Meet the water computer: another promising sustainable alternative to save energy

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

 Searches for sustainable alternatives to reduce the negative impacts caused, primarily by human actions, are ongoing. The latest trend (with ancient origins) is the water-powered analog computer that can solve complex calculations and make highly accurate projections. Read more.

The water-powered analog computer is based on the principle of a hydrodynamics system.

The data processing of this analog, water computer is done through channels and tubes that represent the information and logic operations of the system.

How it all began

 In the early 20th century, before the invention of transistors, computers were analog and comprised large mechanical gears. They were nothing like the electronic devices that were developed later on, as they were enormous, heavy, and had limited functions, especially regarding complex mathematical calculations. One of the pioneers of computer science was the Russian architect Vladimir Lukyanov, who created a hydraulic integrator in 1936, later known as the "water computer." 

How the first water computer worked 

Lukyanov replaced the mechanical gears of an ordinary machine with water, making it work by carefully handling interconnected pipes and pumps.

The system worked like this: the water level contained in various chambers represented stored numbers, and the rate of flow between them represented mathematical operations. In this way, the system solved differential equations.

In other words, water tanks were connected to hydraulic resistance tubes and when they rose or fell, the flow of liquid varied in pattern and the result was displayed on a graph printed on paper. To use the device, however, it was necessary to make prior calculations in order to configure the tubes to perform the calculations.

In other words, tanks of water were connected to tubes of varying hydraulic resistance and when they went up or down, the flow of liquid varied and the result was displayed on a graph that was printed on paper. Good to know that in order to use this device it was necessary to make prior calculations that served to configure the tubes that performed the calculations.

How water-powered analog computing works 

Unlike their digital counterparts, analog computers do not use transistors or any other type of on/off switches but simply employ constantly moving water, creating waves. In this sense, analog processors are superior to digital ones when it comes to assisting, for example, in the creation of artificial brains or artificial intelligence by combining processing and memory. 

Reservoir computing 

Water-powered computing, also known as "reservoir computing," performs complex calculations without the need for any other type of energy. Data production occurs continuously, unlike digital computers that represent data in binary form (either "zero" or "one"), abruptly changing based on the on/off switches of transistors. 

Projections/forecasts with impressive accuracy

To better understand how the water computer system works that allows you to make projections or predictions with a high degree of accuracy, see Bobo throwing large and small stones into a lake.

Bob throws rocks into the pond, while Alice watches the waves, trying to predict what is coming.

Next, Alice tries to distinguish the sizes of the waves formed (according to the size of the stones thrown into the lake), i.e., whether they are large waves or small waves. It is up to the reservoir to make a prediction taking into account the time the waves form patterns, given the local temperature, degree of humidity, and the direction and strength of the wind. All of this is based on the laws of physics. 

3 advantages of the water-powered analog computer:

  1. Sustainability - Water-powered computing uses hydropower, a renewable source, and low environmental impact.

  2. Energy efficiency - To perform complex calculations, water computers require a minimal fraction of energy because their fluid nature operates with less heat dissipation.

  3. Parallel processing - The continuous flow of water rolling through the system allows multiple operations to be performed simultaneously and on different tracks, significantly increasing the processing speed. This advantage allows the system to develop complex simulations, standard mathematical models, and accurate scientific analysis.

3 effective applications of the water-powered analog computer:

  1. Scientific research - Performing climate simulations, geophysical data analysis, and phenomenological models at low cost compared to conventional scientific standards. 

  2. Engineering and design - Optimizing the analysis of physical structures, material strength testing, and fluid modeling accurately and quickly. This energy efficiency requires less expenditure of fossil resources, reducing the usual impacts during the product development process.

  3. Education - Use as a teaching tool to illustrate abstract math, physics, and logic concepts more tangibly and visually, making it easier for students to understand the operating principles behind analog water-powered computing, with similar effectiveness to the digital system, only in a sustainable and low-cost way.


The water computer, in this current edition, represents a remarkable innovation in sustainable and low-cost computing. Its hydrodynamics-based and energy-efficient approach makes it a promising alternative to mitigate the overuse of traditional digital computers that use more energy to run their programs. 
With its advantages and applications in various fields of scientific research, engineering, design, and education, the water computer will play a key role in building a greener, more energy-efficient future for humanity. The Earth thanks you.