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In the heyday of analog computing, Vladimir Lukyanov designed an advanced computer that used water as the storage media. Various tubes, tanks, valves, pumps and sluices churned out solutions for the user based on variables such as changing tax rates or increasing money supply. From the Russian magazine Science and Life:

Built in 1936, this machine was “the world’s first computer for solving [partial] differential equations,” which “for half a century has been the only means of calculations of a wide range of problems in mathematical physics.” Absolutely its most amazing aspect is that solving such complex mathematical equations meant playing around with a series of interconnected, water-filled glass tubes. You “calculated” with plumbing.

[via Pruned]


Michael Colombo

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

  • Nate

    “Various tubes, tanks, valves, pumps and sluices churned out solutions for the user….” haha, I see what you did there.

    In any case, that’s pretty awesome…googling for some (hopefully) video and/or further information

  • Jordanis

    Fortunately, we do not live on the Disc, and so the hydraulic computer does not accidentally magically interface with reality in order to add or remove gold from vaults.

    • Darrel E. Edson

      ahh man! You beat me to it!

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  • freetogeekAde

    I saw a Phillips Machine in the science museum. It was created to simulate UK economics. If you are interested, I found a good video of a working version here:

    • Daniel Kim

      I am watching this video now. I love the warning they put in it:

      “Do not put 240 Volts into water. It is dangerous and could kill you.”

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    “you calculated with plumbing” – I like that expression. It’d be good if they created a working model, i.e at a science museum. It would be cool to see how it worked.

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  • jamesskaar

    how about using some modern photo etching to miniaturise one? or even a better one? non-electric computing would be good in the case of emp strikes, or zombies trying to eat the warm generators.


    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on computers & mobile. Regards

  • Hannan Ahmad (@baiguka)

    While I am studying Mining Water Treatment and Water Recycling solutions, its quite amazing to know that the Russians had built a computer back in 1938 when there was no work on transistor — and they did it using water. That’s a great story to share with my friends. Indeed, its a rare story of its kind.

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