This BBC Micro Emulator Takes You Back to 1981

This BBC Micro Emulator Takes You Back to 1981
Photo: Stuart Brady/Wikipedia, Other

If you are of a certain age and nationality, you’ll remember the BBC Micro or Beeb, a computer produced by Acorn for the BBC Computer Literacy Project, an effort by British Broadcasting Corporation to bring computer literacy to the lads and lasses of that fair isle. The Beeb is a beloved piece of hardware to many makers, including Eben Upton of Raspberry Pi fame who made his single-board computers after reimagining the BBC Micro.

A group of programmers, Dominic Pajak, Matt Godbolt, and Kieran Connell, got together and decided to emulate the Beeb using modern tools. The result is the editor, aka Owlet — an emulator that runs BBC Basic in your browser — and the amazing BBCMicroBot that will run BBC Basic and then output the results in a tweet.

“They, like me, owe their career start to that first exposure to computing via stuff like BBC Micro,” Pajak said in a Twitter interview.

The results have been pretty exciting. For example, someone built a ray tracer in a tweet, creating those familiar reflective balls that you might remember from computer demos from the 1980s and 1990s.

“I wanted to bring back to life a classic 80s computer that inspired a whole generation in the UK,” said Pajak. “People have been creating amazing pixel art, fractals even a ray tracer in a single tweet. Raspberry Pi founder Eben Upton sent in an implementation of Conway’s Life in 6502 machine code.”

Screenshot: BBCMicroBot, Other Screenshot: BBCMicroBot, Other

It’s not all MIT-quality code, though.

“A lot of people doing 10 PRINT “POOP” / 20 GOTO 10,” he said.

Pajak said he and his collaborators believe access to older technology encourages experimentation in the same way Raspberry Pi and Arduino are training a new generation of developers.

Screenshot: BBCMicroBot, Other Screenshot: BBCMicroBot, Other

The best part? They don’t have to clack away on 40-year-old hardware to do something cool. In fact, the emulator is now supercharged.

“We added a 10GHz 6502 emulator on the back end. Now you can see in a few seconds what would be an overnight render on a BBC Micro,” said Pajak.

You can check out a gallery of demos at the BBCMicroBot web page.