Machines have long been used to ease repetitive labor. The machines I found most interesting eased the labor of calculation; watches, orrerys, calculators, difference engines, etc. Gears were the workhorse of this age reaching their zenith during the late 19th century only to decline as they were replaced with transisters for most computation.

Having always loved complex mechanical devices, and never having fully outgrown LEGO, I decided to explore where computational mechanics and LEGO meet. This is not LEGO as toy, art, or even the MindStorms® fusion of LEGO and digital electronics. This is almost where Steampunk and LEGO meet. Hand cranked devices that perform complex mechanical tasks.


Automaton made with LEGO

The 2011 movie "Hugo" is about the adventures of boy who repairs an automaton, a mechanical machine which can handwrite a message. His automaton looked like a boy with a complex clock-work inside.

I left the theatre convinced that I could make a machine, using LEGO, that could write any short message I desired. The resulting LEGO mechanism does not look like a boy, but it is a purely mechanical hand-cranked machine that will move a pen to write short messages of up to 150 pen strokes.

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Babbage Difference Engine made with LEGO

This is the 3rd generation of Babbage Difference Engine made with LEGO. It is modeled after Babbages Difference Engine #1. The 3rd generation operates five times faster than the 2nd generation.

This machine can evaluate polynomials of the form Ax^2 + Bx + C for x=0, 1, 2, …n with 3 digit results.

A new answer is produced every 20 turns of the crank: 10 turns of the crank adds the bottom two digit register into the middle two digit register. The next 10 turns of the crank adds the midlde two digit register into the top three digit accumulator, yielding the next result.

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Antikythera Mechanism (Eclipse Predictor) made with LEGO

This machine, modeled after the ancient Greek original, can calulate the date and time of solar and lunar eclipses over a hundred year period.

It is an analog computer with over 100 gears and 7 differential gearboxes. It is accurate to a day or two over it's range.

Five turns of the central yellow handle advances the machine one year. The dials on the left represent the Saros cycle of lunar months. The dials on the right represent the positions of the sun and moon against the zodiac.

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