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The first big byte

The TDC-12, India’s first digital computer.  

The year 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the manufacture of the first digital computer in India. After being indigenously developed at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in 1969, the computer, TDC-12, was made by Electronics Corporation of India Ltd. (ECIL) in Hyderabad in 1971.

The efforts put in by ECIL in hardware and software development while bringing out a series of digital computers subsequently were phenomenal and laid the foundations for India’s computer industry.

Today, if the world sees India as a great source of expertise in information technology, it is undoubtedly because of the country’s champion technocrats who proved their worth. Generally one tends to look at, and admire, only the superstructures of the now-available wealth of IT skills, but fails often to recognise and respect the foundations laid by the visionaries in the early periods.

The evolution can be categorised in three phases. During Phase 1, the first set of digital computers was designed, and development models were made operational in R&D institutes such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). The development model TIFRAC was formally commissioned in 1960.

Computer-educated manpower was limited in India till the mid-1980s. Probably this could be one of the reasons such endeavours did not trigger the computer industry in India.

During Phase 2, the industry took roots and gave confidence to the country about the competence and potential of its people. During those days, when even a radio was manufactured under foreign collaboration, it was unthinkable to manufacture digital computers based on local designs. The efforts required to convert the development know-how of an R&D model into manufacture-worthy know-how were huge.

The credit of initiating manufacture based on indigenous development goes to stalwarts like A.S. Rao and S. Srikantan. Dr. Srikantan proposed to develop a 12-bit digital computer at BARC during 1964. The Trombay Digital Computer, or TDC-12, was inaugurated by Vikram Sarabhai on January 21, 1969.

During the late 1970s, when private industry started manufacturing digital computers in India, the ECIL developed a variety of application-specific hardware and software. The ECIL has been the first in many such application areas. It introduced computers in the LIC in 1981.

(The authors retired as senior officials of the ECIL)

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 6:35:06 AM |

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