WILSON Portrait

Computing pioneer Sophie Wilson, who helped design the Acorn Micro-Computer and the original ARM processor, has been nominated for the European Inventor Award 2013 for her contributions to technological, social and economic progress.

The award is presented annually by the European Patent Office (EPO) to outstanding inventors in five categories: industry, SMEs, research, lifetime achievement and non-European countries. Wilson has been nominated for a lifetime achievement award.

After studying mathematics and computer science at Cambridge University, Wilson's career began in March 1979 when she joined Acorn Computers to develop the first affordable personal computer, the BBC Micro.

Wilson created the operating system (BBC Basic), designed the hardware, and managed all the people and documentation required to ensure success. By the end of its life cycle in 1989, the BBC Micro had sold more than one million units instead of the targeted 12,000.

In 1983, she teamed up with Steve Furber to design the first 32-bit RISC Machine chip for Acorn (ARM), a chip that operated with significantly fewer instructions and transistors than equivalent chips produced by Intel at the time.

Apart from having better performance thanks to their load/store architecture, these new chips consumed far less energy. The descendants of these chips are now in about a quarter of all tablets and PCs, including Microsoft's new Windows RT devices, and the vast majority of smartphones.

After the dissolution of Acorn Computers in 1999, Sophie Wilson continued her work in a company she co-founded, called Element 14, to develop the FirePath processor, which is integrated in broadband hardware and set-top boxes all over the world. Element 14 was sold to Broadcom in 2001 for $450 million.

“Not every technology genius has the profile of Alan Turing or Sir Clive Sinclair. But Sophie Wilson’s contributions to the development of computers and the creation of the ARM processor merit that comparison,” said EPO President Benoît Battistelli.

Wilson is not the only Briton to be nominated for a European Inventor Award. University of Edinburgh scientist Philipp Koehn has been nominated for his advanced computer translation of languages, and Scottish engineer David Gow has been nominated in the SME category for the prosthetic i-limb hand which provides extraordinary precision and refined control.

Nomination proposals are submitted by the public, and by patent examiners at the EPO and Europe's national patent offices. The winners are chosen from among the nominees by an international jury, which includes experts from the areas of business, politics, media, academia and research.

The 2013 winners in all categories will be announced at a ceremony in Amsterdam on May 28 in the presence of Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands.