A Weather Station Fit For A PDP-11

The Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-11/70 is a masterpiece of Cold War-era industrial design. This microcomputer was the size of one or two modern server racks depending on configuration, and the front panel, loaded up with blinkenlights, was clad in a beautiful rose and magenta color scheme. The switches — the ones you used to toggle bits in memory — were actually custom designed covers made to match the shape of the completely unnecessary bezel. The aesthetic of the 11/70 is the intersection of baroque and modernism on the design Venn diagram.

[Oscar Vermeulen] built a miniature version of the PDP-11/70 that houses a Raspberry Pi, and [rricharz] has been hard at work bringing an original copy of BSD to this system. The first great project to come out of this effort? It’s a weather station, and it’s exactly as cool as you think it is.

A bit of ground work went into this build, including getting a historical Unix system up and running, in this case 2.11 BSD. Armed with a Pi and the PiDP-11/70 front panel, [rricharz] had a complete BSD system up and running, and with cool-retro-term, the interface looked the part. Doing something useful was another question entirely, but the Pi in the PiDP had some GPIOs free, so this ancient machine got an I2C temperature and pressure sensor.

The completed build is basically just a breadboard, a tiny diagnostic OLED, and a python script that grabs the data and sends it over to the sim. This is pressure and temperature data shoved into an emulation of a Tektronix 4010 terminal. It’s marginally useful work done by an ancient BSD system wrapped in an emulation on a Raspberry Pi. It doesn’t get better than that.

11 thoughts on “A Weather Station Fit For A PDP-11

    1. I always chuckle whenever I see an olde piece equipment the size of a refrigerator and think, Yup, we used to call that “mini”.

      Gives the term “down on the metal” real meaning. or at least real heft.

      1. The “mini” actually refers to “minimal” not the size, though that is a common misconception. In it’s simplest configuration the PDP-11 was genuinely minimal compared to other computers of the day, which were more like full mainframes. It predates the idea and word “RISC”, but that’s what it was/is.

  1. Ah, the venerable Tektronix 4010. We had one of those in the terminal cluster at Ga Tech. You’d often find it available when all the Datapoint 100’s and ADM-3A’s (my favorite!) were in use. People didn’t understand about hitting the ‘Clear’ key between pages, so being a storage terminal, it would just keep accumulating characters on the screen, rapidly becoming unreadable. That was the terminal to use if you were playing with turtle graphics.

    I have one of his PDP-11 kits, along with a couple of the Spare Time Gizmos PDP-8 with the front panel kit. Das blinken lights are fun.

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