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Science meets finance at the launch of the new fourth generation ERNIE

National Savings and Investments (NS&I) today launched ERNIE 4 (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment) at the Science Museum, London, bringing all four generations of ERNIE together for the first time.

The fourth generation random number generator is responsible for selecting prize winning Premium Bonds each month. The next draw in September will see ERNIE 4 give away 1 million prizes - more than ever before - hence the need for a more powerful ERNIE.

In the last 10 years, Premium Bonds have gone from strength to strength. Currently, 25 billion Premium Bonds are owned by 23 million people nationwide.

The launch of ERNIE 4 saw all four generations of ERNIE brought together side by side, including ERNIE 1, built in 1956 by the team behind the World War 2 codebreaker Colossus. The exhibition at the Science Museum shows how NS&I, the British institution behind Premium Bonds, has supported the development of smaller and faster technology over the last 50 years.

The launch event was hosted by science and mathematics personality, Johnny Ball, and attended by the engineers who designed and built ERNIE 1 almost 50 years ago, as well as those responsible for developing ERNIE 4, from LogicaCMG.

ERNIE: Vital statistics

  ERNIE 1 ERNIE 2 ERNIE 3 ERNIE 4
Year 1957 (first draw) 1973 1988 2004
Prizes 23,142 90,338 191,639 1,000,000
Prize value £969,750 £3,682,400 £11,534,300 £57 million
Investment in Premium Bonds (at date of first draw) £49 million £969 million £2.2 billion £25 billion
Weight 1,500 kg 760 kg 15 kg 10 kg
Time taken to run draw (at end of machine's life) 10 days (1973) 5.5 hours (1988) 5.5 hours (2004) 2.5 hours
Processing speed (per hour) 2,000 65,000 330,000 1,000,000

Over the years, the notoriously difficult process of generating random numbers has changed significantly, while each of the ERNIEs has got progressively smaller and faster as technology has advanced. ERNIE 1 was 24 sq ft and used gas to generate the numbers, whereas ERNIE 4 uses thermal noise generated by a chip and measuring 0.01 sq ft, requires considerably less space.

Other Premium Bond highlights

  • There is £25 billion invested in Premium Bonds
  • In the last 10 years, Premium Bonds have undergone a renaissance, with a seven-fold increase in the number of Bonds in the draw (from 4 billion in 1994 to 25 billion)
  • If you put all 25 billion Premium Bonds certificates together, end to end, they would extend to the moon and back 10 times or stretch around the world 190 times!
  • There are 422 Premium Bonds to every person in the UK*
  • ERNIE has picked 110 million prizes with a total value of £7 billion since 1957

John Prout, sales director at National Savings and Investments said:

"ERNIE 4 is the power behind Premium Bonds - able to generate more numbers, more quickly than ever before. "In September, ERNIE will be picking prize winning Bonds from a record 25 billion Bonds held and giving away £56 million to over one million lucky winners nationwide."

Notes to editors

*UK population taken as 59.2 million, Office for National Statistics, 2004

NS&I was founded in 1861 to enable the British public to save in a straightforward, accessible and secure way. Today, it has grown into one of the largest savings organisations in the UK holding savings and investments of over £66 billion for 30 million UK savers. It is a vibrant organisation, which aims to be the first port of call for UK savers by offering a range of products including many offering tax free returns, suitable to all.