Sophie Wilson (born Roger Wilson) designed one of the first British home-build microcomputers, the Acorn System 1 and was the genius behind much of Acorn's software. As a young student at Cambridge, her first embedded system was developed for a Harrogate company and was used by farmers to regulate cow feed. The cow-feeder project led on to the development of the hardware for the Acorn System 1.
Acorn's first computer was very successful and led eventually to the development of the pre-built Acorn Atom. In 1981 Wilson extended the Acorn Atom's BASIC programming language for the home-market-aimed Acorn Proton. The Proton enabled Acorn to win the contract with the BBC to develop the BBC Micro. BBC BASIC, as it came to be known, is widely acknowledged as the best BASIC implementation there has been and the BBC Micro family of computers were a great success for Acorn, selling over one million units from initial aims of 12,000.
In 1983, Wilson designed the instruction set for one of the first RISC processors, the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM), later to become one of the most successful IP-cores (i.e., a licensed CPU core) of the 1990s and 2000s. Acorn's two key design engineers on this project were Steve Furber and Sophie Wilson. Furber concentrated on the hardware architecture, while Wilson designed and refined the instruction set. Acorn's CEO at the time, Hermann Hauser, recalls that "while IBM spent months simulating their instruction sets on large mainframes, Sophie did it all in her brain." After several years' development, the Acorn Archimedes was the first fruit of the ARM project.
Wilson also diversified into image processing with the image processing application, ChangeFSI and this led to another project, Acorn Replay, which amazed both Acorn users and RISC OS licensees by allowing full-speed playback of AVI and MPEG video, on hardware as slow as a 25MHz ARM3 processor with no floating-point hardware.
Wilson was a member of the board of the technology and games company Eidos plc and was a consultant to ARM Ltd when it was split off from Acorn in 1990.
Sophie now works as Chief Architect at Broadcom in Cambridge.
Sophie Wilson was one of the women profiled in our Women in Computing Festival 2017 of entitled Where Did All the Women Go?. Click here for the Women in Computing timeline created for that event.
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