At the UK launch of Symbolics Inc’s Ivory single-chip Lisp processor earlier this week (CI No 693), the company announced that NASA was its first customer for the processor for a space-borne application. Various subcontractors will be involved in the project including TRW Corp, which will produce the actual chip in a finer geometry. The Ivory chip is intended for military, CAD/CAE environments and as an embedded system. Within the UK Symbolics says that it is currently engaged in talks with two major Ministry of Defence suppliers that have expressed interest in Ivory. Symbolics says that one of the reasons for doing a single-chip implementation is to broaden the market in which it can effectively compete, such as the markets currently dominated by Unix-based workstations, because machines built around the Ivory chip will give high reliability, and better price-performance than that offered by the standard workstations. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company adds that no other workstation could effectively support the Symbolics software. In answer to the likes of the Carnegie Group which is translating its artificial intelligence software from Lisp into C to run on Unix workstations, Symbolics says that this will produce large overheads in programing time as developers will have to write garbage-free code – and this will also require more memory. Embedded systems – with the Ivory used as a co-processor – will be the main entry into the market currently held by traditional general-purpose workstations, and Symbolics intends to offer products that can be plugged into a personal computer. Products based on Ivory will be in beta test during the first half on 1988 and generally available by the second half with OEM customers expected to deliver two or three quarters later. Prices are expected to be competitive with traditional workstations. This new technology, which the company says does for symbolic processing what the Intel 80386 or the Motorola 68030 do for traditional processing, is expected to lead the company back into profitability. Symbolics, which claims a 4,000-strong installed base for its 3600 series Lisp machines, says that it expects to reach break-even at the end of the current quarter.
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