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Apple engineer re-creates ancient computer with Legos

Andrew Carol, a software engineer at Apple, builds a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism, a computer that was used to calculate astronomical happenings.

Until today, I was unaware that engineers at Apple enjoyed spare time.

However, somehow Andrew Carol, one of Apple's software engineers, decided that it was about time he eased back from designing the computer of the future and thought a little about re-creating a computer of the past.

The Antikythera Mechanism, is, allegedly, the oldest version of a scientific computer. The Greeks, who used to be so clever that they never endured too much of a financial crisis, built it around 100 B.C.

Somehow, it disappeared into history's cracks, until it was unearthed from a shipwreck in 1901. It took imperfect humans another 100 years to work out that its purpose was to mechanically track the bodies that are in outer space in order to anticipate events up there that might affect life down here.

Carol seems to have decided that it might be fun to use the most modern materials to re-create this fine mechanism. And the modern material he chose consisted of Legos.

With sponsorship from Digital Science, Carol used 1,500 Lego Technic parts and 30 days to put together the 110 gears and other pieces of the re-creation.

The two wings of Carol's machine, each with four gearboxes, manage to make the same calculations as the original mechanism. Each gearbox makes one mathematical calculation.

Many of you will be enthralled by some of the more detailed information in the film that I have embedded. I prefer to be enthralled by the sentence "pretty impressive for a bunch of plastic blocks."

Perhaps Carol will choose to offer the use of his re-creation to some of our network TV weather forecasters. Or even to Sadie, the lady with the crystal ball who is eager to earn your $50 to inform you of your future.

Updated 2.07pm PST: I have been contacted by Timo Hannay at Digital Science, who would like to make clear that Digital Science only paid for the making of the video, not for the construction of the machine--which was entirely funded by Andrew Carol's hard earnings. For more on the making of the video, please look here.