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Hydraulic Computation

'Open up sluice gate #24'
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In physics classes, we are often told to think about electrical circuits as analogous to plumbing circuits; pressure ~ voltage and volume flow rate ~ amperage.

However, I have yet to see anyone create a processor made entirely out of plumbing and fluid gates and valves, outside of the hydraulics used inside an automatic transmission to control shift points, I suppose. I could imagine all sorts of hydraulic switches and valves which could replace transistors in a large-scale, horribly complex, and quite slow computational machine. Why? For the sake of art I guess.

Binary optional.

RayfordSteele, Mar 12 2008

Babbage's Analytical Engine http://en.wikipedia...i/Analytical_engine
//However, I have yet to see anyone create a processor made entirely out of plumbing and fluid gates and valves// You could start here... [zen_tom, Mar 12 2008]

Fluidics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fluidics
background info [csea, Mar 12 2008]

Phlogistonic Vehemence Attenuator Phlogistonic Vehemence Attenuator
Basically, a steam-based amplifier - [csea] mentions the discipline of fluidics which are touched on here. [zen_tom, Mar 12 2008]

The Philips Machine http://www.cs.man.ac.uk/CCS/res/res12.htm
"The machine was conceived and designed by Bill Phillips (1914-1975), a New Zealand-born engineer turned economist. The prototype caused something of a stir when first demonstrated at the London School of Economics (LSE) in November 1949. The contraption stood seven feet high and five feet wide and Heath Robinson would have been very pleased. The pumps were switched on and coloured water sloshed around through tanks, pipes, sluices and valves. The levels settled, pulleys turned and a pen plotter traced results. The machine was an hydraulic model of income flow in the national economy. Professors of economics were impressed." [zen_tom, Mar 12 2008]

Fluid memory http://en.wikipedia...coustic_delay_lines
In this generation, temporary or working storage was provided by acoustic delay lines, which used the propagation time of sound through a medium such as liquid mercury (or through a wire) to briefly store data. [BunsenHoneydew, Mar 12 2008]

BINAC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BINAC
An early project for the U.S. Air Force, BINAC attempted to make a lightweight, simple computer by using binary arithmetic. [BunsenHoneydew, Mar 12 2008]

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       Back in the 1960s, my dad brought home a kit for modelling something called "fluidics." [link] Now it seems there's a branch of this called "microfluidics," similar to what has been discussed here recently.
csea, Mar 12 2008

       Back in the 1970s, my dad was designing hydraulically-operated car washes. He tried to explain "fluid logic" to me. It had ANDs, NOTs and ORs in it, IIRC. I don't know if he used it, or instead made up his own system.   

       I do remember he made a widget with a water jet at ankle level. If you blocked that, another nozzle let loose a blast of water that would knock you over. He said it was for cleaning hubcaps, but I never saw it do that.
baconbrain, Mar 12 2008

       The Phillips machine is the example I was thinking of as well. My impression is that [RayfordSteele] has a general purpose Turing machine in mind, rather than a single-purpose analog computer. Am I correct?   

       If not a useful processor it would at least make a worthwhile educational display of the workings of a CPU.   

       The great wiki tells me that the Intel 4004 was constructed of 2,300 transistors. BINAC [link] used 700 vacuum tubes and 32 acoustic delay lines (literally fluid memory) [link]. Perhaps a largish shed would be sufficient.
BunsenHoneydew, Mar 12 2008

       Fluidics was part of my computer science degree in the late 70s. The elements were about an inch square, and a bistable took a couple of elements. I think they may have been made by Honeywell
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Mar 12 2008


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