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Signal Integrity in 150 B.C.

Posted November 25th, 2009 · Please leave a comment · History

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IBM’s Roadrunner is a contender for the most sophisticated machine today, but in 150 B.C. it was the Antikythera mechanism.

It’s a precision gear-wheel astronomical computer constructed by the ancient Greeks, circa 150 B.C. No other such artifact from the ancient world survives, and you have to fast forward at least 1,500 years before humans constructed machines even approaching its subtlety. That time gap is analogous to unearthing something with the complexity of a MacBook Pro amongst ruins of the late Roman Empire.

Historical and extrapolated computer power derived from Moravec, Roadrunner, and the Antikythera mechanism
Click on the thumbnail to see the widescreen historical and extrapolated computer power derived from Moravec, Roadrunner, and the Antikythera mechanism

Recently, scientists employed specialize photography and 3D X-ray tomography of the device and figured out a good deal of its purpose and workings. It’s a planetary model called an orrery that shows the time and date of solar and lunar eclipses, lunar phases, and planetary positions.

Here’s Michael Wright’s reconstruction:

Mogi Vicentini, an Italian astronomer and computer scientist has created both physical and virtual models of the mechanism, including a stunning video. It’s a 320MB .avi download. My copy of Windows Media Player wouldn’t play it, but VLC media player would. There’s a lower resolution streaming version embedded in the Guardian blog posting Antikythera clockwork computer may be even older than thought.

Who built it? Inscriptions on the relic match those used in regions colonised from the Greek city state of Corinth – candidates include Corfu, Illyria and Epirus in northwest Greece, and Syracuse in Sicily. Syracuse is a particularly exciting prospect because this is where Archimedes lived. In De re publica, Cicero mentions Archimedes once made a bronze contrivance that might have been a predecessor to the Antikythera mechanism. Archimedes himself died in 212 B.C., but it’s possible that his students built on his knowledge over the intervening decades.

The makers could see signal integrity problems related to gears — friction, tolerance, wear, play and backlash — with the stereoscopic vision of their own two eyes and their senses. For stereo vision of the 3D electromagnetic fields and currents involved in modern day signal integrity issues like crosstalk, differential skew, return-path discontinuity register for our free January 21st webcast, Astonishing Enhancements to Signal Integrity EDA Tools Using 3D Vision and GPUs

Artist's impression of ADS stereo viewer for 3D electromagnetic fields and currents

Please see also our press release Agilent Technologies’ Stereo Viewer with NVIDIA 3D Vision Technology Brings James Clerk Maxwell’s Famous Equations to Life on the ADS Stereoscopic Viewer with 3D Vision.

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