Machine shows it's possible to be '100 years ahead of your time'

Plan to build Babbage steam computer

A campaign is underway to construct a never-before-built steam powered computer originally designed by the visionary engineer Charles Babbage.

The Analytical Engine was first conceived in 1837, constructed out of iron and brass and while Babbage fashioned parts of the revolutionary machine over the years, a complete functioning Analytical Engine was never built. 

A group hopes to change that by gathering private support from what it is hoped will eventually be 50,000 individuals to fund the build. Over 1,600 have already pledged a donation towards the cause.

The man behind the campaign, John Graham-Cumming, originally mooted the idea on but which more recently has escalated to a project on Pledge Bank and a Q&A session on Reddit to explain the idea. 

“Babbage left behind extensive documentation of the Analytical Engine, the most complete of which can be seen in his Plan 28 (and 28a), which are preserved in a mahogany case that Babbage had constructed especially for the purpose,” write Graham-Cumming in an article earlier this month.

“It might seem a folly to want to build a gigantic, relatively puny computer at great expense 170 years after its invention,” admits Graham-Cumming but pointed out that the true value of a completed Babbage Analytical Engine lies in the idea that it is possible to be 100 years ahead of your time. 

“With support, this type of "blue skies" thinking can result in fantastic changes to the lives of everyone. Just think of the impact of the computer and ask yourself how different the Victorian world would have been with Babbage Engines at its disposal.”

Image credit: Catherine Helzerman

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