Very early business founded in the early 1970s by Paul Allen and Bill Gates to pursue an application used by traffic engineers and local governments – analysing the data collected by the simple rubber tube devices that used pneumatics to count passing traffic.
Gates and Allen believed they could automate the process and persuaded their schoolmates to transcribe the tape onto computer punched cards. Via Allen’s father they then gained access to the University of Washington’s computer to process the flow analysis. In this way they managed to undercut the existing suppliers of the service.
They sought a more elegant approach and decided to develop a microprocessor-based device that would read the tapes directly. They had no hardware or engineering skills so approached a friend of a friend, Paul Gilbert, who was an electrical engineering student at the University of Washington.
Gilbert based the approach upon the Intel 8008 MPU and took much of a year to develop the device. His brother Miles Gilbert designed the logo for the resultant business, Traf-O-Data. This was founded with Gates owning 43% of the equity, Allen with 36% and Gilbert with 21%.
The really interesting point for us is that while the Traf-O-Data computer did not yet exist, how could they develop the software other than to wait on the finished product? This was what prompted Paul Allen to try out computer emulation on a PDP-11, which would later prove to be the approach that they adopted with confidence when they developed BASIC for the MITS Altair 8800.
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