Analog-digital hybrid computers
There is an intermediate device, a 'hybrid' computer, in which an analog output is converted into digits. The information then can be sent into a standard digital computer for further computation. Because of their ease of use and because of technological breakthroughs in digital computers in the early 70s, the analog-digital hybrids were replacing the analog-only systems.
Hybrid computers are used to obtain a very accurate but not very mathematically precise 'seed' value, using an analog computer front-end, which value is then fed into a digital computer, using an iterative process to achieve the final desired degree of precision. With a three or four digit ...view middle of the document...
Stable, accurate voltage sources provide known magnitudes.
Typical electronic analog computers contain anywhere from a few to a hundred or more operational amplifiers ("op amps"), named because they perform mathematical operations. Op amps are a particular type of feedback amplifier with very high gain and stable input (low and stable offset). They are always used with precision feedback components that, in operation, all but cancel out the currents arriving from input components. The majority of op amps in a representative setup are summing amplifiers, which add and subtract analog voltages, providing the result at their output jacks. As well, op amps with capacitor feedback are usually included in a setup; they integrate the sum of their inputs with respect to time.
Integrating with respect to another variable is the nearly-exclusive province of mechanical analog integrators; it is almost never done in electronic analog computers. However, given that a problem solution does not change with time, time can serve as one of the variables.
Other computing elements include analog multipliers, nonlinear function generators, and analog comparators.
Inductors were never used in typical electronic analog computers, because their departure from ideal behavior is too great for computing of any great accuracy. Analog computer setups that at first would seem to require inductors can be rearranged and redefined to use capacitors. Capacitors and resistors, on the other hand, can be made much closer to ideal than inductors, which is why they constitute the majority of passive computing components.
The use of electrical properties in analog computers means that calculations are normally performed in real time (or faster), at a speed determined mostly by the frequency response of the operational amplifiers and other computing elements. In the history of electronic analog computers, there were some special high-speed types.
Nonlinear functions and calculations can be constructed to a limited precision (three or four digits) by designing function generators — special circuits of various combinations of resistors and diodes to provide the nonlinearity. Typically, as the input voltage increases, progressively more diodes conduct.
When compensated for temperature, the forward voltage drop of a transistor's base-emitter junction can provide a usably-accurate logarithmic or exponential function. Op amps scale the output voltage so that it is usable with the rest of the computer.
Any physical process which models some computation can be interpreted as an analog computer. Some examples, invented for the purpose of illustrating the concept of analog computation, include using a bundle of spaghetti as a model of sorting numbers; a board, a set of nails, and a rubber band as a model of finding the convex hull of a set of points; and strings tied together as a model of finding the shortest path in a network. These are all described in A.K. Dewdney (see citation...