This Machine Has Lost Its Marbles

The astonishing variety of ways to tell the time which have appeared on these pages over the years provides a showcase of the talents and ingenuity of our community. Many clocks use designs we are familiar with, but every now and then along comes a clock that rings something new. So it is with [Ivan Miranda]’s latest work — a digital clock that shows the time with a dot matrix made of marbles. So far he’s published only part one of what will become a series. There’s technically no clock yet, but as it stands it’s enough of a marble machine to be a worthy project in its own right.

In the video below we see him solving the problems of creating free-running marble transport and handling via a conveyor belt, and solving such unexpected problems as cleanly releasing them from the belt, holding a row of marbles with a solenoid, and catching errant marbles that bounce free of the machine. The result is a rather pretty marble machine that makes an endless cascade of falling marbles on a curved track. We’re guessing that future videos will deal with the assembly of lines for the dot matrix display, such that the figures of the clock will be formed from black and white marbles, so this is a series to watch out for.

We’ve seen [Ivan]’s work in the past, not least for his giant 3D printer.

15 thoughts on “This Machine Has Lost Its Marbles

      1. See, that’s part of the problem, this “I’m not interested in the details, I’ve got a job to do after all” attitude.

        So since you asked, I’ll give you something else.

        1) Search for “Wintergatan Marble Elevator” on YT
        2) < 8min video with detailed shots of the results;
        3) There's a whole team of people reconstructing the Marble Machine designs. They watched the videos and even reconstructed the on-the-fly changes Martin did, adding them to a cohesive CAD model. Unfortunately in this day and age, forums are dead and all the goodness is locked away on a Discord server.

        I fail to understand how one can even evade the Wintergatan videos when doing even cursory research into marble mechanisms.
        I'm not sure what I hate more there, business people occupying and transforming the hobbyist space, or these people bending themselves into pretzels to avoid attribution, all while propagating ignorance as the de-facto standard, if not a necessity to survive in a competitive field… to make a hobby project.

        1. If I were doing something marble related, I’d be interested in the details. Details are just what you can’t readily find, though.

          Go to YouTube. Search for marble machines. Find Wintergatan:

          There are literally hundreds of videos there, from 5 minutes to twenty minutes each, created over the last 10 years. There’s no more index to the contents of the videos than the titles and a picture.

          How many videos do you expect me to watch in order to find all the details of the things that worked and the things that didn’t? How many hours should I spend mostly watching fluff and trying to filter out the facts?

          That’s the problem with video – you can’t efficiently search it for the things you need to know. There’s no index, no table of contents, and you can’t “thumb through the book” to rapidly look things that might be of use.

          1. That’s why there is a playlist. It’s a bit much and chaotic, but it’s there.. and as I said, if you don’t just drop by to loot it for your own benefit, the community around the Marble Machine is a great place to learn.

            Conveyor Belt Marble Lift – Marble Machine X #33

            An early design highlighting some of the intricacies and design intention – e.g. the the transition into the marble elevator … something that didn’t work properly in the video this article is about.

            Marble Conveyor Belt 2.0 – Marble Machine X #61

            Upgraded design and chain drive.

            detour: This old Tony “Wintergatan’s Marble Elevator”


        2. “I fail to understand how one can even evade the Wintergatan videos when doing even cursory research into marble mechanisms.”

          Not everyone defaults to searching a catvideo entertainment repository when looking for technical information.

  1. Easier to say at this point that it displays the time correctly but the watcher is colour blind, than to add a sorting machine that also sets the correct marbles for the elevator to pick up.
    I want to see a wearable “watch size” of this.
    Nice project Ivan, keep ’em comming.

  2. I am not sure what to think of this. It is a sort of fun project, but also quite over the top and silly.
    It would be more practical to make the rows of marbles vertical. This would also allow partial updates of just a single digit. But it also has the possibility of them hitting each other too hard and breaking. That can however be solved by pushing in new marbles from the underside, or by pushing them in from the top and then push the lowest though some friction mechanism.

    1. “(a sweet way of saying that some people obviously have too much time and money to waste)”

      I think it’s perhaps more of a situation where people require a constant stream of new content (of a certain length), potentially of interest to their subscribers (YouTube/patreon whatever), to feed the beast that is the various social media algorithms.

  3. Practicality isn’t the point, but I was thinking about how I might try to build this and it occurs to me that it might be much similar to build a display that is a single zigzag track. Providing that you were careful to keep each row identical lengths, to it would make loading a time much easier because you just have to load one track. You would probably want to have a hidden track of similar length so the machine could be preloading the next display while the current one is shown. I think I would try to build a simple circular feed system where I could determine if a marble was the right color for my purpose then shove it down the right path, otherwise shunt it back to discard and grab the next one. Most times this would probably be acceptable since you would have nearly a minute to build the next display. Other thought I had was that you could build the next display on the back of where you show the display, then dump the current one and force feed enough arbitrary marbles into the back to push the next loaded set up and over the top. Once that is complete you allow everything now in the back to drain into your discard quickly, and then start loading your next display. I think this would result in a relatively compact display with minimal parts. Of course, with anything like this the real catch is going to be reliability.

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