Computers Everywhere
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Computers Everywhere

Embedded Computers

60 years since 'the Baby' first ran, it's hard to imagine life without computers, no web, no email, no MSN... But it's not just desktop computers we'd be without, there are computers hidden away or 'embedded' in all sorts of devices, even though there's no keyboard and display to be seen. Some people might consider that games consoles like the Nintendo Wii or Sony Playstation have a computer inside, but would they say the same about their washing machine, or microwave? The truth is that computers are found almost everywhere...just think about a typical day.


Hit the snooze button to stop the digital alarm clock from bleeping, as despite the heating having come on an hour earlier, it seems too early to get up! Ten minutes later and its time to begin the mad morning dash to make the train in time. Grab breakfast from the toaster, quick power shower, use electric toothbrush in one hand, electric razor in the other, set the house alarm, drive to station in car through traffic lights, get ticket from barrier entering car park. Checking the departure board, reveals there's still 3 minutes, enough time to buy a train ticket from ticket machine using credit card chip 'n' pin. Sitting on train, waiting at signals it's time to relax a bit, chill out to your MP3 player while snapping a quick picture of the dishy commuter sat opposite with your camera phone to text to a friend on your mobile. Arrive at work, grab a coffee from the vending machine to slug in the lift on the way to your desk to check emails and facebook on your computer.

So before you've got to work to use a 'proper computer' you've used a computer at least twenty times! How many computers have you used today?

From the example above, it's clear that embedded computers are much more prevalent than desktops. Think of the number of mobile phones in the world, and there's at least one computer inside. Add to that the number of digital music players, satnavs, digital cameras, set-top boxes, DVD players, etc and most other mobile gadgets that contain at least one computer chip. Counting the number of devices around us it's clear the number of embedded computers quickly racks up and it's not hard to see how last year ARM Ltd, a company that designs embedded computer processors, announced that the 10 billionth chip had been made.

Although the list of devices containing computers is almost endless, fundamentally, they all operate on the same principle, which can be traced back over 60 years to the first stored program computer produced here in Manchester, 'The Baby'.

Learn how far things have changed or learn more about 'the Baby'

cars, cameras, phones, mp3 players, alarm systems, ticket machines, microwave ovens, alarm clocks, set-top boxes, PDAs, chip and pin, GPS, traffic lights, car parks, supermarket tills,