😩🤢😭 This article was co-authored by wikiHow Staff. Our trained team of editors and researchers validate articles for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards.
This article has been viewed 995,616 times.
😩🤢😭 Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a scientist and cartoonist who produced satirical work on people’s overly complex problem solving methods. In his comical cartoons, he linked together chain reactions with simple machines to complete basic tasks, like turning on a lamp or frying an egg.XResearch source Designing and building a Rube Goldberg machine requires innovation and patience. While every machine is different, many builders include versions of other people's ideas, tweaking them or linking them in exciting ways.
Part 1Part 1 of 3:Preparing for the Assignment or Competition
- 1Understand the rules. If you’re building a Rube Goldberg machine for a class or official competition, you will get a packet of information and rules. Before you plan or build your machine, read through this material carefully. While you read, identify the goal, requirements, and restrictions.
- If the material is unclear, ask your teacher, parent, or an official to clarify.
- If you don’t follow the rules, you may get a poor grade or be disqualified from the competition.XResearch source
- 2Select a basic task for your machine to accomplish. Rube Goldberg machines are complex structures that rely on chain reactions to execute one simple task. Before you design your machine, determine what you want the machine to do. If you are competing in a Rube Goldberg competition or completing an assignment for school, you may not have the freedom to choose this task. If can pick, consider some of the following options:
- Open or close a door
- Turn on a light
- Turn off an alarm
- Pour a bowl of cereal
- Turn on a faucet
- 3Look for inspiration. Developing a zany, complex machine is not an easy task. Before you create your own Rube Goldberg machine, you may find it helpful to see some examples. While you should use these examples as a source of inspiration and direction, do not copy someone else’s machine. Instead of replicating these machines, make it your goal to improve, alter, or modernize them. Potential sources of inspiration include:
Part 2Part 2 of 3:Designing Your Machine
- 1Collect your materials. Rube Goldberg machines transform traditional building materials, everyday items, and unique objects into functional pieces of equipment that work together to execute a simple task. Spend time gathering items from around your house, purchasing materials from stores, and/or hunting for unique objects at flea markets. Possible building materials include:
- Wooden boards
- Toilet paper rolls
- CDs or floppy discs
- Toy cars
- Action figures
- PVC pipe
- Duct Tape
- Peg boards
- Zip Ties
- Get creative!XResearch source
- 2Experiment with the materials. Lay out all of your materials on your work surface. Once you’re organized, start playing with the items. As you experiment, combine the materials in unexpected ways to form chain reactions. While you work, keep a record of what combinations worked.
- Ask yourself questions throughout the process. What object can you use to send a car down a wooden ramp? What materials will you need to make a pendulum? What can you make with a lever, a marble, and an action figure?
- 3Develop a building plan. Rube Goldberg machines complete a simple task with a complex chain reaction. You can break down the chain reaction into several different steps, or phases. The steps are connected together by a link. When you design the machine, it is helpful to start with the last step and work your way to the first step. You can create the building plan by listing these steps or drawing the machine. For example:
- Task: Pop a balloon.
- Step 3: A tack will pop the balloon. The tack will be attached to the front of a toy car.
- Link 1: The toy car will slide down a wooden ramp.
- Step 2: A pendulum will swing into the car and push it down the wooden ramp.
- Step 1: I will send the pendulum towards the car at the top of the wooden ramp.
- 4Build a prototype. Sit down at your workspace with your notes and building plan. Quickly construct a prototype of your Rube Goldberg machine. This version of your machine doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll build a final product later after you test it.
- If you run into an issue, don’t panic. Return to your notes and see if you can combine the materials in a different way.
- If you are using tools, ask an adult for help.XResearch source
Part 3Part 3 of 3:Testing and Revising Your Machine
- 1Test your machine for feasibility. Once your prototype is complete, test the machine. This first test is to determine if your machine works. If the machine completes the task, proceed to the next step. If the machine doesn’t complete the task, rethink—don’t scrap—your design.
- Can you quickly fix the problem?
- Do you need to replace an entire step?
- Are you using the best materials?
- Is your task possible to achieve?
- 2Build your final product and test its repeatability. When your machine has passed the feasibility test, you can construct a sturdier version of your Rube Goldberg machine. Assess the machine’s repeatability—its ability to complete the task several times in a row. A test is successful if the machine operates on its own. Test and adjust the machine until it completes the task five times. If the test is successful, make minor alterations and continue on to the final test. If you the machine doesn’t produce five successful tests within an hour, redesign your machine.
- What steps are working?
- What steps are preventing the machine from working?
- Is your task achievable?
- 3Test the machine’s reliability. After your machine passes the repeatability test, determine if it is reliable. You will test the machine a total of four times. A reliable machine will complete the task at least three out of four times. If your machine passes this test, you’ve created a working Rube Goldberg machine.
- Before you present the machine, practice taking it apart and putting it back together several times.
- QuestionWhere can I see more simple ideas?Community AnswerYou can usually find more ideas for Rube Goldberg machines if you Google it. Pinterest is a good resource.
- QuestionWhy can't I do something with my hands?Community AnswerThe whole point of the Rube-Goldberg machine is for it to do it by itself, no touching allowed.
- QuestionWhat are some ideas of things to do with my Rube Goldberg machine?Community AnswerYou could have the machine pop a ballon, drop a can into a bin, throw a marshmallow, water a plant, or pour dog food in a dish.
- QuestionDo I need to use expensive materials?Community AnswerNot usually, but it depends; usually you can just find things around the house to make it out of, but other times you may have to buy some things. The more complex a Rube Goldberg is, the more things you will have to buy.
- QuestionHow am I supposed to start the machine?Community AnswerUsually just a person does one thing to start it. For example, in the YouTube video "OK Go This Too Shall Pass Rube Goldberg Machine," the starting action was the guy in the red pushing the car into the rest of the machine, which set off the chain reaction.
- QuestionHow long does this generally take to build?Community AnswerFor me, this project took around 2 hours. Some of my friends completed it in one hour, though. It depends on how quickly you work.
- QuestionCan it turn off a light in six steps?Community AnswerYes. The only limit for number of steps is space and cost. For example, you could push a toy car down a ramp, which lowers onto a platform attached to a cigarette lighter, which lights a fire, boiling water on top of a seesaw, which causes the other end to sink downwards onto a button, turning on a laser pointer, shining it into a detector, cutting a rope attached to a ball, landing on the switch.
- QuestionDo I have to use the engineering process?Community AnswerYes, that is the whole point. The engineering process is what makes a Rube Goldberg a Rube Goldberg.
- QuestionWhat can I use to build a homework machine for the Rube Goldberg project?Community AnswerYou can't really make a homework machine, because it is not a simple task. I would recommend doing something more common, such as pouring lemonade, turning off an alarm clock, etc. Even a complicated computer might not be able to do your homework for you accurately, so it would be impossible to make a Rube Goldberg machine that does this.
- QuestionHow do I use different materials to make a Rube Goldberg machine?Community AnswerBe creative! Look around your house for materials that you can use. You shouldn't have to go to the store to get your items. Some materials you can use are: Toilet paper rolls, dominoes, rolling balls, etc.
- Use materials that you can easily adjust, like peg boards, building blocks, etc.
- Before you construct your entire machine, you may want to test each step and link.
About This Article
A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine that's made out of building materials and everyday items that performs a simple task through a complex chain reaction. For example, the machine could turn on a lamp by rolling a ball down a slope to press a button. To make one, choose the materials you want to use, which can be anything from CDs to wooden boards, balls, pins, or fans. Once you have your materials, combine them in a unique way to perform your chosen task. For instance, if your machine is going to pop a balloon, you might pull a lever to send a car down a ramp so it pushes a pin into the balloon. You’ll probably want to build a simple prototype of your machine first out of less expensive materials so that you can make changes easily if something doesn’t work as planned. If your tests work, build the final version of your machine. For tips on how to troubleshoot your prototype, read on!