Computer Gear With — Um — Gears

Analog computers have been around in some form for a very long time. One very obvious place they were used was in military vehicles. While submarine fire computers and the Norden bombsight get all the press, [msylvain59] has a lesser-known example: an M13A1 ballistic computer from an M48 tank that he tears down for us in the video below.

The M48, known as a Patton, saw service from 1952 to 1987. Just looking at the mechanical linkage to the tank’s systems is impressive. But inside, it is clear this is a genuinely analog computer. The thing is built — quite literally — like a tank. What was the last computer you opened that needed a hammer? And inside, you’ll find gears, bearings, and a chain!

We don’t pretend to understand all the workings. These devices often used gears and synchros (or selsyns, if you prefer) to track the position of some external thing. But we are guessing there was a lot more to it than that. It’s probably an exciting process to see something like that designed from scratch.

We did think of the Norden when we saw this. Hard to imagine, but there were “general purpose” analog computers.

10 thoughts on “Computer Gear With — Um — Gears

  1. Fascinating device, to thanks for the story.
    HaD should do an article on the WWII Odograph, a device that was the GPS of its day. It had a central processing box with an external XY map plotter. IIRC it used inputs from the speedometer, steering and compass with analog computed dead reckoning. It was built by IBM and another manufacturer and fitted to jeeps and other vehicles.

  2. I love analog computers. The only real downside is how badly they are outclassed by even the most rudimentary CPU. What really interests me though is concept of a MEMS-based mechanical CPU! Complete radiation immunity is valuable in situations that need it.

    1. Not only radiation tolerance, but extreme heat as well. Enough that some basic processing could be done by a Venus surface explorer (IIRC Scott Manley did a video on this).

  3. The oldest mechanical computer was made in greece 2000 years ago do computers are an old invention when i left school i worked at an office equipment company and repaired electromechanical adding machines including comptometers wgich were like accounting machines the earliest were made in about 1886

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