Top Five: Chain Reaction Machines
The best examples of Rube-Goldberg machines from across the web.
Inspired by the work of illustrators Heath Robinson (UK) and Rube Goldberg (USA) these seemingly ridiculous chain-reaction machines combine incredible feats of engineering with utterly pointless design.
Depending upon which side of the Atlantic you hail from, you’re likely to have come across the name Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg in reference to these whimsical contraptions, which use a series of elaborate, inefficient and often daft steps to perform simple tasks.
Heath Robinson (1872-1944) was an English Illustrator who produced a body of work featuring ridiculous machines and devices, often requiring multiple operators to control a plethora of pulleys and leavers. The machines were designed to perform odd and often surreal tasks, such as cat-burglar training and spaghetti stretching (below).
Image: Chris Beetles
Most of his machines were seen to be patched together from loose odds and ends which has led to his name being commonly associated with instances of ‘quick-fixes’ or cobbled together repairs.
Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was Robinson’s American equivalent, also known for his humorous illustrations depicting equally ridiculous machines. Unlike Robinson, Goldberg was also an engineer and inventor and this was reflected in his illustrations which portrayed much more practical designs, albeit for equally silly outputs.
The Rube Goldberg machine has now become a cult icon across America and there are now national competitions in which contestants must rely on their creativity to design and build the most convoluted machine possible.
Watching these machines in action is incredibly satisfying, as they demonstrate a process of cause and effect through a wonderfully complex system of parts.
Although these machines aren’t going to win any prizes for their efficiency, the level of detail and organisation that goes into their construction is immense.
We’ve spent some time searching the web for the best videos demonstrating these machines in action and have posted our top five below (please feel free to add to this list in the comment section):
5. Trumer Beer Machine
The Trumer Beer Machine is not an overweight alcoholic, but an incredibly complex contraption built by the Austrian brewer. It's almost guaranteed that this was dreamt up after one too many Trumers, however it was most certainly constructed under sober conditions.
4. The Page Turner
Designed by Brooklyn-based kinetic artist Joseph Herscher, this contraption is a classic example of how to do something the hard way. Utilising a vast array of household items (including a gerbil and a MacBook Pro), this machine alleviates the stress of having to turn a page manually.
3. Melvin The Magical Mixed Media Machine
The longest of the five videos, but all the more incredible for it. Melvin the Machine is an interactive art piece, developed by studio HEYHEYHEY to incorporate its audience into part of a 'moment'. As the machine runs it triggers cameras and computers which capture images and posts them to twitter and Facebook. Find out more here.
2. 2D Photography Rube Goldberg Machine
Utilising a whole studio's worth of photography equipment this machine is meticulously constructed and captured by 2D House. There are loads of little touches along the way which make this machine one of the most impressive, including a little hat-tip to the next video in our top-five. You can read more about this project on 2D House's blog.
1. OK Go - This Too Shall Pass
Golf clubs, furniture, coloured paint, pianos, more coloured paint and the destruction of a television with a sledge hammer - all set in time to music - makes this my favorate chain reaction machine in the list.
This installation has been lovingly designed and constructed for OK Go's 'This too shall pass' and it never fails to make me smile every time I watch it. Directed by James Frost, Ok Go and Syyn Labs, this machine is simply stunning.
Wired have a great article detailing the making of this video, which you can read here.