An analog computer represents data as physical quantities and operates on the data by manipulating the quantities. It is designed to process data in which the variable quantities vary continuously (see analog circuit); it translates the relationships between the variables of a problem into analogous relationships between electrical quantities, such as current and voltage, and solves the original problem by solving the equivalent problem, or analog, that is set up in its electrical circuits. Because of this feature, analog computers were especially useful in the simulation and evaluation of dynamic situations, such as the flight of a space capsule or the changing weather patterns over a certain area. The key component of the analog computer is the operational amplifier, and the computer's capacity is determined by the number of amplifiers it contains. Although analog computers are commonly found in such forms as speedometers and watt-hour meters, they largely have been made obsolete for general-purpose mathematical computations and data storage by digital computers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.