Joseph Weisbecker

Joseph A. Weisbecker[1][2] (September 4, 1932 – November 15, 1990) was an early microprocessor and microcomputer researcher, as well as a gifted writer and designer of toys and games. He was a recipient of the David Sarnoff award for outstanding technical achievement, recipient of IEEEComputer magazine‘s “Best Paper” award, as well as several RCA lab awards for his work.

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Joseph Weisbecker
Joseph A. Weisbecker

(1932-09-04)September 4, 1932

Died November 15, 1990(1990-11-15) (aged 58)
Occupation Researcher
Known for Microprocessors

His designs include the RCA 1800 and 1802 processors, the 1861 “Pixie” graphics chip, the RCA Microtutor, the COSMAC ELF, RCA Studio II, and COSMAC VIP computers. His daughter Joyce Weisbecker took to programming his prototypes, becoming the first female video game designer in the process, using his language called CHIP-8.[3]

. . . Joseph Weisbecker . . .

Professionally, Weisbecker began working with digital logic and computer systems in 1951. It was also his hobby, however, and even his early work is marked by designs that are intended for educational or hobbyist use. These include a hobby tic-tac-toe computer built from relays in 1951, grade school educational aids built using lights and switches in 1955, and the Think-a-Dot, an inexpensive game to teach basic computer concepts in 1964. As a staff engineer at RCA, he performed advanced development research on LSI circuits as well as development of new product lines based on those circuits and other RCA products.

In 1970 and 1971, Weisbecker developed a new 8 bit architecture computer system. This work preceded the release of the 4004 by competitor Intel. He built a demonstration home computer powered by the 1802 called FRED (Flexible Recreational and Educational Device) that utilized cassette tape for storage and a television for display.[4] Subsequent to the success of the 4004, RCA released Weisbecker’s work as the COSMAC 1801R and 1801U using its CMOS process in 1975. In 1976 the two 1801 ICs were integrated into a single chip, the 1802.

In the time between 1971 and the production release of the 1800 series processor, Weisbecker developed a range of inexpensive application circuits for use with the 1800s, including light guns, card readers, and cassette interfaces. Several of these circuits were used in a demonstration model microprocessor-based electronic game system which anticipated home video games. The commercial promise of this system gave RCA the motivation they required to produce the 1800 series processors.

Weisbecker designed the 1861 PIXIE graphics processor in 1975 as a minimal-cost simple video output for microcomputer systems. In a single chip, it provided all the functions necessary for a bit-mapped graphic display.

During this same time (1975), Weisbecker developed an educational “development board” or “trainer” style single board computer, the RCA Microtutor, to teach basic computer concepts and programming. He also designed the production form of the home video game system, which became the RCA Studio II.

In 1976 Popular Electronics published Weisbecker’ design for the COSMAC ELF, a close relative to the Microtutor designed to be built at home by a hobbyist with no special computer resources. In 1977 further articles added 1861-based video to the Elf, similar to the Studio II, as well as additional memory and rudimentary operating systems.

In 1976, RCA released the COSMAC VIP, which not only had the features of an expanded Elf, but for which Weisbecker had created the CHIP-8 programming language. CHIP-8 is a very small high level language designed for easy keyboard and video interaction. It is still in use on many systems, notably the Z-80 based TI-38 calculators. But due to its simplicity, it can be on any platform and its teaching of programming Binary numbers, it is also to be found further a field on modern computers !

He later developed color graphic chips for use in a more advanced video game with expansion capabilities, as well as a line of color graphic terminals. Products using these included the Studio III.

. . . Joseph Weisbecker . . .

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. . . Joseph Weisbecker . . .

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