Home Technology The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Technology By Monica Gray -

Without complex machines, we wouldn’t understand or have a grasp on the world or outer space to the extent we currently do. This includes complex phenomena like quantum physics, outer space, and ancient mythology. We use complex machines to research, explore, and discover extreme aspects of this planet that are far beyond our human comprehension. By working with machines, scientists can broaden their horizons and learn about the world more deeply.

When scientists combine machines with the human brain, the results are otherworldly. We can use this power to our advantage as a species. According to CSIRO, one benefit is search and rescue missions. They write, “When it comes to search and rescue missions, humans now have some high-tech help. Smart, semiautonomous drones work alongside human teams to bring people home safely. DroneResponse provides emergency responders with a user-friendly interface allowing a team of smart drones to scan terrain and deliver immediate support.” Other benefits of combining machines and the human mind include developing helper robots and better health care. Either way, whether it’s building the biggest space machine or the biggest motorcycles, humans have accomplished tremendous amounts when it comes to machinery. And it’s only going to expand and grow from here.

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
CERN

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

The world’s largest particle accelerator, operating since 2008, is a central aspect of CERN’s accelerator complex. It spans 16.7 miles, roughly 27 kilometers, of superconducting magnets. Structures boost the energy of the particles as they travel through them. According to the CERN website, “Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide. The beams travel in opposite directions in separate beam pipes – two tubes kept at ultrahigh vacuum.”

They must chill the magnets down to ‑271.3°C, which is a temperature colder than outer space. Because it’s so cold, it’s connected to a distribution system of liquid helium. It uses 1,232 dipole magnets to bend the beams, and 392 quadrupole magnets to focus them. With this machine, scientists hope to answer questions in physics like the origin of mass, the search for supersymmetry, and the overall nature of dark energy and dark matter, aspects of the universe unknown to scientists (CERN).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
CNBC

Quantum Computing

If computers had superpowers, it would be in the form of quantum computing. These computers use special particles that are in a “super-switch” state. It can be both on, and off, at the same time. This is thanks to entanglement and superposition. Instead of doing calculations one by one, superposition lets the particles do many calculations at the same time. It’s like walking down a maze and having the chance to explore every single path at the same time. The complex machine of quantum computers approaches problem-solving like this.

To take it a step further, what happens to one part of an entanglement happens to the other one, no matter how far apart they are. Quantum computers are very fast but difficult to handle. With a small bump, it can throw off their calculations. They need extreme cold and special conditions to work properly, just like a normal computer needs a fan to cool down. But these machines might bring future advancements like new medicines, enhanced electric car batteries, and optimized airplane efficiency (IBM).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Future

The International Space Station (ISS)

Some of the most complex machines in the world exist at the ISS. It serves as a launch base for missions into Earth’s orbit. Since a large number of experiments need a pristine, zero-gravity environment, the ISS operates as this service station. It’s a collaborative effort with multiple countries, including the United States, the European Space Agency, Canada, Japan, and Russia. The ISS is constantly orbiting the Earth at 250 miles (402 kilometers) and is visible to the naked eye if you look into the Earth’s atmosphere. Astronauts typically spend about six months on the ISS.

They perform spacewalks, engage in outreach activities, and conduct experiments. This is where future, long-term space exploration begins. It’s probably one of the most brilliant machines in the world. According to Space, “At night, the ISS is visible from Earth, appearing as a luminous moving point of light and rivaling the brilliant planet Venus in brightness. It can be seen without the use of a telescope by night sky observers who know when and where to look.” Next time you’re in a palace with a clear night sky, look up! (Space).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Scientific American

The Antikythera Mechanism

This is an ancient Greek device, located near the island of Antikythera. It was discovered in 1900, and researchers learned that it dates back to between 60 and 70 BC. The bronze machine connects small gears with teeth that measure a millimeter long and can make predictions at any given time. It’s a complex machine, especially for its time, and originally served as an astronomical calculator. It was far ahead of its time, and much more advanced than researchers previously assumed.

Researchers discovered the mechanism could predict eclipses and make astronomical predictions. It’s astounding these mechanism’s functions could make the predictions it did, and challenge previous notions about Greeks and their ability to challenge our assumptions about technology. It also shows that the Greeks believed the Earth was at the center of the universe, and that the “fixed stars” moved in intricate patterns across the sky (Scientific American).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Channel Daily News

Tianhe-2 (MilkyWay-2) Supercomputer

A Chinese supercomputer that held the title of the world’s fastest supercomputer for several years. It is used for scientific research, weather modeling, and other computationally intensive tasks. The History of Tianhe-2 is complex, and states, “During the testing phase, Tianhe-2 was laid out in a non-optimal confined space. When assembled at its final location, the system will have had a theoretical peak performance of 54.9 petaflops.

At peak power consumption, the system itself would have drawn 17.6 megawatts of power. Including external cooling, the system drew an aggregate of 24 megawatts. The completed computer complex would have occupied 720 square meters of space.” It still operates as one of the fastest super machines in the world (Byjus).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Sometimes Interesting

Bagger 293

This machine is a huge bucket-wheel excavator that scientists use to mine coal. It’s known as the largest land vehicle in the world, weighing over 31 million pounds. Every single day, it can remove up to 8.5 million cubic feet of Earth. The machine requires a group of five people to operate it.

To function, it uses a large 70-foot rotating wheel at the end of a long arm, which has a series of buckets attached. The buckets pick up the earth and dump it into a conveyor belt, which transports the earth to other vehicles and a dumping site (Sometimes Interesting).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
PL

The Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR)

As an extremely phenomenal, groundbreaking project at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, the TFTR operated from 1982 to 1997. It helped scientists with fusion research, as they could achieve plasma temperatures of 510 million degrees centigrade. To put that into perspective, that’s far beyond the 100 million degrees that’s required to power our cities.

To power the TFTR, scientists had to use a mixture of tritium and deuterium as fuel. If they can improve plasma confinement, they can maintain the conditions necessary for fusion. To put it simply, this is broadening scientists’ understanding of fusion energy, to help find a cleaner and more abundant energy source (GPL).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Compute

The Apollo Computer

This landmark NASA system aided in the first landing on the moon, one of the biggest steps for humankind. It handled complex calculations and controls during the spacecraft landing, which was beyond any capacity of a human. Margaret Hamilton led a team of 350 to help develop software for the Apollo mission. The computer used verb and noun codes for astronauts, to help them communicate. At the core of the computer’s operating system was the AGC, which kept its missions on track.

According to Computer, “The original design, referred to as Block I, used 4,100 ICs each containing a single three-input nor gate. The revised design, which was used in crewed flights, referred to as Block II, used 2,800 ICs mostly composed of dual three-input nor gates and several expanders and sense amplifiers.” It used a combination of read-only memory (ROM) and random-access memory (RAM) to help with its variable operations (Computer).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Scientific American

Deep Blue (IBM)

This supercomputer was designed by IBM to play chess. It defeated world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997, marking the first match between a computer and a human. It beautifully showcased the immense power of AI and complexity with strategic thinking, showing we are no match for a computer. Deep Blue won one game, tied two games, and lost three games. The system is capable of examining 200 million moves per second, or 50 billion positions in a single game. AI has certainly advanced since these early computer days.

In an interview with Murray Campbell, who worked on the Deep Blue computer, he admits that computers and humans working together are far better off than humans and computers working alone. He said, “We wouldn’t want, for example, computers to take over diagnosis and treatment of patients by themselves because there are a lot of intangibles in diagnosing a patient that is hard to capture in the data. But in terms of making recommendations about options to consider—perhaps those that are from very recent technical papers or clinical trials that maybe the doctor isn’t aware of—a system like that can be very valuable.” This might be the catalyst of the future of complex machines and humans working together (IBM).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Space

Hubble Space Telescope

Even though it’s not the largest, or most complex machine on this list, it’s still a remarkable piece of machinery that offers a complex astronomical observatory. It’s provided scientists with breathtaking images of distant galaxies. Scientists have studied the cosmos more in depth thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope. It launched in 1990 and has been going strong ever since, it’s wowed the public and has given scientists a glimpse into a world they don’t know much about.

Hubble has photographed planets orbiting other suns, and individual stars in various stages of their evolution, and has created a 3D map of dark matter. Scientists use it to study both solar systems located light-years away, and our solar system. They believe Hubble will continue enduring and studying the cosmos until 2025 (Space).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Space

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

The JWST is one of NASA’s most ambitious projects to this day and even surpassed the Hubble Space Telescope by 100 times. This is an infrared observatory that provides a deeper view of the cosmos than any other telescope previously created. It required the brains and minds of hundreds of engineers, specialists, and scientists.

It uses infrared light to capture the way the universe looked over 200 million years after the Big Bang. Over 1,200 people have contributed to bringing this telescope to life. It provides scientists with even more valuable insights into outer space. It must operate at cold temperatures in space, fold and unfold once in orbit, and undergo a series of rigorous tests (Science).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
The Denver Post

Advanced Weather Satellites

These complex machines are equipped with advanced sensors to predict complex weather patterns. They provide data for meteorological research and monitor potential disasters and detrimental weather patterns. According to the NOAA Satellite website, “GOES-16 and GOES-18 also monitor lightning activity with the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) instrument. GLM detects total lightning (in-cloud, cloud-to-cloud, and cloud-to-ground) activity and reveals the extent of lightning flashes and the distance they travel. Rapid increases in total lightning activity often precede severe and tornadic thunderstorms.

“GLM data can help alert forecasters that a storm is intensifying before it produces damaging winds, hail, or tornadoes.” These complex weather machines keep track of high-intensity weather, which will then help people in affected areas make safe decisions. This is especially helpful for predicting lightning, which will lessen lightning-related deaths and injuries (NESDIS).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Mars NASA

Curiosity Rover

This highly advanced robotic vehicle is designed to explore the surface of Mars. It’s equipped with instruments and complex systems used for data collection and navigation. According to the Curiosity website, “Curiosity explores Gale Crater and acquires rock, soil, and air samples for onboard analysis. The car-size rover is about as tall as a basketball player and uses a 7-foot-long arm to place tools close to rocks selected for study.

Curiosity’s large size allows it to carry an advanced kit of 10 science instruments.” Not only that, but it has 17 cameras, a drill to collect rock samples, and a laser to vaporize small pinpoint spots of rocks. It’s the most advanced machine sent to the surface of Mars (Mars NASA).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Scientific American

The ITER project

This machine aims to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion as a carbon-free source of energy. It’s based on the same principle that powers our Sun and stars. It has collaborated with 35 nations. To achieve fusion on Earth, the fuel must be heated to 150 million degrees Celsius. This forms a hot plasma. Strong magnetic fields keep the plasma away from the walls. The goal is not to produce electricity, but to prove that we can use fusion to generate power.

Unfortunately, this complex machine is decades behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. Some of this delay has resulted because of components of the reactor arriving late and with defects, as well as concerns over radiation shielding. Even so, scientists hope this machine will help us solve our problems about the environment and climate change (Scientific American).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Planetary

Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)

The LSST is an astronomical survey telescope. Scientists have designed it to capture wide-field images of the sky. It does this with a 3.2 gigapixel camera. Scientists will use this camera to create a detailed map of the universe. It’s a complex machine thanks to its data processing and management systems for handling the vast amount of information generated.

The camera is the size of a small car and will detect near-ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light. Its primary mirror spans 8.4 meters wide, which collects about 12 times the amount of light that the Hubble Space Telescope collects. The LSST also aims to detect 40,000 bodies beyond Neptune and will study millions of objects, including 90 percent of potentially hazardous asteroids that span 140 meters in diameter (American Scientist).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Atlas Obscura

The Z Machine

This marvel of modern science, the Z Machine, is located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It holds the current title of being one of the most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation sources in the entire world. The Z Machine produces conditions that you cannot find anywhere else on Earth. It replicates the dense plasma that exists within the white dwarf stars. When it’s activated, it directs around 20 million amps of electricity, which is more than a thousand times more powerful than a lightning bolt. It directs this electricity towards a tiny target, with hundreds of tungsten wires finer than a human hair.

According to Atlas Obscura, “In 2014, researchers at Sandia said they had detected significant numbers of neutrons coming from their experiments as a byproduct of the fusion reactions. This in turn has shown some progress toward the ultimate energy goal: the production of more energy than the fusion device takes in.” This means scientists can finally study the stars, nuclear weapons, and fusion energy. It will also help scientists understand the cosmos and shed light on star formation and black holes (Atlas Obscura).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Business Insider

Airbus A380

This sort of complex machine is a little bit different than the others on this list, but without it, we wouldn’t have the freedom to explore the world like we have. The Airbus A380 is one of the largest passenger aircraft ever built. Ultimately, its design involves advanced materials, complex systems, and cutting-edge aerodynamics.

The sheer size and engineering complexity make it a remarkable achievement in aviation, and from the Airbus A380, many other flights and airplanes have developed. This aircraft strived for an incredible size and its ability to hold many passengers and luggage, quiet power, and a more efficient operating system, which means it will cut costs in half (Engine Alliance).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
The NYT

The Deepwater Horizon

This semi-submersible platform is capable of drilling into ultra-deep water. It can operate under challenging conditions, at depths reaching up to 10,000 feet. It’s manned by a crew of 135 specialists. It’s equipped with essential control and operation centers, cargo areas, and helipads. Unfortunately, back in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon explosion became the most notorious offshore disaster in the world.

The fig was valued at $560 million, and the explosions resulted in 11 missing and presumed dead workers. About 17 were injured, and it took many BP and U.S. authorities to stop the oil flow, which posed a huge threat to the fragile ecosystems and wildlife of the Louisiana coast. A staggering 5,000 barrels per day leaked into the ocean (Response).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Guinness World Records

The World’s Tallest Motorcycle

Built by Italian engineer Fabio Reggiani in 2012m the world’s tallest motorcycle, yet another complex machine of its kind, is 10.03 meters long. It’s powered by a 5.7L V8 engine producing 280 horsepower. It only has one reverse gear, but three forward gears, and weighs a whopping 5,000 kilograms.

To put it into perspective, it’s as tall as a giraffe and as heavy as an elephant. To build the large motorcycle, Reggiani scaled it from its original size and took wheels from industrial excavators. All in all, it took six months to build (Guinness World Records).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built

The Difference Engine

Let’s step back in time and look at older complex machines. After all, without the first pioneers of complex machinery, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The Difference Engine is a mechanical computer designed by Charles Babbage. It was his first calculating machine. It consisted of roughly 2,000 parts and was built by engineer and toolmaker Joseph Clement, and completed in 1832.

The difference engine was built to calculate a series of numerical values and then print the results. It was a milestone in the world of computing and remains one of the finest examples of precision engineering at the time. The machine also had, “Numbers were represented in the decimal system by the positions of 10-toothed metal wheels mounted in columns. The intricate shapes required special jigs and tools, and the need for hundreds of near-identical precision parts challenged an engineering culture somewhere between craft and mass production traditions.” The engine consisted of rods, brass gear wheels, ratchets, and pinions. From there, Babbage developed Difference Engine No. 2, which was a more demanding analytical engine (Science Museum).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
UCL

Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE)

The DUNE project, standing for the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, represents a pioneering international collaboration designed to unravel the mysteries surrounding neutrinos. At its core, the project is focused on the construction and operation of an extensive neutrino detector positioned 1.5 kilometers below the surface within the Sanford Underground Research Facility situated in South Dakota, USA. The primary objective of DUNE is to conduct an in-depth examination of neutrinos emanating from core-collapse supernovae within our own Milky Way galaxy. This ambitious endeavor aims to shed light on fundamental questions about the universe, particularly why we inhabit a matter-dominated cosmos.

Delving into the intricacies of neutrino behavior in the extreme conditions of a core-collapse supernova event provides researchers with a unique opportunity to enhance our comprehension of the underlying principles governing the universe’s composition. The chosen location for the DUNE detector, buried deep underground amidst vast caverns and state-of-the-art cryogenics infrastructure, serves a crucial purpose. The subterranean positioning minimizes interference from cosmic rays and other external factors, enabling the precise measurement of neutrino interactions. The construction process involved the meticulous excavation of a staggering 800,000 tons of rock. (IBNF).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Orlando Sentinel

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket

The Falcon Heavy, a remarkable creation by SpaceX, stands as one of the world’s most powerful operational rockets, renowned for its capacity to carry heavy payloads into space and its revolutionary reusability features. Crafted from three reusable Falcon 9 nine-engine cores, boasting a total of 27 Merlin engines generating over 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, the Falcon Heavy has the capability to lift nearly 64 metric tons to orbit, a feat equivalent to approximately eighteen 747 aircraft, as detailed on the SpaceX website.

Designed to transport entire crews and supplies directly into orbit, the Falcon Heavy represents a paradigm shift in space transportation. However, its scheduled launch on December 13th, 2023, encountered a delay, leaving the eagerly awaited event without a new launch date as of the latest updates. This delay underscores the intricate nature of space exploration endeavors and the meticulous attention required to ensure the success and safety of each mission involving this groundbreaking and powerful rocket. (Orlando Sentinel).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Live Japan

Tokyo Skytree

As the world’s second-tallest tower, soaring to a height of 634 meters, this iconic structure in Tokyo is not merely a stunning observation deck but a cutting-edge telecommunications tower with advanced broadcasting capabilities. Positioned prominently in the skyline, it plays a pivotal role in maintaining the connectivity and stability of radio waves across the Kanto area, as elucidated by Live Japan: “It has the vital function of providing the Kanto area with stable radio waves, along with numerous TV and radio stations in Tokyo using the tower.”

Beyond its primary telecommunication functions, the tower embraces a multifaceted role in contributing to the city’s scientific endeavors. Renowned for its stellar cloud and lightning observation capabilities, this architectural marvel actively engages in the collection of valuable data and research for meteorological studies. By serving as an integral component in the city’s observational infrastructure, the tower transcends its physical presence, becoming a crucial instrument in enhancing our understanding of atmospheric phenomena and bolstering Tokyo’s resilience against natural forces. (Live Japan).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Science

Panama Canal Locks

We’ve looked at a lot of complex machines that study outer space, but what about machines that operate in unison with ships? That’s where the Panama Canal comes in. It’s an engineering marvel for facilitating ship passage between oceans. It recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.

For its time, it was one of the largest, and most complex engineering projects ever undertaken. It greatly reduced the time needed for ships to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and ever since its opening, projects have helped widen and expand the Panama Canal (Caterpillar).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Mars NASA

Mars Helicopter (Ingenuity)

This is the first helicopter to fly on another planet. It has completed 67 trips to Mars. According to the Mars NASA website, the helicopter has completed, “121.1 flying minutes, covering 9.5 miles (15.3 km), and reaching altitudes as high as 78.7 ft (24.0 m).” Its initial flight paved the way for the future, as it was the first one of its kind to fly in such a thin atmosphere and any other atmosphere than Earth.

The purpose of this complex machine is to pave the way for future aerial explorers at Mars and other potential space destinations. It only recently took its first flight back in 2021. It weighs about four pounds on Earth, and 1.5 pounds on Mars (Mars NASA).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
CBT News

Tesla

You might have ridden in a Tesla. Or, you might even own a Tesla. This machine is a breakthrough in regards to advanced facilities for mass production of electric vehicles and batteries. The Gigafactories is a lithium-ion battery and electric vehicle component factory located in the USA that works on Tesla. The business developed the “gig casting” technology to help reduce production costs and make cars even faster.

This means, you could see a new Tesla built from the ground up in as little as 18 to 24 months, whereas it takes other companies roughly three to four years. According to CBT News, “In its small EVs, which the company hopes to introduce by the middle of the decade and sell for $25,000, Tesla may employ a single large frame that combines the front and rear parts with the central underbody that contains the battery.” It’s also incorporating 3D printing and industrial sand into its machinery (CBT News).

The Most Complex Machines Ever Built
Medium

Human Brain

Even though this isn’t necessarily a complex man-made machine, it’s certainly a complex biological machine. It’s made of an intricate network of hundreds of billions of neurons, neurotransmitters, and synapses, that are constantly at work and constantly firing. It remains one of the most mysterious systems in the world, and even researchers fail to fully understand the human brain.

Professor Pankaj Sah said, “AI is everywhere – each time you use a photo filter, have junk mail filtered from your inbox, or get a traffic update on your phone, AI is at work. The brain is the most powerful machine currently in existence, so it’s little wonder it is a central source of inspiration for AI and robotic technology. With unparalleled efficiency and the ability to learn and adapt, it has formed the blueprint of much research in the fields of AI and robotics. But technology is merging with neuroscience in ways that will have a huge impact on society.” The human brain is the most intelligent machine out of all the machines on this list, and as we’ve seen before when paired with AI, the results are unmatchable, albeit terrifying (QBI).

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