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How About A Pedal-Powered Pentium?

Software engineer invents a crank-powered computer.
When the next blackout hits, you might be able to keep your computer running by applying some elbow grease. Pierre Coupard, a software engineer with Linux developer Lineo Inc., says he has invented a computer that's powered by a hand crank. Coupard adapted a crank-powered flashlight to run one of his company's embedded microcontroller modules. By cranking a handle 60 times, he can get the computer to work for two minutes.

"I just did it for fun," Coupard says, "but there are people I talked to who reckon they could use this as a data-collection device where there's no power." Coupard says his invention has limited applications because it produces so little electricity, but it's ideal for data-collection devices, which are usually turned on once or twice a day, run for a minute, and shut off.

Coupard's computer might be unusual today, but it has historical precedent, says Chris Garcia, a collections coordinator at the Computer Museum History Center in Mountain View, Calif. Charles Babbage's famous calculating engine was powered by a crank, as were calculators in the late 1880s and early 1900s. And while Garcia says that Coupard's invention seems kind of crazy, it could be useful at his museum. "Here in California, we can always use something that is hand cranked."

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