National Physical Laboratory

Pilot ACE – NPL's legacy

Today's ability to multi-task on our computers is taken for granted, but it all started with NPL's Pilot ACE Computer and the genius of mathematician Alan Turing.

The Pilot ACE Computer

The Guardian website features a short video about NPL's Pilot ACE, the world's first multi-tasking computer.

During the second half of the twentieth century, the use of computers transformed life in the developed world. NPL is one of the places that gave birth to modern computing; Alan Turing played a leading role and his plans led to the development of the Pilot ACE and ACE computers.

Work begins on the world's first Automatic Computing Engine (ACE) in 1946, with the final improved version going into service in 1958. The total cost of developing the ACE was £250,000.

Alan Turing was part of a group being formed for the design, construction and use of a large automatic computing engine. During his time at NPL, he made the first plan of the ACE and carried out a great deal of pioneering work in the design of subroutines. It was soon used for solving partial differential equations for use in applications including the design of aircraft, ships and electronic apparatus.

There are also two short films of Mr M Woodger and Dr J  Wilkinson, both members of the Pilot ACE group, discussing their roles in the project – The Pilot ACE Part One and Part Two.

Find out more about the History of NPL Computing.

Last Updated: 3 Mar 2011
Created: 3 Mar 2011