Applied Microsystems - a brief history

The formation of Applied Microsystems as a limited company in the UK dates back to 1980 - previously it traded as Digital Timing Systems and, as the name suggests, specialised in sports timing with show jumping as the main sport featured.

The company built a variety of electronic devices many of which were directed towards TV broadcasting. Clocks were supplied to several TV programmes, even Top of the Pops on one occasion!

The microprocessor - our lives were changed for ever!

In the mid 1970's a revolution occured and we were right there to witness the arrival of the first microprocessors from Intel - firstly the 4040 which grew into the 8080. Motorola followed rapidly with the 6800 which is the basis for all our early designs - we now use the 68HC16 which is the current successor to the 6800 line of processors.

Soon after the arrival of the 8080, the first IBM PCs arrived, powered by the Intel 8086 processor.

So, this was a very exciting time for anyone involved in electronic design! And we also had the perfect project on which to try out the new microprocesors, namely Building Managent Systems (BMS). At this time (1970-75), most buildings had fire alarms, heating and air-conditioning controls with a central rack of equipment to which all the sensors and controls were connected directly . This made for a very large bundle of wires!

Our first designs rejected this method outright in favour of 'outstations', ie panels around the building to which local sensors were connected. All outstations were then connected onto a common 'bus', ie a simple 4-core cable which looped around the building and onto which all outstations were connected. A central processor 'polled' each outstation in turn and the outstations sent back all their data in a serial stream down the one cable.

We don't claim to have been the first to use this method by any means but a system from one of our competitors at the time used parallel wiring and the contrast between our simple 4-core cables and the parallel wiring approach was quite dramatic as both system sat together in the same control room.

Now, of course, all data communications around a building use a similar 'bus' and this is not limited to BMS. All large buildings are pre-wired with a network of cabling normally defined as CAT5 and this enables easy instalation of computer networks. One day all new homes may be pre-wired with CAT5 wiring. As the bandwidth increases, so it becomes practical to send a mixture of data along these wires and this includes TV and sound in addition to controls for electrical items in the house. An enticing prospect? Well, we're not sure about that - sometimes we think technology moves too far ahead of what us simple humans actually want (or understand!).

We designed several systems using our newly aquired microprocessor in the period before the IBM PC became generally available so we had to design our own 'front-end', ie the part that the user (who will probably be completely non-technical) will use. We had to use a very expensive colour terminal to display graphics of the buildings in addition to a simple text-only terminal whereas now, of course, the PC provides a wonderful front-end for the user and we take full advantage of this to creat graphics and menus in our own software.

In fact one can see a thread which runs through most pages on this site - that is, a single wire 'bus' is now used to carry many signals whereas pre-1970 this would have required much multicore cable. We have the microprocessor to thank for that, together with other advances in electronics of course, but a company such as ourselves can write extremely fast and compact data transmission software to run on a chip which costs less than £5 whereas before about 1975 this simply was not possible.

So that really brings us up to date. The company closed at the end of March 06, but I wanted to leave the story of Applied Microsystems on my new "Mezcla" website.