National Physical Laboratory

Turing Turing at NPL

The work Alan Turing did on the Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) while based at NPL placed us as one of the world leaders in computing development in the 1940s and 1950s. 


Piloting Computing
A film exploring Alan Turing's Automatic Computing Engine, with interviews from his past colleagues.

Micro Video ThumbThe Pilot Ace
Recollections of the early development work...


Blank - NPL Alan Turing

After the war he moved to NPL in 1945, and produced his plans for the ACE computer in 1946...

Other notable figures who worked with Turing at NPL:

Although short, Turing’s time at NPL was instrumental to the design and eventual construction of the ACE computer, the first universal computer of its kind. His knowledge of his own abstract machines, the plans for the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer) and likely also Colossus (the computer used at Bletchley Park) was enough to convince him that his machine could be built and would work, despite there being no functional computers based on a similar model at the time.

Despite the setbacks, from lack of staff, technical expertise and funding, and despite Turing himself leaving NPL for good in 1948, the Pilot ACE was eventually built and demonstrated to the public and press in late 1950. This led to the development of DEUCE (the commercial version of the Pilot ACE) and finally ACE, the full-scale Automatic Computing Engine, in 1958.

Find out more...
Turing's time at NPL
The Pilot ACE computer
Turing's legacy


He was particularly fond of little programming tricks… and would chuckle with boyish good humour at any little tricks I may have used.

Jim Wilkinson

Image gallery

  • Turing running a race at the NPL Sports Day in December 1946. He finished in second place. Browse our image gallery for pictures of the ACE and Pilot ACE computers.
  • A chassis from the Pilot ACE, one of many that made up the memory bank of the entire computer.
  • A close up of the ‘short delay lines’ of the Pilot Ace.
  • The back of the Pilot ACE computer, with multiple chassis and the short delay lines at the bottom.
  • The magnetic drum, added to the Pilot ACE after its initial demonstration to the public to increase the memory capacity.
  • The chassis for the full ACE computer under construction, after the Pilot ACE had run its course.
  • The ‘Automatic Computing Progress’ exhibition in 1957, showcasing the computing work at NPL among computing progress in general.


Pilot ACE Proposal Mini Thumb

ACE Proposal
Turing's original proposal for the ACE computer.

Intelligent Machinery Mini Thumb "Intelligent Machinery"
A report by Turing on the possibility of a machine possessing the intelligence of man.

Note Thumb Turing Note
A note written by Turing to Woodger.

Note ThumbProgress Report on the ACE
A report from April 1948, which gives an introduction to some of the work carried out by Alan Turing and his collaborators at NPL.


Turing Timeline

View key milestones of the Pilot ACE and ACE computers with our interactive timeline


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