Saturday, March 2, 2024

Michal Zalewski and Son Construct a Relay-Pushed Calculator in a Nod to the Early Days of Computing

Developer Michal Zalewski has determined to return to fundamentals with the construct of a homebrew calculating machine created, consistent with classics from historical past, utilizing electromechanical relays: the Calc-U-Later.

“A while in the past, my eldest son determined to construct a single-bit laptop utilizing discrete transistors,” Zalewski gives by means of background to the undertaking. “As dictated by the iron legal guidelines of sibling rivalry, his youthful brother quickly approached me and requested if I might assist him construct a computing system that’s much more out of date. After some back-and-forth, we settled on a relay-based calculator. I used to be given additional directions: the PCBs have to be old-school and off-yellow, and all relays have to be see-through.”

Relay-based computing is nothing new — actually, fairly the alternative. The earliest computer systems, primarily constructed as fire-control calculators for the army, used electromechanical relays as binary switches for logic parts both solely or at the side of vacuum tubes: the Harvard Mark I, Harwell Dekatron, Zuse Z2, and maybe most famously of all of the Turing-Welchman Bombe, impressed by Marian Rejewski’s Bomba Kryptologiczna and used to interrupt the German Enigma cipher at Bletchley Park in World Warfare II.

Zalewski and his offspring, although, set their websites sensibly decrease for his or her undertaking. The Calc-U-Later is a compact laptop which makes use of Omron G6C relays with, as requested, clear housings to type the Boolean logic gates required for a fundamental calculator. The completed machine is not completely relay primarily based, nevertheless: there are 12 relays in whole, forming an adder, that are supported by a Microchip ATmega644V eight-bit microcontroller.

“The microcontroller is there to maintain a wide range of auxiliary duties that might require a whole lot of further relays,” Zalewski explains. “This consists of keypad scanning, digit decoding, operation sequencing, error dealing with, and reminiscence. That stated, the adder has a clearly-delineated position and is there to carry out precise math.”

The calculator itself is paired with a show board, which drives six seven-segment LED shows completely with electromechanical relays — requiring 42 in whole, wrangled utilizing six 74HC259 eight-bit latches to cut back the variety of information traces required. “The concept was to make the coming into digits as satisfying as watching the ALU at work,” Zalewski says.

Zalewski’s full write-up is offered in his Substack publication, together with a mesmerizing video of the show in motion.

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