Binary Adder Will Give You Slivers


A while back we looked at [Matthias’] one-pin dot matrix printer. Now we’re jumping over to his woodworking website to feast on his wooden binary adding machine. His creation uses glass marbles as the data for this device. A resolution of up to six bits can be set on the top of the adder, then dropped into the machine as one number. With each new drop, the number is added to the total stored in the machine. The device is limited to totals less than 64. If a larger number is enter, the device wraps around back to zero by dumping the 7th bit off the end. He’s even got a master clear that allows you to easily read the stored total and evacuate the “data” from the machine.

This has quite a few less wires than the last binary adder we looked at… wait, it has no wires! But we still love it. A physical representation of what is going on with binary math really helps grasp what the magic blue smoke inside those silicon chips is all about. Don’t miss his video walk through of the adding machine embedded after the break. Can’t get enough of marbles interacting with wood? He’s got a few more projects you might enjoy.

25 thoughts on “Binary Adder Will Give You Slivers

  1. I thought hackaday covered this a few years ago. It’s been online for about 6 years. Nomatter it’s a great hack but what’s more important is that it doesn’t use any tech. This might aswell have been discovered in 1000BC. If it had been discovered then it would have changed the world.

  2. we should make a time machine and then send this back a few thousand years…. then with pardoxes aside… watch technology come sooner :) well in theory anyways and we all know how well that usally works lol

  3. that’s pretty cool. it could make a neat teaching tool. I know most people I know have a really hard time grasping binary.

    I usually tell them it’s useful because using my fingers I can only count to 10 in decimal but I can count to 1023 in binary.

  4. Pretty slick, but just a novelty/toy for geeks, and there’s nothing wrong with that a all. Anyway necessity/need is are the parents of invention. while today’s tools will build tomorrow’s technology and improves one yesterday’s technology , it’s doubtful that the existence of today’s technology in yesteryear would have change much at all.

  5. “I usually tell them it’s useful because using my fingers I can only count to 10 in decimal but I can count to 1023 in binary.”

    No, you can only count to 10 in unary. You could count to 10,000,000,000 in decimal, meaning that each finger takes on one of ten positions.

  6. @twistedsymphony:
    “I usually tell them it’s useful because using my fingers I can only count to 10 in decimal but I can count to 1023 in binary.”

    People always wonder why I “count funny” on my fingers =P. When I found out my girlfriend counts in binary on her fingers as well, I knew we were the most awesome couple ever. I should build one of these machines and show it around at college, because many fellow students are very confused with the whole binary concept.

    Don’t be an asshole. You knew what he meant.

  7. @Odin84gk: Don’t underestimate the power of the boring old calculator. Errors in recordkeeping contributed to the breakdown of the british empire.
    The abacus introduces errors so if this was present in the ancient world precise calculations would have allowed artilery tables to be created making the army that used them 10x more effective.
    The world would be a completely different place.

  8. Joe Knight, I have one mechanical multiplyer, but it’s broken.
    pedant, you can count to 10^9 only if your each finger has 10 states, in binary you need 2 states, think about that.

  9. I might be nuts, but I thought I sent this in to the tip line earlier this year… but then again, it might have been something else… dun dun DUN!
    Anyway… yeah… still a neato project… now to construct an entire computing system with it..!

  10. Now to figure out how to build something to show people how I can count to 177146 on my fingers. At least people don’t get offended quite as quick as if I were to use binary… (middle finger isn’t fully extended until 18….)

  11. I teach digital electronics and I always try to share mechanical versions before electrical versions including a simplified version of this adder. In the case of binary addition and especially subtraction, I share an old mechanical flip-flop counter used to add and subtract binary numbers even before doing problems by hand. It is the easiest way to experience 2’s complement math.
    On the analog side, I stopped getting questions about power supply rectifiers with smoothing after I shared my hand pumped pneumatic model…not after we simulated and implemented the electrical versions in previous years.

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