Robots, Games and a Pocket PC
by Andre Willey
START European Editor
Over the coming months in this column, I will try to keep you in touch with the latest news from all over Europe. There will necessarily be a bias towards the U.K., since after all, this is where Atari is currently working on some of their hottest new products, such as the new transputer-based Abaq workstation. a portable laptop ST (code-named Stacey), and the hand-held PC, pictured here. Keep in mind that the news I present in The European Report is just that: news. Some of these products may never actually appear in the United States, but I would like to keep you up-to-date on European Atari developments.
The Pocket PC
Perhaps the most surprising announcement from Atari U.K. at this writing is the prototype for the Pocket PC, the world's first pocket-sized IBM PC clone, designed in the U.K. by the Guildford-based Distributed Information Processing (DIP). This product is based on a series of custom-built low-power chips and a variation of the "smart card" system-used instead of conventional disk drives. DIP already has a pretty good track record for such designs-their managing director, David Frodsham, and their development director, Peter Baldwin, have both held senior positions as Psion, the company responsible for the popular Organizer and Organizer II systems.
DIP prototype of the Pocket PC, which is currently being ''Atari-ized." The
only things missing are function keys and a numeric keypad.
The Pocket PC is roughly the same size as the Organizer II and unfolds to reveal a full push-button QWERTY keyboard, minus numeric keypad or function keys. The Super Twist LCD display occupies the upper half of the unit and gives eight lines of 40 characters each, plus a simplified graphics capability. The Pocket PC will use a 5Mhz 8088 processor with 128K of CMOS RAM, expandable to 256K in 32K steps. This advanced CMOS technology has made the Pocket PC so power efficient that it runs on just two AA batteries or a separate AC adaptor. Atari has planned the official unveiling of the Pocket PC for the November COMDEX show.
Targeted at a release price of 200 Pounds in the U.K. (approximately $336 U.S. at current exchange rates), the Pocket PC will include an integrated five-in-one software package consisting of a word processor, spreadsheet, diary/time planner, address book and calculator- all linked by a universal "Clipboard" system that lets you pass notes and data among applications freely.
All of this software will be part of the machine's 256K ROM and should use very little RAM, thus leaving most of your 128K available as work space. The spreadsheet is Lotus 1-2-3-compatible and the word processor lets you export text to other systems in one of two ways: first, you'll be able to buy a smart card reader for full-sized IBM machines at around 100 pounds ($168 U.S.), which can read and write to the memory chips housed in these credit-card-sized packages. Although the cards work on a purely electronic storage method, the PC will be fooled into dealing with them just like any other external media-such as a floppy disk, for example.
Alternately, a special cable will be available to link the Pocket PC to the parallel port of other full-sized machines for fully bidirectional data transfer. Once you've transferred the information, you can store it on ordinary 51/4-inch or 31/2-inch disks.
German Atari User Show
Atari held its own German Atari User Show in West Germany from September 2-4, 1988, for over 27,000 dedicated Atari ST enthusiasts. They certainly weren't disappointed! Among the new items was the RoboKit interface system, complete with its computer-controlled robot arm system and plenty of Fisher Technic add-ons. Designed by Personal Robots Inc. from Henley-Upon-Thames, England, the basic kit will be available in four configurations: large and small versions of the robot arm itself, an elevator device and a mobile tractor/truck. These will connect to the ST via a special interface card that plugs into the cartridge port and supplies eight output and eight input control lines. These kits should help ST owners develop and test a host of practical engineering jobs.
announced the first
releases in a series
of high quality
wargames for the ST.
The software, which has taken considerable time to develop, lets you experiment with various engineering ideas and concepts using graphical representations of the real world - even before connecting the actual robot to the interface. The icon/menu system lets you plan your robot's activities in the sure knowledge that you can't run over the neighbor's dog- unless he too is represented in the computer's RAM-based model!
Also on display was Calamus, ISD Inc.'s new desktop publishing system that supports Linotronic output. (Editors note: A review of Calamus will appear in an upcoming issue of START.)
European Software Snippets
Atari U.K. has announced the first releases in a series of high quality war-games for the ST. Known as Battlescapes, the programs are extremely large-containing some 400K of code and a separate data disk-and feature an innovative system of real-time 3D views of the landscapes instead of the more usual, and rather dull, overhead view maps.
The gameplay is unusual in that the human player takes the part of the overall commander of his chosen army and supplies the game with ordinary written commands, just as in a text adventure game. From there on, the computer directly supervises the actions of all the subordinate generals and other officers and men, and then responds on behalf of the opposing forces.
The first title in the series, Borodino, sets the action during 1812 with Napoleon's French army pitted in a huge battle against the Russians. The second game is set 400 years ago during the time of the Spanish Armada-as the enemy fleet sails up the English Channel, will Sir Francis Drake finish playing bowles in time to defeat the Armada? Only you can supply the answer.
The author, Dr. Peter Turcan (also the author of Computer Scrabble, reviewed in the November 1988 issue of START), has spent over three years working on these first two releases, and he plans more in the series. By the time you read this, both games should be available for the ST for 29.95 pounds (about $50 U.S.), with PC versions following soon.
Next time I'll bring you an update on the latest Atari hardware developments-including the Stacey laptop ST and perhaps a rumor or two about the new super-secret Super ST with stereo sound and 4,096 colors, plus a report from the U.K. 's leading home computer exhibition, the Personal Computer Show at London's "Earl's Court" venue.
Andre Willey is the Technical Editor of Atari User magazine the leading United Kingdom professional Atari publication.