Turing Machine Built from Wood and Scrap Metal

Jim MacArthur built this incredible Turing machine using wood and scrap metal, which he demonstrated at MakerFaire UK in Newcastle. It is entirely mechanical, except for the electric motor used to drive it. He writes:

This is a mechanical universal Turing machine (given an infinite track). It uses ball bearings as its memory and has no electrical components, other than a small motor used to drive it. This is a quick overview video filmed at Maker Faire UK 2011.

more from New Scientist:

The machine is a close physical model of the theoretical Turing machine – a device first described by Alan Turing in 1937 as a thought experiment to understand the limits of mechanical computation. According to the theory, the machine performs calculations using a set of rules to manipulate symbols on an infinite strip of tape.

Instead of using tape, this machine’s memory uses ball bearings placed on a steel grid. A ball can represent one of five different symbols based on its position on the grid. The machine reads and writes data by repositioning the balls into different cells. It does this by moving along the grid, lifting ball bearings with magnets and then depositing them into a new position based on a set of rules.

A true Turing machine requires an infinite track or tape to run on but according to MacArthur, his machine is as close as you can get to a physical replica. It has no practical computing applications and would take months to add a few numbers together but MacArthur says it was fun to build. “Since you can see this computer working, it could be useful for educational purposes,” he says.

Beautiful work, Jim!


Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in! adafruit.com/mastodon

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community! http://adafru.it/discord

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers – CircuitPython.org


Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at AdafruitDaily.com !



No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.