Lovelace & Babbage is a fanciful and historical collection of bricks that pays homage to the Victorian roots of the computer age. The set, proposed by Stewart Lamb Cromar over at LEGO Ideas, centers around a brick-built rendition of the Analytical Engine, a device many consider to be the world’s first programmable computer.
The LEGO-styled machine is accompanied by two Victorian-era minifigures representing the real-life historical figures of Charles Babbage and Lady Ada Lovelace. Babbage, who is commonly thought of as the father of the modern computer, became interested in establishing a means of mechanically computing numbers. His research led him to devise plans for the Difference Engine, an automatic calculating machine, and its more advanced successor, the Analytical Engine.
Babbage had a close working relationship with Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace — better known today as Lady Ada Lovelace — who is often credited as the first computer scientist and author of the world’s first computer program. She earned this distinction when she wrote an algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical Engine as part of an article titled “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator.”
Although the Analytical Engine was never built during their lifetimes, its design did pave the way for the modern computer age. And now, though the wonder of LEGO and Cromar’s imagination, you can journey back through time to experience the birth of the computing era.
The set has been designed with a carefully selected assortment of monochromatic bricks to evoke the sense of Victorian times — which also imbues it with a steampunk atmosphere. In addition to the Analytical Engine (complete with gears, chains, and pistons) and the minifigures of Lovelace and Babbage (both outfitted with spanners), Cromar’s design includes gas lamps (of course), computational punch cards, and a pet owl. Additionally, in the most recent update, Cromar has added Ada’s cat Puff to the set.
And to make things really mathematical, the set’s Analytical Engine doubles as an enclosure for a Raspberry Pi (or similar mini-computer) so you can turn your LEGO Analytical Engine into a real computational machine (Raspberry Pi not included as part of the set).
In addition to the main Lovelace & Babbage set, Cromar has designed two bonus sets. The first is the ‘Ada Junior Classroom’ where a rucksack-clad li’l Ada can study her computations at a desk, which comes complete with inkwell, blackboard, clock, and a creepy bat who threatens to fly off with her LEGO teddy bear.
And, because all work and no tea make for dull programming, the other bonus set is the ‘Babbage Tea Party,’ complete with cake stand, tea cups, saucers, candlestick, table and chairs, and, of course, a Victoria sponge.
Anyone can submit a proposed set of themed bricks to LEGO Ideas (formerly known as LEGO Cuusoo), but it needs 10,000 votes before LEGO will consider putting it into production. Past successes in the program include Minecraft Micro World, Back to the Future, Mars Curiosity Rover, Ghostbusters Ecto 1, and the upcoming Dr. Who and Companions set.
As of this writing, Lovelace & Babbage has almost 5,000 votes with still more than a year of voting to go. So if you’d like to see computer history honored in LEGO, head over to LEGO Ideas and give the proposed Lovelace & Babbage kit your vote. You’ll need a LEGO ID to complete the voting process, but on the off-chance you don’t already have one, the site makes signing up for one very easy.