The DRTE Computer (page 6)
Even as the construction of the DRTE computer was nearing completion, Florida was already planning important modifications to overcome the system's weak points. The input/output peripherals were the first major weakness in the system. With only a 10 character per second Flexowriter the machine could easily become output limited. The computer didn't have any high speed magnetic tape memory back-up facilities. However, in 1960 "work was in progress on tape layout and logical control" (Florida,1960:309). Florida also "intended to overcome the output limitations of the system by performing off-line printing. Output will be taken off the machine at high speed onto magnetic tape and then printed by running the magnetic tape at low speed" (Florida,1960:309).
Another weakness in the system was the small core memory. To expand the memory a more flexible address modification system would be needed. This would require more digits in the command word. As a consequence Florida proposed two new commands: UC (Until Countermanded) command and a NI (Next Instruction) command.
A major inadequacy in the Arithmetic Unit was its serial nature. A parallel Arithmetic Unit had already been designed by 1960. This would have dramatically increased the computational speed of the computer. According to Florida's estimates (Florida,l960) there would have been a l0-fold increase in the Arithmetic Unit's computational speed. Since the these new operating times were now close to the memory access time, Florida proposed a new scheme which would "...allow the memory processes to go on concurrently with the arithmetic processes". (Florida,l960:310). This would have added factor of 2 to the computational speed of the new parallel Arithmetic Unit.
In 1960 Florida claimed that the group would start work on very high speed computer circuit design. According to Florida, in 1960 the DRTE Electronics group had already developed 10 megahertz circuitry. This in itself was a l0-fold increase over the computer's clock speed. With the Increased clock speed and with proposed improvements in the Arithmetic unit, Florida was proposing an almost 200-fold increase in the computer's speed. The DRTE computer would have become a machine without rivals. ()
Few of Florida's proposals were ever implemented. It appears that adequate funding was hard to get. Lake feels that the computer project at DRTE had been under-funded throughout its life. This underfunding kept the computer project far behind schedule. By 1957, an experimental version of the Arithmetic Unit had already been successfully tested. Construction on the computer didn't start until 1958 and it took 2 1/2 years to complete. ()
Had the computer received a higher funding priority, it could have been developed much faster. Perhaps the improvements, mentioned above, suggested by Florida could have even been incorporated in the computer by 1961. That would have made the DRTE computer a truly innovative and unique machine by any standards. It is clear that the DRTE group had the know-how and brilliance to become an important centre for computer technology. It is clear that DRB did not place a high priority on the computer project. Once again this goes back to DRB's initial conception of the computer: a vehicle to explore digital transistor circuit design. As the computer reached completion, Lake recalls that
"it was funded in a largely clandestine way in the sense that it was justified to DRB as a Defence project to test transistors and circuits. It was not supposed to be a general purpose computer. But a number of people myself included, who came on to the project later, had no particular interest in testing transistor circuits. We were really interested in developing computer technology. ..J think David Florida was 50-50 [on this issue]. He was probably the most honest of all of us in the sense that I think he did have the other motive as well. ...Once some of the basic elements had been built and were running for a while, the electronics people largely lost interest. They had done their testing and moved on to better things". (Lake,l985:l0-ll)
It is not clear whether the DRTE computer work had any direct impact on the growth of the Canadian computer industry. Publications of their work was widely circulated to all concerned in Canada. However, all attempts to get Canadian companies to take up the DRTE computer met with failure. Moody had approached many companies with little success. By 1961-62 all work on computer design had come to an end. The computer itself very quickly became outdated. ()
The DRTE computer group made a great contribution to Canadian solid state electronics technology. In a few short years, the DRTE group built up an important international reputation. In the 1957 IRE-AIEE Transistor and Solid State Circuits Conference, the DRTE group delivered 4 papers. () The group demonstrated the high caliber of research and innovation that Canadian research centres could achieve when given a chance. Moody alone produced over 20 patents in the U.S.A., U.K., and Canada on transistor trigger circuits and digital transistor computer circuits.
Part of the group's success was due to Norman Moody's ability to nurture an engineer's curiosity and enthusiasm. When I asked Moody what role he played as administrator, he replied:
"The sort of role I always play. If the thing is going on successfully, I leave it alone. If someone is in trouble and he is trying to do good work, I try to help him out. If I think what he is doing is not good work I try to cut off the resources to him so that it decays. But you don't tell scientific people what to do and what not to do. You have to try to guide them. If you start telling them what they're to do and what they're not to do, they'll go somewhere else. Any scientist who's worth his job is enthusiastic and he'll work like a donkey if he's doing what interests him. The thing is to find out what interests him and let him get on with it unless it's completely out of line. Frank Davies ran two labs, the chap under him ran our labs said to me: Woody, what would you do if I were to stop one of the main projects we were working on?' I said: "I should leave and so will most of my staff as well. Does that answer it?' I heard no more about it. In fact, it wasn't a threat. This was a statement of life. You can't do this to a group of engineers. Look at the Arrow. If you stop it, you lose the whole lot". (Moody,1985:15)
The work done by Moody's group also proved to be invaluable in the development of Canada's satellite program. Moody remembers Frank Davies telling him that if it hadn't been for the early DRTE digital transistor circuit work the early Canadian satellite program wouldn't have been as successful. Moody's group had designed robust circuits that were not critically dependent on transistor parameters. This kind of knowledge was most important in designing circuits which could still function in harsh environments where transistor parameters could easily change. In this sense the circuits were very reliable. Moody remembers that the engineer in charge of the Alouette had been trained in the techniques developed by Moody's group. "He applied them with great care and great attention to detail. He knew of course that when that thing had got up you couldn't do anything about it" (Moody,1985:12).