Alcohol powered computing

This contraption was built by Norbert Heinz to illustrate how much energy your computer uses. By turning a handle (or, more awesomely, by burning methanol in a four-stroke engine), the user gets a feel for how much power the computer demands (Norbert has also made the system run using an Arduino)

We spoke with Norbert to find out the story behind the build:

“I started diving into electronics during my apprenticeship as a physics laboratory assistant. Learning how semiconductors work was a great thing to me. I bought my first computer in those days, which was an Amiga 500 – I’m no longer a youngster – and started learning how to do coding. I scraped the parallel port of my Amiga during my early hardware experiments...

“The idea behind my internet pages is to share knowledge with mankind, as well as getting a deeper understanding of all the stuff for myself by simply writing it down. HomoFaciens is a made-up word for making humans (in short: makers), derived from Homo sapiens, which means ‘the wise man’. Creating animations is a great tool to share knowledge, so I started a YouTube channel a couple of years ago. The four-stroke generator is a less academic project – learning physics should be fun as well. My RoboSpatium is another fun part of my project. You can drive my camera-equipped robots in my attic and my garage for free. “With the hand-cranked computers, I wanted to give people a better understanding of electric power and losses or efficiency. It’s a nice demonstration; young as well as old kids enjoy powering a computer through a geared DC motor – at least for half a minute.

“The motors were left over from previous projects, and after a short test I saw that it worked. I added the four-stoke engine because I had one and I simply like the sound of those machines.”

You can see more of Norbert's creations at

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