Ai Computers - Overview

Most of the computer history information in the English language internet describes developments and organisations in the English-speaking world. While there is some information about European developments, there is very little information about Asia. As can be seen from the history of electronic calculators, Japan was an early entrant into this area of electronic high technology and made very rapid progress, firstly as a manufacturer and then as a designer.

Ai Electronics (Ai Denshi Sokki) is an excellent example of a Japanese company that was an early developer of minicomputers and then a designer and manufacturer of high quality desktop computers, and yet is almost unknown outside Japan.

Ai was founded in 1962 by Mr Tayayuki Sanada as a minicomputer designer and manufacturer. The company appears to have had close links with the University of Tokyo. In 1965 Ai produced Japan’s first low-priced minicomputer that used core memory and germanium transistor logic, in 1967 they produced a silicon transistor based machine and then the IC based AICOM line of minicomputers.

The AIDACS computer (AI Industrial Data Acquisition and Control System) was introduced in 1973 and was developed through the 1970s. This series supported a number of proprietary operating systems including FDPS (Floppy Disk Programming System) and DOSKET (Disk Operating System for Diskette). A wide range of application languages were available including FORTRAN, COBOL, PL/3 and RPG II.

By the end of the 1970s Ai had a successful range of minicomputers with a wide offering of software. At this time they began to import IMSAI microcomputers from the USA and began a licensing agreement with Digital Research Corporation for CP/M. These may have been the stimulus for Ai to develop their own desktop computer.

Ai Electronics was successful through the early and mid 1980s but finally appears to have suffered the fate of most 1980s desktop computer makers, being overwhelmed by the IBM PC, Apple II and then their clones.

Ai appears to have gone out of business in the early 1990s with the manufacturing business being sold to TOMEN Electronics and the research and development part becoming SI Electronics, which was in turn a division of Sega’s arcade machine business.

Ai ABC Series

The ABC (Ai Business Computer) series was introduced in 1979, aimed at the business and the home market. These were sophisticated desktop computers with advanced hardware that included:

  • Z80A CPU (4 Mhz) with 64k byte RAM
  • Integrated display with dedicated display control hardware
  • Dual floppy disk drives with disk controller hardware
  • Two serial and one parallel interface ports
  • GPIB bus interface for data acquistion and control
  • Math co-processor chip for high speed numeric processing

The ABC machines had a similarly advanced software offering including:

  • Operating Systems

    • CP/M and MP/M - regular Digital Research CP/M and MP/M
    • DOSKET - Ai’s proprietary OS
  • Application Software

    • Fortran IV
    • COBOL
    • BASIC-2
    • PL/3
    • Ai Applications and Utilities, including an Arabic Word Processor

This entire software environment and library now appears to be lost, except for one image of a boot disk.

DoPECC is eager to hear of any items of software that may still exist, in the hope that the original environment may one day be restored onto one of these machines. Please use the About/Contact link to send any information.