Rube Goldberg Machine Puts Engineering Students In The Record Books


Rube Goldberg machines are always a fan favorite around here. They truly embody the concept of over-engineering, and are an entertaining departure from what we normally cover on Hackaday.

Back in February, engineering students from two on-campus professional associations at Purdue University teamed up to construct a world record-setting Rube Goldberg machine. Their entry in the Purdue Regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest not only won them the regional title, but also potentially put them in the books as creating the most complex device of its nature.

Their contraption was dubbed “The Time Machine” and acts out events in our planet’s history. It starts with the big bang, moving through various other time periods, including the stone age, ancient Egypt, and the medieval era. It also makes several stops in more recent times, including World War II and the Cold War, before self-destructing at the Apocalypse.

All told, the machine incorporates 244 steps to water a plant, which is 14 more than the previous record holder. Continue reading to see a video that highlights some of the machine’s more interesting features, and be sure to check out these Rube Goldberg machines we’ve covered in the past.

[via BoingBoing]


36 thoughts on “Rube Goldberg Machine Puts Engineering Students In The Record Books

  1. Cool, but how is this a Rube Goldberg machine?

    It defies the very definition of making a complex machine to perform a simple task. What is the “simple task”? Teaching an overview of world history and predicting an apocalypse?

    This is NOT RUBE GOLDBERG. These student’s can’t follow fucking directions. The Twitter Generation just makes up things as they go along (or rather as they drive while texting).

  2. @KanchBlindside

    Really? On one hand, I see an anonymous commenter that presumably has not built a competitive Rube Goldberg machine spouting off at the mouth – and on the other I see a team that won the fucking regional competition and is up for a Guinness book of Records entry. Let’s sit and ponder a bit as to who knows what a Rube Goldberg machine is (hint, it’s not the asshat above me).

    For the rest of you, GFE:

    Enjoy your vid!

  3. I feel like everything is timed, too many motors that come on without us seeing how they are triggered. Also, motors in a Rube Goldberg? That just seems a little lame to me. It is an interesting machine, but it shouldn’t be called a Rube Goldberg project.

  4. @KanchoBlindside – Lighten up. Even if it did nothing (previous guy is right that it waters a flower), it’s a whole lot of nothing.

    The number of motors though kind of made me kind of go meh. Felt more sterile than a lot of others, but still impressive. Needs HD video w/ multiangle splitscreen.

  5. How did these guys win when it is clearly not a proper rube goldberg machine? Having motors clinically seperating each step clearly misses the very point of these machines and surely that repetitive step can’t count for any sort of record.

  6. There are some really amusing bits in there, especially the Stonehenge model. I thought the Tank assembly line was the best bit though, simple but effective.

    I agree, this would be much better if we could see it all from end-to-end in one long video, although I wouldn’t be too hard on it’s creators if it turns out that it won’t run from start to finish without the occasional prod from a human finger to get things going again.

  7. Half the items were powered by electricity. Where is the fun in that? The whole point of these machines is that a small nudge is all the extra energy they need to get started. Then all of the power stored within is released in a precise fashion. I would even accept solar panels if mechanical energy was used to uncover them to the sun.

    Secondly, is this a creationist version? They jump from the big bang to humans pretty quickly.

  8. Great work, but in the cartoons, Rube Goldberg machines always ran on nothing but kinetic energy – even if the kinetic energy from a previous step was used to release more, like dropping an anvil or firing a gun. It just doesn’t feel the same to use electric motors and such.

  9. I go to Purdue, and one of the guys in the video has the same name as me. They wrote a newspaper article on this with no pics of the people and all of my profs congratulated me.

  10. No wonder why I hate to cross the Wabash river, see more and more at the Purdue site above. The motors seem to be legit triggered. They give more interest, otherwise motion things are often too fast to watch. Kinetic energy is so wind-up and dial phone age. It’s twenty eleven. MCU count?

  11. Why not use an Arduino then? You can consider the streams of electrons to be atomic ball bearings in the worlds smallest Rube Goldberg machine. =/

    They could have replaced all the motors with windup versions of the same thing. That would have made it so much better and less reliable. Instead of a fog machine, dry ice and water. Instead of light bulbs, candles lit by matches. Instead of speakers, an old style mechanical record player. These are engineers, right?

  12. @ Kancho Blindside

    This is a perfect example of a true Rube Goldberg machine. The whole purpose of the machine was to time the pefect boiled egg and alert you when it is ready. The siren at the end alerts you loudly enough so that even partially deaf people know that there egg is now cooked.


  13. The Honda Cog commercial was pretty sweet, but it was inspired by this film:

    Much longer (nearly 30 minutes), done in a single take on film. Quite an investment when shooting if something were to go wrong and require a restart. Pretty sweet film, and much more in the spirit of what a Rube Goldberg machine is than the topic of this post.

    I am disappointed at the copious use of motors and other electrical actuators on the Purdue project, and I’m surprised there are so many people here defending it in light of other much more elaborate “true” RG machines that don’t resort to such cheap tactics.

    I’m also inclined to think a lot of the disdain for their work (mine included) is the utterly terrible quality of the video they chose to produce. Seriously, watch the link to the Japanese TV show RG machine above — that is how you film a RG machine, following the action in a single flowing continuous take.

    Judging by the fact that they showed the machine running from so many different static camera positions, from seemingly the same camera (would they really have 30-40 identical cameras pointed at different things waiting to get one shot each?) it’s obvious this video was produced by running the machine over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and taking a shot on each run, then piecing it together as if it were a single continuous run. Shame on them, what a lie.

  14. @Iguesseveryonesofar
    Single take of this RB machine here:

    Its lower quality, though.

    Technically, this is a Rube Goldberg machine, despite the motors. (A Rube Goldberg machine is defined as “a machine, device, or apparatus is a deliberately over-engineered machine that performs a very simple task in a very complex fashion, usually including a chain reaction.”)

    And yes: a Rube Goldberg machine can use motors, however, it is disappointing that electric motors are used for almost every step of this device… Hell, they could have used a microcontroller in the back for all we know.

    This machine’s purpose is to show a quote. It’s also a really lame purpose.

    By definition this is technically a Rube Goldberg machine.

    I suggest somebody usurp the title of world’s largest Rube Goldberg machine ASAP with minimal use of motors or, at least use the motors in a way that doesn’t seem to be utilizing a micro-controller in the background.

    OH! Hey, how about a Rube Goldberg machine that trolls? That would be neat.

    Especially if it starts up the computer, opens the browser (using preset key commands, maybe), goes to the website (using a URL link, perhaps?) and then types out the post (“FIRST!” would be a nice message if the first step was a blog poster clicking “submit” on their computer.)

    I bet you could use the CD drive to set something off once the computer finishes starting up or the power supply fan to spin something. Just a thought.

    I guess you’d also have to find a place that doesn’t require CAPCHAs for commenting…

  15. Also, I don’t see how this is 244 steps… I seems like OK go’s machine has more.

    Maybe its just that I’m too lazy to count and I’m thinking this because OK go’s took longer.

  16. @neAL – that one rules! The detail on everything is well done! I think my favorite part is the magnetic rail grind over the hole in the roof, it sounds so cool and I’ve never seen that done before. Too bad those guys don’t get a better looking trophy for all of their hard work.

  17. @HaDurr, UMADBRO?
    neAL posted a vid that says your facts are wrong.
    I’m still correct. It’s “cool”, but not Rube Goldberg. Can’t argue. with me and win. It doesn’t perform a simple function with a complex method.
    If the “asshat above you” (man, you love calling names, trolling, and flaming) is correct, then yes, it would be a Rube Goldberg machine.

    So start again with your crap about how I have “never built one”, and I’m “anonymous” with contact information clearly available for anyone with a brain to find. Would you like to see my regional entries for the three years I was involved? How about my F.I.R.S.T. Robotics designs? You wouldnt believe me if I showed you, so I wont waste my time. Smartass.

  18. Ah, Kancho…

    I am not angry, but it surely appeared as if you were. I believe your statement, “This is NOT RUBE GOLDBERG. These student’s can’t follow fucking directions.” was the most inflammatory of your comments and clearly indicates some sort of latent anger towards the proper use of apostrophes along with the students in question.

    And declaring that my “facts are wrong” obviously indicates that reading comprehension is not your strong suit. As you can see by re-reading my comments above, I clearly stated that the students won the “regional competition”. It is fact that the students from WI won the “National competition” which occurred after the “regional competition” as shown in neAL’s video. Then again, I would not expect you to have actually read the subtitles in said video before spouting off at the mouth again.

    Now, your lack of reading skills aside, let us consider the facts once again, shall we?

    The regional invitational in question has been held since 1983. With 27 years of competition behind them, the judging panel has concluded that the Purdue entry was in fact a Rube Goldberg machine, and was awarded the regional prize. Subjective opinions of their work aside, this makes sense as it uses a convoluted and complex machine to perform the rather simple task of watering a flower.

    Guinness is also considering placing the team in their publication as a Rube Goldberg record holder – further confirmation that this is in fact a Rube Goldberg machine. I could not imagine they would waste their time on the Purdue project if it was in fact not a Rube Goldberg machine.

    I think that these two bodies carry far more heft than the “not so anonymous”, self-declared ruler of all that is Rube Goldberg known as KanchoBlindside.

    You also mentioned that you have competed in several competitions as well as built some competitive robots. Congrats! However, I think that is where the root of your anger lies. You are butthurt that you never received recognition for your Rube Goldberg entries or your robot designs, so you are pissing all over their parade. That, or mommy and daddy didn’t hold you enough as a child.

    Either way, you are wrong. Deal with it.

  19. This video looked cheap. It was much too motorized, and it was not very impressive graphically. It may be a world record holder, but it doesn’t make it very impressive.

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