A 300-year-old mini abacus could be the first wearable technology

When was the first portable computer? It is estimated that it certainly dates from the 1970s, with the work of the giant IBM in particular. What about the first wearable technology? The Chinese had a portable calculator centuries ago, during the Qing dynasty. The object in question is nothing but a ring in which a mini abacus was embedded.

Impossible to use with fingers

The first portable computer is undoubtedly IBM’s prototype SCAMP (1973), followed by the first publicly available device of its kind, the 5100 (1975). In addition, the first portable electronic calculators are hardly older. In China, since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the abacus allowed the four basic operations, the extraction of square roots and the extraction of cubic roots. However, it turns out that the abacus has also had its portable versionas the ChinaCulture site explained in 2010 in a lengthy dossier on the history of this essential object.

In the 17th century, a Chinese inventor created an atypical ring made entirely of pure silver. Above all, the object included a an inch long mini abacus for 0.5 cm wide. The abacus in question, consisting of seven rods with seven beads each, was so small that it was impossible to use with fingers! The user must indeed have use of very fine tools to move the beads less than one millimeter in diameter. The ladies of that time therefore used a pin that they simply took out of their hair.

silver abacus ring
Credits: Cheng Dawei Abacus Museum

A relic on display in a museum

This relic is on display at the Cheng Dawei Abacus Museum in Huangshan, Anhui Province, China. However, these types of rings are easy to find in China and on the internet with a varied choice in terms of materials and quality levels. For many observers, this ring abacus would in any case be the very first wearable technology.

You should know that the inventor of this surprising ring remains unknown, although experts place its appearance during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Nevertheless, the identity of the inventor of the abacus is not a mystery. This is the famous mathematician Cheng Dawei. However, he was best known as the author of Suanfa Tongzong, a mathematical text with no less than 595 problems divided into seventeen chapters. In its elementary version, the abacus was in “base 10”, that is, composed of ten parallel wires with nine beads each between two boards on a frame. Depending on the rod it is on, each bead represented a unit, a ten, a hundred, etc.