Babbage’s Difference Engine, in action

Tom Marcinko @ 10-12-2009

differenceA nice and accurate replica of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine was built in California last year and is now on display at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

Not newsworthy, but if you’ve never seen this machine in action, the short video is well worth a look. It’s fun to listen to it clatter, and to watch the helical patterns it makes.

National Public Radio did a story this morning:

The Difference Engine fills half a gallery and stands taller than most men. It’s 5 tons of cast iron, steel and bronze woven together from 8,000 distinct parts. Though it looks like it could be a sculpture, the machine is essentially a giant calculator. Tim Robinson, a docent at the museum, says it’s “the first automatic calculating machine.”

This engine — made from 162-year-old designs — doesn’t have a power pack; it has a hand crank. Robinson works up a sweat as he turns it. “As long as you keep turning that crank, it will produce entirely new results,” he says.

Most importantly, the machine produces accurate results. In Babbage’s time, England reigned over a vast global empire. To navigate the seas, captains used books filled with calculations — but these equations were all done by fallible human minds.

What if, indeed.

[Image: kalleboo]

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2 Responses to “Babbage’s Difference Engine, in action”

  1. Tom Marcinko says:

    Sorry I couldn’t embed the video. I tried. It’s worth a couple clicks to get to, IMO.

  2. Robert Koslover says:

    Thanks for this, Tom. It’s inspiring.