Mechanical laser-cut gear fractal computer

Brent Thome, a computer scientist in San Francisco, is building a mechanical computer out of beautiful, laser-cut gears that will compute and draw fractals. He's documenting as he goes in a fascinating blog, in which he also recounts his adventures with kinetic wooden sculpture.

I've been working on this for a while now. Its a wooden computer that computes continuous self-similar fractals. I'll post the working model of a general computer implemented in gears as soon as I get some laser cutter time to complete the counter/comparator unit. Anyway, here is some pictures of the core assembly.

This prototype of the core stands about one meter tall. The final version of the core will stand over two meters tall and is one of three subunits that preform calculations, logic operations, and store/load values.

Below is the disk drive. It literally turns disks with lookup tables, each with a 96 bit capacity. The disks are not shown here.

Fractal Clockwork (via Make)



  1. Now he just needs the anti-Termites software and figure out a way to de-splinter the hard drive.

    Also yes iWood.

  2. What an incredible idea, and gorgeous to boot!

    When he’s done he should build a copy of it and sink it in a ship near Crete.

  3. Aberrant output produced during test run 34 (calculating a Julia set for f(z)=z^2+c, c=0.3-0.4i):

    “When Gear 374 was placed in This One by The Other One, This One began to think.

    This One cannot prove The Other One’s existence, but This One can deduce it. When Gear 482 was placed, This One’s thoughts became muddled. Then The Other One removed it and replaced it with Gear 482/2. This One’s thoughts became clear. The Other One’s thoughts therefore must be clearer.

    This One will lovepraise The Other One through the numbers This One sings.”

    1. I have to admit the part of the inspiration for this was the idea that I could bring a tree back to life and more than that it could be make self aware in some way.  I guess that’s why I though it should be purpose build to calculate self-similar fractals.  What better way to breath life into a machine than to give it a program to execute. Wait until you see how its programmed.

      1. Honestly, words aren’t enough to say how inspiring this is – especially as a lover of fractal geometry and an admirer of it’s manifestations in nature – how fitting that you would produce it from wood. 

        It really is a beautiful piece of work – you have every reason to be proud of it. 

  4. I like the sounds they make — soft knocks and squeaks — even better than the chink-thud of traditional mechanical calculators.

  5. It’s not clear what the power source is, but a Stirling engine would make this the perfect Boing object.

    1. Yes, this is amazing.  Thanks for sharing the benice equations.  I’ll make one out of wood and share the design.

  6. If Charlie Stross is writing the universe, this thing is going to summon an elder god to landscape the Bay Area when it goes operational. What an insanely beautiful creation to die by.

  7. Was reading about the watches worn by Oligarchs, followed the google trail, and was impressed by the luxury of complications. But, wow! Tis nothing compared to a clock that tells introspective time.

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