Return Of The Digi Comp

The 60s are most often remembered because of flower power culture and the landing of man on the Moon, among other things, but if you’re not a (very hardcore) nerd you probably wouldn’t think of associating them with the Digi-Comp, a toy calculator that executed basic mathematical operations using marbles.

A cool, “larger-than-life” reproduction of the Digi Comp II was presented this year at Maker Faire, a festival held by Make Magazine which is a gathering point for DIY-enthusiasts and as such, provided the perfect setting for the exhibition of this huge, “genuine functioning, binary, mechanical computer”. The people behind it are California-based Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman, who jointly materialize creations under the alias of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. As the name suggests, all their work -including the computer that concerns us right now- has a marked scientific approach to it but also a healthy dose of playfulness and fun.

The original Digi Comp II was a relatively small toy (the box can be seen on the vid above) consisting of a double-decked platform made of masonite, an inclined plane and a series of plastic flip-flops and switches. The platform released a stream of half-inch marbles that rolled down the mini-ramp and moved the flip-flops in order to carry out simple arithmetic procedures such as adding and subtracting. What Windell and Lenore have basically done is build a giant version of the toy.

Their Digi Comp is approximately 4×8 feet in size and it works just like the small one, except it uses 8-balls instead of marbles. On the vid it can be seen in all its glorious, billiard-balls-bouncing-on-wood noisy action. Recreating an already existing item on a larger scale may not seem like much on paper, but on close inspection the build of this computer is actually amazing and I can’t imagine how much time and effort it must’ve taken.

Take a look at other projects featured on previous editions of the Maker Faire: Zork On A Rotary Phone, DIY Etch A Sketch Monitor and Embrace Twitter By Twittering Your Embraces.