The Wonderful, Wooden Marble Adding Machine

Cana­di­an soft­ware devel­op­er Matthias Wan­del enjoys spend­ing his spare time cre­at­ing wood­en con­trap­tions that com­bine a child­like sense of won­der with an engi­neer’s knowl­edge of mechan­ics. One of his most pop­u­lar cre­ations so far is this six-bit bina­ry adding machine, which has tal­lied near­ly one and a half mil­lion views on YouTube. As Rick Regan explains at Explor­ing Bina­ry, the machine func­tions like a low-tech inte­grat­ed cir­cuit. “It uses wood instead of sil­i­con, grav­i­ty instead of volt­age, and mar­bles instead of cur­rent,” he writes. “We don’t need no stinkin’ CMOS!”

The idea came to Wan­del after he noticed that one of his ear­li­er mar­ble machines incor­po­rat­ed log­ic-like ele­ments. “It had occurred to me,” he writes on his wood­work­ing site, “that per­haps with an insane amount of per­se­ver­ance, it might be pos­si­ble to build a whole com­put­er that runs on mar­bles.”  To illus­trate the point Wan­del built the adding machine, which stores the bina­ry states of six bits and can add num­bers from one to 63. The result may be more cool than prac­ti­cal, writes Regan, “but it cer­tain­ly is edu­ca­tion­al. It illus­trates basic prin­ci­ples of bina­ry num­bers, bina­ry arith­metic, and bina­ry log­ic.”

You can learn more about the machine on Wan­del’s Web page, and about the under­ly­ing log­ic and math­e­mat­ics at Explor­ing Bina­ry.

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