What is a mechanical computer?

A mechanical computer is a computer that, instead of running on electricity and electrical parts, uses mechanical parts. Unlike electronic computers, which are able to run on their own due to electricity, a mechanical computer receives power from an external source: the user. To use this computer, the operator must continually pump a crank, perhaps thousands of times, to perform a calculation. This computer is often considered the first stage of the modern computer and was mainly used until the late 1940s, although there have been a few uses since then. Although this computer had many varied uses, it was commonly used for calculations, navigation, and with missiles and torpedoes during wars.

A mechanical computer.

When someone mentions a computer, they are usually talking about an electronic computer that runs on electricity and contains many chips and circuits. In contrast, a mechanical computer depends on mechanical parts. Common parts include gears, screws, pulleys and levers, the levers being perhaps one of the most memorable parts due to the loud noise made when operators pull them. Even after the advent of electronic computers, this computer was still built with mechanical parts as per the design aesthetics and benefits of using mechanical parts such as substantially lower power requirements and greater durability.

A mechanical computer does not have an electrical power supply, so it depends on the user to provide power. This is most commonly done through the constant movement and tapping of a lever, which moves the mechanical parts. Simple calculations can be done in several lever pulls, while complex equations can take thousands.

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In the list of pre-electronic computer devices, the mechanical computer is often considered to be the first device that appeared and functioned like the modern computer. In addition to using different parts, another big difference between a mechanical computer and an electronic one is that the mechanic cannot run processes without human interaction, while the electronic computer can run processes automatically. This computer was primarily used during the 1940s in World War II, but had some continued use afterwards.

As with most computers, the mechanical computer has many different operations and uses. Perhaps the most famous is as a calculator and a stock ticker, both with functions that can be calculated more quickly by a machine than a human. This computer has also been used for navigating ships, missiles and torpedoes. Hobbyists sometimes make this computer, whether for fun or functional purposes.

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