Wired Gadget Lab, By Alexandra Chang, April 9
Rube Goldberg machines make accomplishing a simple task ”” like putting a stamp on an envelope ”” an over-engineered marathon of moving parts. This year’s Rube Goldberg Machine Contest held at Purdue University featured one of the most complex contraptions yet: The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers created a machine that blew up and popped a balloon in a winding 300 steps, breaking the team’s own Guinness world record for largest Rube Goldberg machine.
Based on the work of famous American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, there’s no shortage of elaborate Rube Goldberg machines. But none are more complex ”” in terms of total sequenced steps ”” than the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers’ latest creation. A 14-person team made up of Purdue undergraduates and one graduate student spent some 5,000 hours over six months designing and building the new record-breaking contraption.
”œOne of the biggest challenges is that we are all college students. I’m trying to motivate 14 total people to give up their free weekends and evenings, and all it leads up to is a machine that runs three times at a competition,” Zach Umperovitch, team president and a master’s student in geology, told Wired. ”œTechnically, our biggest challenge was building the steam locomotive engine ”” it took us 600 hours.”
The machine used the locomotive engine to drive a radial pump wheel, performing half of the required task of blowing up a balloon. A Rube Goldberg cartoon-style accordion arm then shot out to pop the balloon, completing the other half of this year’s competition task.
But the team’s machine accomplished much more than the required task ”” it also incorporated all 24 assigned tasks from previous years of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.
While the team didn’t win the competition, it did place second and won the People’s Choice Award. And, of course, the Purdue team broke its own world record for individual sequenced events. The team’s previous record-breaking machine from the 2011 contest included only 244 steps.