Timon Singh

UK Campaign Aims to Build Legendary Steam-Powered Computer

by , 10/15/10

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Steam-punk is alive and well in the UK thanks to a mounting campaign to build a massive steam-powered computer that was first conceived in 1837. The campaign to construct Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine has been an ongoing process for several years, and several elements have been constructed. However, if the truck-sized contraption is to be fully built, then it is going to require more than 50,000 donations.

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So far, more than 1,600 people have pledged money and support to build the machine. “It’s an inspirational piece of equipment,” said John Graham-Cumming, author of the Geek Atlas, who is behind the scheme to get the legendary machine built. “A hundred years ago, before computers were available, [Babbage] had envisaged this machine.”

Babbage’s Analytical Engine was designed on paper by British mathematician and engineer Charles Babbage. It his notes, he theorised that it would be built out of brass and iron. It was to be the successor to his Difference Engine, a huge brass number-cruncher.

“What you realise when you read Babbage’s papers is that this was the first real computer,” said Mr Graham-Cumming speaking to the BBC. “It had expandable memory, a CPU, microcode, a printer, a plotter and was programmable with punch cards. It was the size of a small lorry and powered by steam but it was recognisable as a computer.” It hints at the idea that an Information Age was just out of reach of Victorian England and it may be the first ever design for a “general purpose computer” that could be reprogrammed to carry out different tasks.

If it is ever built, it would show, not only the genius of Charles Babbage, but that computers could be powered by steam. To date the most complex, although incomplete, model of the Analytical Engine was built using Meccano by Briton Tim Robinson. Click here to pledge money to the campaign.

+ Campaign to build Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine

Via BBC News

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  1. Inventor Of The Super S... October 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    [...] chambers, filled with hydrogen gas and connected by steel tubes with round pressure gauges. Where a steam engine uses the heat generated by burning coal to create steam pressure and move mechanical elements, the [...]

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