This AIM65, or Advanced Interactive Microcomputer with 8-bit 6502 microprocessor, was made by Rockwell in the USA in 1979. Scientists at CSIRO's National Measurement Laboratory in Sydney used it to control a calorimeter in which they measured the heat capacity of samples at very low temperatures. The microcomputer received results from digital voltmeters and sent them to a minicomputer for analysis. Computers allow a great deal of data to be gathered from experiments, revealing more detail than older methods of data acquisition.
This Rockwell AIM65 computer was used at the CSIRO National Measurement Laboratory (NML). It was one of the first single board computers to become available and accessible to a broad market at a reasonable cost (US$1,000). The term 'single board' meant it could stand alone; there was no need to add peripheral control cards as it had built-in keyboard, printer and display. The AIM was specifically marketed towards scientific research applications, in particular instrument control and instrument data logging.
This Rockwell AIM65 was used to control an adiabatic pulse-type calorimeter, an instrument that was designed to test the heat capacity of solid samples between 0.3 and 20 degrees Kelvin. The data acquisition control system used the AIM65 to control all aspects of the thermometry and heat injection. Experimental data was transferred to the host computer, a PDP11/34A that used the UNIX operating system, for reduction. The AIM65 interfaced simply with digital voltmeters, communicated without an elaborate interface to a network using a UNIX operating system, and could operate as a stand-alone unit.
Two software programs were used. The first allowed the AIM65 to control the experiment and acquire data from the various instruments. The other program formed a part of the UNIX operating system on the host computer network that received data from the AIM65. The AIM65 control program was written in BASIC, except for a short machine language section which enabled a timer to act as a clock to pace the measurements.
The NML's decision to purchase a Rockwell AIM65 was based on several factors including the following.
Cost - the AIM65 price tag of $1000 was a main attraction.
Programmability - the AIM 65 operated the BASIC high level language, making it easier to write and manage programs and tasks than if machine code was used.
Precision - employing the AIM65 for data acquisition removed the chance of error that sometimes occurs when data is read from an analogue chart recorder, the way data was previously recorded. When a chart machine receives data that causes the curve to change suddenly or drastically, the exact reading and event are difficult to interpret.
Performance - the AIM65's reliability and capacity to record larger volumes of data was also superior to previous data logging systems and devices.
Productivity - the reduction of time required for the interpretation of data recorded. The efficiency of operation offered reduced project time. As advised by the donor, no staff lost their job, but they did not need to work until 11pm any more.
Significance of the 6502 CHIP: the Rockwell AIM65 employed a Rockwell 6502 microprocessor (1MHz). The 6502 was a very popular 8-bit microprocessor in the late 1970s and the 1980s. The 6502 and its variants were used in many game systems and computers including: Apple II, Apple II+, Apple III, Apple IIe, Apple IIc, Apple IIc+, Commodore PET, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, Atari 400, Atari 800, Atari 800XL, Atari 1200XL, Atari 600XL, Atari 2600 (game system), MOS Technologies KIM-1, Rockwell AIM65, Oric-1, Oric Atmos, Oric Telestrat, Tangerine Microtan-65, Acorn Atom, Acorn BBC-A, Acorn BBC-B+, Acorn BBC-B, Acorn Electron. The 6502 was also used in the Nintendo entertainment system (NES).
The Rockwell International Corporation was involved in technology innovation in a number of areas, including microprocessors, factory automation controls and motors, radios, advanced aircraft and space vehicles, communications systems and global positioning systems.