Is the world ready for a Raspberry Pi-powered Lego Babbage Engine?

Neat idea could become reality with Reg readers' support

A proposal for Lego to build an Analytical Engine staffed by Babbage and Lovelace characters has received just under a third of the support it needs to be considered for production.

The pleasantly designed product was proposed to Lego's internal Ideas programme, and at the time of writing has amassed 2,972 supporters of the necessary 10,000.

It features a model of Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine, as well as Babbage and Ada Lovelace characters.

The Analytical Engine was first descibed in 1837, more than a century before the first general-purpose computers were actually constructed.

Ostensibly programmable, the Analytical Engine was Turing-complete, in principle. However it was never completed, thanks to a delay produced by an engineering argument, and eventually had its government funding withdrawn.

It followed on from Babbage's attempts to create his Difference Engine, an enormous mechanical device which would have weighed four tons, and measured eight feet in height, which was designed to calculate and tabulate polynomial functions.

Although the Lego proposal is open until 11 November 2016, the product's proposer, Stewart Lamb Cromar, noted that 10 December 2015 will mark Ada Lovelace's 200th birthday. He wrote:

This project would be a fitting commemoration for her bicentenary and hopefully inspire a whole new generation of computer programmers.

Lovelace, the daughter of Romantic-era poet Lord Byron, worked with Babbage on the Analytical Engine, garnering support from contemporaries such as Michael Faraday. However, she remains the subject of an unresolved debate regarding the world's first computer program.

Describing the design of the Lego set, Cromar writes:

The monochromatic brick palette helps to evoke a Victorian atmosphere and the engine itself is decorated with cogs, chains and pistons for a steampunk aesthetic. There is also capacity for the model to house a mini-computer such as the Raspberry Pi v2.0 single-board computer (optional and not included).

To support the idea, readers need only register with Lego and click "support". ®

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