processors to model the human brain. An early prototype should be finished this year, with a "modest machine" ready by the end of 2009, Furber said.

ARM is investing commercially in Spinnaker, along with Silistix, a Silicon Valley company which makes interconnects for ARM chips.

The BBC Micro had been a surprise hit for Acorn. It became so popular in schools that 1.5 million were eventually sold, and some customers endured long delays as demand vastly outstripped the rate Acorn could turn out the computers. "Everyone was surprised by the scale of takeup of the BBC Micro. People spoke of selling as many as 12,000 machines. Everyone was taken a bit by surprise," said Furber.

The beige-coloured machine was built in 1981 for the BBC's Computer Literacy Project, which aimed to highlight to the nation the growing importance of what were then often refered to as microcomputers.

The BBC had wanted a machine which could offer successful programming, graphics, sound, Teletext and artificial intelligence, among other requirements.

Furber's honour comes one year after Andy Hoppoer, co-founder of Acorn, received his CBE. Herman Hauser, also an Acorn co-founder, received his CBE in 2002.

Topic: Hardware

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