Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg at desk

Rube Goldberg – Best known for his “inventions”, Rube’s early years as an engineer informed his most acclaimed work.

A Rube Goldberg contraption – an elaborate set of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups and rods, put in motion by balls, canary cages, pails, boots, bathtubs, paddles and live animals – takes a simple task and makes it extraordinarily complicated. He had solutions for How To Get The Cotton Out Of An Aspirin Bottle, imagined a Self-Operating Napkin, and created a Simple Alarm Clock – to name just a few of his hilariously depicted drawings.

Rube Goldberg competition

Purdue Rube Goldberg Contest

Purdue Rube Goldberg Machine claims Guinness World Record

The 2011 Purdue University Rube Goldberg machine shattered the world record for most steps ever successfully completed by such a machine. In 244 steps the “Time Machine” traces the history of the world from Big Bang to the Apocalypse before accomplishing the assigned everyday task of watering a flower. The record has been sanctioned by the Guinness Book of World Records and the World Records Academy.

  • Sesame Street: Rube Goldberg Machines! (video 14:05) – A clock strikes twelve pulling a string just tight enough to move the marble sitting on the string, sending to gently topple one domino, collapsing a bunch of other dominoes, that eventually fall off a counter and trigger a lever to launch a badminton birdie up onto the head of one of those vintage drinking birds, causing the bird to dip down and tap your mommy on her shoulder reminding her to press the play button on this video because you’re much too young to be using a computer alone.
  • A Rube Goldberg machine (video 5:06) is a machine that accomplishes a simple task in as complicated a way as possible. Every year Purdue University holds a Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. Teams of college students from all over the country design and build these machines and enter them in the competition. We invited this year’s winners from Purdue University to show off their creation on the show.

Other have created their own contraptions

What’s the problem?
A Rube Goldberg machine demonstrating the digestive system of a cow! (video 0:57) This Rube Goldberg machine serves a practical purpose – to demonstrate the working of a cow’s digestive system.

  • Ask – How could a Rube Goldberg machine demonstrate cow digestions? How big should it be? How many different areas are there in a cow’s digestive system? The “machine” is on display to show visitors how cow’s digestive system works. It needs to be big enough to see what is going on. It needs to be open so visitors can follow the action. It needs to look like a cow, sort of.
  • Imagine – What materials could be used? What actions need to be represented? Plywood is easy to get and relatively easy to work with. If can be sawed into a variety of shapes. Plywood is sturdy so it will stand up to lots of use. It is relatively cheap. Other materials like plastic or metal might have been considered.
  • Design, Build – How are the sections arranged to provide motion? How are the pieces held together? What are some of the important transitions so the ball keeps rolling? There are several different actions in the digestion system. Each of these are represented by different movements. The ball goes up the stairs, then down onto the platform until the hole in the turning wheel comes around and the ball rolls in. There are other actions and finally the ball rolls out the back. Some places the ball is rolling down a ramp. Other places, it is lifted by a device, driven by a motor. Plywood pieces can be held together with screws. If necessary, the pieces can be taken apart by just removing the screws. The joints made with screws are strong, especially if several screws are used, as they are in the cow machine.
  • Improve – What needed to be improved? The basket on the floor behind the cow is there to catch the ball.

That’s engineering
These machines are impressive displays of all kinds of simple machines activated by energy transfer.

  • energy transfer

Engineering ideas

  • complex machines, inclined plane, wheel, screw, energy transfer

Do it
Now it is your turn. Here are some challenges for you to work on…

  • select one of these Rube Goldberg ideas or come up with your own. Then draw it or build it.
  • search the web for pictures, drawings and video of Rube Goldberg machines
  • describe the actions in an existing Rube Goldberg machine
  • get a group together and use LEGO to build a Rube Goldberg Community Machine So that individual machines can be easily connected into a larger, community Rube Goldberg Machine, each entry planning to participate in the Guinness World Record Attempt must adhere to the following guidelines. The machine must be triggered only by a LEGO ball entering from one of three predefined locations along one edge of the machine. The machine must also deliver a LEGO ball (either the same one or a different one) out through locations defined along the non-entry edges of the machine. It must also raise the flag.
  • Motion Commotion Inspired by the whimsical drawings of Rube Goldberg, leverage knowledge of forces, work, simple machines and conservation of energy to design and build complex contraptions to complete a simple task : Design and construct a “Rube Goldberg” style machine (with multiple steps) to ring a bell. Constraints: Your machine must have at least 2 energy transfer (action-reaction) steps. Your machine may not have any human energy input except for at the beginning. You can consult other sources for ideas. .pdf guide

Learn more…

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