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Day: 10 September 2021

Sixty years ago, BUT entered the era of computers. A conference will commemorate this anniversary


Sixty years ago, the first computer was installed at the Brno University of Technology and a separate Laboratory of Computing Machines began to function fully. However, the beginnings of computer science at BUT were complex, so the first LGP-30 computer and the new laboratory found their home at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.

The Laboratory of Computing Machines was established by a decision of the Rector at the Department of Mathematics of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in 1959, another source states the establishment of the laboratory as an independent department at the Faculty in 1961. But it is certain since when the workplace could be proud of its own computer, which was the first at BUT: in 1961, the ministry decided to purchase and install the LGP-30 computer.

"It was a fairly small and unique computer at the time. And also very progressive. Many computers were rather experimental at the time, so they suffered from, so to speak, childhood diseases. On the contrary, LGP-30 was a commercially produced computer, which was not used for experiments, but for calculations," remembers Branislav Lacko, who worked on the computer as a student and still works at BUT at the Institute of Automation and Computer Science, FME.

LGP-30 computer operation (photo: FIT BUT archives)

The LGP-30 computer was also unique for its time in that, as an American technology, it even got behind the Iron Curtain. It had been produced in the USA since 1956 and was available for purchase for $ 47,000, which would be almost half a million dollars in terms of prices in 2020. "At that time, large mainframe computers, mostly of Soviet production, were already installed in Czechoslovakia, but the university could not afford them. In addition, it was the beginning of the 1960s, the Prague Spring was slowly approaching, and a loosening began. Probably that's why it was possible to bring this computer here," Lacko thinks. He himself planned the calculations for his diploma thesis, but the computational possibilities of the LGP-30 computer proved to be insufficient, so he finally completed the diploma on other, later installed machines.

In 1962, the LGP-30 computer was already in full operation, installed in a building in today's Údolní Street, the then Obránců míru. "The computer was firmly connected to an electric typewriter, which punched eight-foot punched tape, so it was used to enter data and instructions, i.e. to operate the computer. Other separate electric typewriters were in the so-called punch. Because not everyone could operate them, instructions were written on special forms and later the punch workers punched them into the punched tape," recalls Lacko.

Laboratory of Computer Machines (photo: publication "75 years of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, BUT")

The laboratory of computing machines served as a computer centre not only for BUT, but also for other institutions or manufacturing companies. At the time, this workplace was the largest from all universities in Czechoslovakia in terms of facilities. In addition to providing computing time for research, it also began educating the first computer professionals. "From the beginning, computers were also used for teaching. However, at that time the subjects were not entirely common, but rather exceptionally offered. Usually, students showed up with a simple program punched in the tape to perform some calculation. At that time, there was no idea what to teach and whom," adds Lacko.

The first LGP-30 computer was soon overshadowed by more powerful mainframe computers: in January 1966, the Soviet MINSK 22 was installed at BUT, half a year later the Swedish DATASAAB D21 was added, and finally, in September 1972 the Czechoslovak TESLA 200 computer came. In 1975, the laboratory had about 80 employees and computers were used for three shifts, often also on weekends. The LGP-30 computer later moved to the Department of Automatic Computers, which was founded in 1964 at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and where today's FIT has its roots. On the contrary, the CIS organizational unit was established in 1992 from the Laboratory of Computing Machines, which is still committed to the legacy of the Laboratory of Computing Machines.

The Technical Museum in Brno is preparing a professional conference on the topic on 22 September, details can be found here.

[img] Laboratory of Computer Machines (photo: publication "75 years of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, BUT")

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