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ERNIE, the first lottery computer

Ernst Erb Thomas Günzel Martin Renz Franz Harder 
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Emilio Ciardiello
Emilio Ciardiello
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25.Oct.11 21:57

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ERNIE, Electronic Random Number Indicating Equipment, was a computing machine designed to provide a list of winning bonds in a state lottery. In 1956 the British government decided to set up a lottery to distribute interest to be paid on Premium Bonds. A monthly draw was decided to assign tax-free money to the owners of a certain number of random selected bonds. Prizes could vary from 25 to 1 million pounds. ERNIE was designed at the British Post Office Research Station to generate the list of monthly winner bonds. The winning bonds were selected monthly from 690 million 9-digit numbers. The first time the computer had to print a list of about 60.000 nine digit different random numbers.

Here is the block diagram of ERNIE.

Design team was the same that built Colossus during WWII. The design was very advanced for the time, widely based upon PNP transistors and ferrite cores. Among the others, VB709, V10/30A and OC72 transistors were used. Vacuum tubes were still used in the heart of ERNIE a cluster of ten random number generators, nine in service and one spare. To grant true random numbers, generators were based upon the noise coming from a neon filled diode, the QS92/10, amplified by a chain of CV4002 pentodes.

Here is the photo of one random generator assembly.


ERNIE entered in service in 1957. Quite unusual for a foreign product, a six page article was given even by Electronics in July. Here is the article.



This article was edited 27.Oct.11 10:15 by Emilio Ciardiello .