List of Physical Visualizations
and Related Artifacts
With tag “physical-computation”

150 BC – Greek Orrery

An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. The left image shows the Antikythera, the oldest known orrery. The middle image shows a virtual reconstruction. The right image shows a contemporary orrery. The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer designed to predict astronomical positions and eclipses. It was recovered in 1900–01 from the Antikythera wreck, a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The instrument was designed […]

Added by Melanie Bacou & Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Physical model. Tags: , , , ,
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1889 – Gaudí’s Hanging Chain Models

Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí disliked drawings and prefered to explore some of his designs — such as the unfinished Church of Colònia Güell and the Sagrada Família — using scale models made of chains or weighted strings. It was long known that an optimal arch follows an inverted catenary curve, i.e., an upside-down hanging chain. Gaudí's upside-down physical models took him years to build but gave him more flexibility […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Physical model. Tags: ,
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1930 – Mathematical Functions Embodied in Ballistic Cams

These cams are solid models of bivariate and univariate mathematical functions plotted in cylindric coordinates (left and middle images) and polar coordinates (right image). They were not meant to be visually examined, but were used in mechanical analog computers for aiming battleship guns during WWII. They were also called computing cams. Mechanical fire control aids started to be developed in the 1900s and and were still in use in the late […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic, sent by Emmanuelle Beauxis-Aussalet via Yvonne Jansen. Category: Physical model. Tags: , ,
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1949 – Moniac: A Hydromechanical Machine to Teach Economics

The MONIAC or Phillips machine is a hydromechanical analog computer built to teach basic economical principles using colored water flowing in transparent pipes. The machine was built in 1951 after electrical-engineer-turned-economist William Phillips and his economist colleague Walter Newlyn realized that flows were used as a metaphor to teach economics, but have never been made physical. Phillips is also known for his eponymous curves. Several MONIACs were built, and a working one is permanently displayed at the Economics Department of Cambridge University. Sources: Bissell (2007) The […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Physical model. Tags: , , , , , , ,
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1949 – Mississippi River Basin Model

As a response to devastating floods of the Mississippi river in the early 1900s, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a large-scale hydraulic model of the entire river system. The model, 2.5 times the size of Disneyland, allowed them to design better flood control infrastructures and to eventually save millions of dollars. In 1973, the physical model ceased to be used and was replaced by computer models. Nevertheless, mathematical equations […]

Added by Pierre Dragicevic, sent by Wesley Willett. Category: Physical model. Tags: , , ,
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2003 – Pattern Recognition in a Bucket

Chrisantha Fernando and Sampsa Sojakka from the University of Sussex published a paper where they demonstrate that a bucket of water can carry out complex, parallel computations, and can even do simple speech recognition. Their setup called "liquid brain" consists in a transparent water tank suspended over an overhead projector and four LEGO motors. Input values are sent to the motors which vibrate the water. A camera […]

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2004 – Scripps’ Molecule Models

Since 2004 the Molecular Graphics Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute has been making heavy use of 3D-printed full-color physical molecule models, some of which are articulated (left image), flexible (middle image), and even self-assembling (right image, see video). They also publish augmented reality systems that use those physical models. Also see our entry 1995 – SDSC TeleManufacturing Facility. Sources: Web Page: http://mgl.scripps.edu/projects/tangible_models Tommy Toy (2011) How Arthur […]

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2012 – Slime Mold Imitates the United States Interstate System

Can a slime mold solve the traveling salesman problem without a digital computer? From the article's abstract: The plasmodium phase of Physarum polycephalum is a champion amongst living creatures used in laboratory prototypes of future and emergent computing architectures. A wide range of problems from computational geometry and logic can be solved by this cellular slime mold. A typical way to perform a computation with the slime mold […]

Added by Jonathan Helfman & Pierre Dragicevic. Category: Uncertain / disputed. Tags: , , ,
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2015 – Kohei Nakajima’s Computing Tentacle

Kohei Nakajima and his colleagues argue that soft bodies are hard to control from a robotics perspective, but precisely because of their complex dynamics they can be used as information processing devices for solving hard computational problems. In a recent article they explain how they send inputs to a motor that wiggles a silicon tentacle, and read the system's output by sensing the arm's posture. I'm not entirely sure what's being calculated exactly, […]

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