This Machine Sucks Balls

The best career choice anyone could ever make – aside from the richest astronaut to ever win the Super Bowl – is the designer of the kinetic art installations found in science centers that roll billiard balls along tracks, around loops, and through conveyors in a perpetual display of physics and mechanics. [Niklas Roy] isn’t quite at that level yet, but he has come up with a new twist on an old idea: a machine that literally sucks balls from a ball pit into transparent tubes, sending them whizzing around the installation space.

The installation consists of eighty meters of plastic tubing suspended in the staircase of Potocki Palace in Kraków. Electronically, the installation is extremely simple; a PIR sensor turns on a vacuum cleaner whenever someone is in the ball pit. This sucks balls up through a hose, around the space, and into a bin suspended over the pit. Pull a lever, and the balls stored in the bin are dispensed onto the person vacuuming up thousands of balls below.

Image source, with video below.

31 thoughts on “This Machine Sucks Balls

        1. Take the kids! You’ll not get them out for hours…. and then only to ride the antique circus merry-go-round for hours. Excellent food. Incredible Ice Cream. I’m just a customer, no stake in the place at all ‘cept personal loss if they dissapear.

  1. Apart from a *groan* about the name, fantastic idea. I’ve long been a fan of those old “vacuum tube” message delivery systems. I wondered if it might’ve been possible to suck a GoPro camera up and get a video of it travelling through the pipe? That’s what I thought was going to happen when they showed a closeup of the balls being sucked up.

  2. So that’s how they play with their balls in Poland? @ Lindsay Wilson – Wouldn’t a GoPro be to big? I think if you gutted one of those spy cam key chains and put the insides into a clear pingpong ball (or just drill a hole in front of the camera lens) and you could get a “balls eye” (“eye balls”) view.

    1. “a PIR sensor turns on a vacuum cleaner whenever someone is in the ball pit”

      I take that to mean one vacuum cleaner – so probably only one action.

      Adding more vacuum cleaners could make the thing more complicated i suppose (but a track made of parts blown and sucked around could be fun to watch).

      I cant think of a simple way to make a blowing system with 1 vacuum cleaner that is more efficient than the 1 vacuum cleaner sucking on a long straw put into a box of balls. But that is not saying it isnt possible :)

    2. Hello nelsontb, Niklas here – I made that machine.

      You raise an interesting question and the answer is: The machine doesn’t blow – it just sucks.
      But my first attempt was a blowing construction. In fact, I have been initially inspired by this demonstration of an air vacuum cleaner:

      I thought the advantage of such design would be that the installation wouldn’t require the container at the end of the pipe track. Instead, the balls would just drop/fall out of the end of the last pipe. Even though I went through several design iterations with that concept, it had a few fundamental disadvantages:

      – The balls were basically shooting in very high speed out of the last pipe, which made the whole construction a bit dangerous. A few times balls almost ended up in my eyes as they were so fast, that the eye closing reflex didn’t work. To prevent this, I also installed a ball deflector at the end of the pipes, but honestly – the design sucked. Now, with all the balls falling out of the container, there’s so much stuff falling down, in such slow speed, that you automatically close your eyes.

      – Another disadvantage (the bigger one) was, that the system required relatively high air pressure (> 6 Bars) and a lot of air. So the silent compressor which I bought already and which costed me about 1000€ was far too small. The construction would have required a much larger compressor and there was neither the budget, nor the space in the staircase for that.

      It obviously doesn’t work just to blow air in with a fan, as the opening of the hose has to stay open in order to get the balls in. But I did plenty of experiments with hair dryers and different nozzle designs based on Venturi nozzles. The thing is, I was dealing then with all kinds of weird and hard to predict aerodynamic effects, like for example the Coandă effect. In the end, nothing of that worked really well. And my experiments could easily fill an epic fail of the week post here an HaD ;)

      I hope this answered your questions.

        1. I asure you – god has nothing to do with the name!

          But regarding the airlock: I also tried that in many variations. Nothing worked really reliable, as there was always a moment, where a ball was just half inside the moving parts of the mechanism and thus blocking it.

          But anyway – I think that the experience for the visitors is also much nicer with a container filling up little by little. So they actually have to work to get it full. And as the *climax* of the experience, people can enjoy the shower. I think this makes a nice dramaturgy.

      1. Thank you for the reply, it’s a very nice insight into the construction and into the physics involved. The video also got me thinking of trying it with liquids, might be an interesting experiment.

  3. Considering I spent a good 30 minutes of this weekend in a ball pit looking for my balls (where someone had taken them and hidden) with some fuzzily attired folks in the desert, I am generally pleased that this post contains LESS innuendo than that experience.


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