Bender: Ahhh, what an awful dream. Ones and zeroes everywhere… and I thought I saw a two.
Fry: It was just a dream, Bender. There’s no such thing as two.
– Futurama: A Head In The Polls, S02E07
The computer you’re using right now is simply just a highly organized state of electrons, commonly expressed in states of zero and one. Two? What is two? A ternary, or base-3, computer would be odd, disturbing, but nevertheless extremely interesting, making it a great candidate for The Hackaday Prize.
A base-3 computer isn’t a new thing, despite how odd it sounds. Moscow State University built a few dozen ternary computers named Setun back in the late 50s, and some research is being done using quantum computers and ternary arithmetic. Still, building a ternary computer from first principles – gates, truth tables, and transistors – isn’t something that’s done nowadays.
[ThunderSqueak] has been hard at work over the last few months working out the basic building blocks of her ternary computer project. She’s already figured out the basic NAND, NOR, and inverter structure that could be easily translated into assemblies made of discrete components or an IC mask.
A iDevice app, iCircuit, is being used to test out some larger circuits, using +5, -5, and 0 Volts to represent 1, -1, and 0. Going further, there are a few academic resources for constructing a ternary ALU and even ternary SRAM. While a homebrew ternary computer has little practical use, it’s an awesome example of the, ‘because it’s there’ engineering we’re looking for in a great Hackaday Prize entry.
The project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.