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Campaign To Raise Funds For Analytical Engine Underway

October 14, 2010

An online campaign to build the analytical engine–a massive device similar in design to a modern day computer that was first described by British mathematician Charles Babbage in the late 1830s–has drawn donations from over 1,600 people, according to BBC News reports.

The campaign, which was the brainchild of computer programmer and author John Graham-Cumming, is seeking donations from 50,000 people. If the goal is met, Graham-Cumming has vowed to build the engine, which pre-dated the first completed general-purpose computer by approximately 100 years.

Babbage was never able to complete the analytical engine before his 1871 death. Others, including Babbage’s son, Henry Prevost Babbage, have successfully completed parts of the machine, but a full, working model has never been completed.

“It’s an inspirational piece of equipment,” Graham-Cumming, Vice-President of Engineering for the software company Causata and author of a travel book for scientists called The Geek Atlas, told BBC Technology Reporter Jonathan Fildes on Thursday. “A hundred years ago, before computers were available, [Babbage] had envisaged this machine.”

“What you realize when you read Babbage’s papers is that this was the first real computer,” he added. “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 recognizable as a computer.”

If the fund raising drive is successful, Graham-Cumming will use a design known as Plan 28 in order to complete the analytical engine. In order to do so, first Babbage’s papers and designs, which are currently housed at the London Science Museum, would have to be digitized. Then, he would need to develop a 3D computer simulation of the device. The actual, finished produce would be “bigger than a steam locomotive,” Graham-Cumming told Fildes.

Image Caption: Trial model of a part of the Analytical Engine, built by Babbage, as displayed at the Science Museum (London). Credit: Bruno Barral – Wikipedia

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