abacus CHI

The abacus (plabaci or abacuses), also called a counting frame, is a hand-operated calculating tool of unknown origin used since ancient times in the ancient Near East, Europe, China, and Russia, millennia before the adoption of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system.

The abacus consists of a two-dimensional array of slidable beads (or similar objects). In their earliest designs, the beads could be loose on a flat surface or sliding in grooves. Later the beads were made to slide on rods and built into a frame, allowing faster manipulation.

Each rod typically represents one digit of a multi-digit number laid out using a positional numeral system such as base ten (though some cultures used different numerical bases). Roman and East Asian abacuses use a system resembling bi-quinary coded decimal, with a top deck (containing one or two beads) representing fives and a bottom deck (containing four or five beads) representing ones. Natural numbers are normally used, but some allow simple fractional components (e.g. 1214, and 112 in Roman abacus), and a decimal point can be imagined for fixed-point arithmetic.

Any particular abacus design supports multiple methods to perform calculations, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square and cube roots. The beads are first arranged to represent a number, then are manipulated to perform a mathematical operation with another number, and their final position can be read as the result (or can be used as the starting number for subsequent operations).

In the ancient world, abacuses were a practical calculating tool. Although calculators and computers are commonly used today instead of abacuses, abacuses remain in everyday use in some countries. The abacus has an advantage of not requiring a writing implement and paper (needed for algorism) or an electric power source. Merchants, traders, and clerks in some parts of Eastern Europe, Russia, China, and Africa use abacuses. The abacus remains in common use as a scoring system in non-electronic table games. Others may use an abacus due to visual impairment that prevents the use of a calculator. The abacus is still used to teach the fundamentals of mathematics to children in most countries.