Just because computers can do billions of operations each second that’s no reason to forget our roots. If you’ve got a 3D printer and a little patience, you can create your own mechanical punch card reader to relive the origins of computing. Yes, before there were vacuum tubes, there were cards.
Thingiverse user Chris has posted the plans for a punch card reader that anyone with a compatible printer should be able to assemble with his instructions. This is a Jacquard-style device, based on the mechanical loom design invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801. This was not a computing device as we currently understand them, but it was the beginning of something big.
Jacquard looms used a punched card to determine a sequence of movements in the machine itself. Specifically, each hole on the card corresponds to hook that either rises or lowers depending on the pattern of open punches. This sequence would control the patterns the loom created in textiles. Changing the looms weave pattern by swapping out cards is essentially a rudimentary form of computing. Many of these same concepts were used in Babbage’s proposed analytical machine decades later.
The miniature punch card reader on Thingiverse comes in 21 pieces, and some of them need to be printed multiple times. As it currently stands, the design can read 3 bits only, but redesigning some of the components could add more bits (needles, in this case). This is just a proof of concept right now, but you could probably use it to run a small loom. Major nerd points of you actually make a textile with this.
It might not be practical, but we’re in the early days of 3D printing. Sometimes you just want to make something to know that it’s possible. With the punch card reader, you can also learn about an early step in the development of computer science.
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