US Public School AC Still Controlled by Amiga from the 80’s

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( — June 19, 2015) — Grand Rapids, Mich. – Public schools in Grand Rapids have an air-conditioning system that is controlled by digital technology from early 1980’s, according to the local Michigan WoodTV. Since it was installed to regulate the school’s air-cooling and heating, the Commodore Amiga personal computer has worked perfectly.

According to GRPS Maintenance Supervisor Tim Hopkins, the computer which was purchased with money from an energy bond in the 1980s, is responsible for 19 buildings. When it was installed, Amiga represented the computer technology marvel of its time. It replaced a computer that was “about the size of a refrigerator.” Even though personal computers have drastically changed since the 80’s, theGrand Rapids Amiga confirms that if somwthing works, it shouldn’t need to be replaced.

“The system controls the start/stop of boilers, the start/stop of fans, pumps, [it] monitors space temperatures, and so on,” Hopkins explained.

Reportedly, the programmer, a Kentwood high school student who wrote the original software for Amiga back in 80’s, still lives in the area, so he fixes and adjusts the software whenever the district has a problem with the computer, Hopkins said, adding that the parts for hardware are really hard to find. Surprisingly the core of Amiga is still working perfectly, although it is running on its second mouse and third monitor.

“It’s a very unique product. It operates on a 1200-bit modem,” said Hopkins. “How it runs, the software that it’s running, is unique to the Commodore.”

According to Hopkins, the system communicates by using a radio frequency for sending those long forgotten beeps and sounds to school buildings, which reply within a matter of seconds with their status. The only problem is that the maintenance uses the same frequency for their walkie-talkies, so if they hear the recognizable sound on the channel, they just wait while the communication is finished.

“it depends on what we’re doing — yes, they do interfere,” Hopkins said, adding that if the interference occurs, maintenance has to “clear the radio and get everyone off of it for up to 15 minutes,” Hopkins said.

According to the school maintenance manager, a new more contemporary computerized AC system would cost the school budget up to $2 million, and the school simply doesn’t have those funds. If the system broke tomorrow, the staff person would have to turn each building’s climate control systems on and off manually.  However, if voters pass a $175 million bond proposal in November, the computer could make the list of things to be replaced, although it wouldn’t be the priority.