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13 Impressive Rube Goldberg Machines

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Joseph Herscher // YouTube

A straight line may be the fastest route from point A to point B, but a 300-step contraption is considerably more entertaining. Rube Goldberg popularized the idea of completing simple tasks in the most elaborate ways possible with his beloved cartoons in the early 20th century. Since then, new generations of tinkerers have been constructing impressively absurd Rube Goldberg machines of their own. Here are 13 apparatuses that prioritize fun over efficiency.

1. THE 300-STEP MONSTROSITY // PURDUE UNIVERSITY

Every year, inventive minds gather to compete in the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. A different challenge is presented with each competition—in 2012, participants were given the task of inflating a balloon and popping it. The winning team that year, from the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers, went above and beyond with their design. In addition to completing the charge at hand, the machine executed every challenge from the contest’s 25-year history, including juicing an orange, changing a light bulb, crushing a can, and sharpening a pencil. Their 300-step Rube Goldberg machine nabbed the Guinness World Record that year for the largest one ever constructed. In 2015, that record was crushed by a Hungarian team and their 382-step behemoth.

2. PHOTOGRAPHY-THEMED MACHINE // 2D HOUSE

It’s easy to see where Canadian photography studio 2D House found the inspiration for this epic machine. The photography-themed project, planned over the course of three months in 2011, took two months to build—and the video went viral. Since then, 2D House has built several Rube Goldberg machines, including ones made for Target and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

3. THIS TOO SHALL PASS // OK GO

OK Go is known for their insanely creative music videos, and in 2010 the band took a page out of Rube Goldberg’s book with their video for This Too Shall Pass. Engineers at the Los Angeles-based arts and technology collective Syyn Labs were commissioned to construct the set-up, which was filmed in a single shot after more than 60 failed takes.

4. MELVIN THE MACHINE // HEYHEYHEY

The Dutch design studio HEYHEYHEY described their contraption as a "Rube Goldberg machine with a twist." During each performance, “Melvin the Magical Mixed Media Machine” would take pictures and video of its audience and upload them to its blog. According to the team's website, Melvin has been out of commission for the last few years. But even without the interactive component, watching video of the machine's umbrellas, pinwheels, and parachuting toy army men is entertaining nonetheless.

5. THE STORY OF PASSOVER // TECHNION - ISRAEL INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

Constructing Rube Goldberg machines isn’t considered a typical Passover tradition, but this project from students at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology makes a good case for it. The chain reaction is set into motion when wine is poured into a kiddush cup. From there, a toy Moses in a basket, a burning tin foil bush, and matzo cracker dominoes illustrate the story behind the holiday. The journey ends when a lid is lifted to reveal a traditional Seder plate.

6. THE WORLD’S TINIEST // SEIKO

A Rube Goldberg machine doesn’t have to be imposing to be impressive. The Japanese watch company Seiko fabricated their miniature apparatus from 1200 tiny mechanical watch parts. The end goal? Delivering the final component to a delicately assembled watch.

7. SODA MACHINE // BERLAGAWESOME

Thankfully, most vending machines don’t take 175 steps to deliver a can of Coke. But if you have the patience, YouTube user berlagawesome’s Rube Goldberg soda machine is well worth the four quarters to set it in motion. He spent 140 hours in total putting the above video together. After all that effort, the soda must have tasted extra refreshing.

8. RUBE SLOWBERG // BOB PARTINGTON

Inventor Bob Partington pulled out all the stops when developing what he claims to be the world’s slowest Rube Goldberg machine. Growing grass, melting popsicles, a stream of molasses, and a tortoise are a few of the methods used to deliver a golf ball from one end of the structure to the other. The whole process took six weeks, three days, seven hours, and two minutes to complete. Fortunately for the viewer, the video has been sped up quite a bit.

9. THE PAGE TURNER // JOSEPH HERSCHER

As far as Rube Goldberg machines go, kinetic artist Joseph Herscher’s are surprisingly useful. The Page Turner does exactly what’s promised—Herscher triggers it by taking a sip from his coffee mug, and by the time he’s done reading the front of the newspaper the next page is turned for him. This further proves that Rube Goldberg machines and lazy mornings go hand-in-hand.

10. THE FORTUNE TELLING MACHINE // HEVESH5

This fortune telling machine doesn’t feature an animatronic psychic or require a quarter to operate it. Instead, YouTuber Hevesh5’s creation uses balls, beads, and dominos to achieve its ultimate goal. It ends when a dumbbell rolls over a fortune cookie, releasing the fortune inside.

11. DOG GOLDBERG MACHINE // PURINA BENEFUL

Dogs can be trained to do many things, including act as the components of a living Rube Goldberg machine. Purina turned to the creative agency Deep Focus to make this machine happen. The agency planned out the video with numerous sketches and tests to ensure every piece of the puzzle came together, and even created a miniature 3D model of the machine to help them catch any snags before filming. When it finally came time to shoot, tennis balls, kibble, and frisbees were used to motivate the canine stars to do their part.

12. LEGO PHYSICS // CHRISTIAN BECHINIE

LEGO blocks can be used to recreate scenes from literature, construct a fully functional caravan, and, as Christian Bechinie demonstrates, build dynamic machines. The LEGO constructor’s Rube Goldberg machine topples 200 domino pieces throughout its minute-long run. If you’re looking for something to do with your childhood LEGO collection at home, this video should provide some inspiration.

13. MAGNETS AND MARBLES // KAPLAMINO

There are some insanely complicated Rube Goldberg machines on this list, but comparatively simple structures can be equally mesmerizing. Marbles and magnets are the primary components featured in this Rube Goldberg machine, from domino artist Kaplamino. After the frustrating process of perfecting each step, we're left to enjoy the immensely satisfying results.

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.

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Honda Debuts a Rain-Proof Disaster Robot That Can Climb Ladders
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A new Honda robot could signal the future of disaster response technology. According to IEEE Spectrum, the Japanese company recently debuted a prototype for a cutting-edge disaster-response robot agile enough to climb ladders, ascend stairs, maneuver over pipes, and move through narrow spaces, among other capabilities.

Honda unveiled the prototype for the E2-DR at September’s IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vancouver. The slow-moving humanoid robot looks like a beginning skater stepping onto the ice for the first time, stepping cautiously up stairs and through small spaces, but the fact that it can navigate these kinds of obstacles is a feat. Scaling ladders and walking up and down stairs are usually no easy tasks for robots, and both are among the challenges featured in the annual DARPA Robotics Challenge obstacle course—which is infamous for making very, very expensive robots fall all over the place.

Designed to inspect, maintain, and provide disaster response in places like factories and power plants, the E2-DR is 5.5 feet tall, weighs around 187 pounds, and can run for about 90 minutes at a time. Crucially, it’s less than 10 inches thick back-to-front, allowing it to squeeze through small corridors laterally.

The robot can reverse its knees to allow it to keep them from bumping against stairs as it walks, and its hands can grip ladders and rails. It can also open doors and climb on all fours. It’s equipped with rangefinders, cameras, and 3D sensors so that it can be piloted remotely.

Because it’s designed to work in disaster zones (like within the Fukushima power plant) the robot has to be able to withstand water, debris, dust, and extreme temperatures. It’s already been able to climb up and down a ladder in the face of 1 inch-per-hour rain, according to Honda.

IEEE Spectrum notes that we haven’t seen it fall, and falling down is, despite how silly it looks in testing, an important thing to test before sending robots into the field. In unpredictable settings and rough terrain, it’s likely that a robot is going to misstep and fall down at some point, and it needs to be able to not just withstand the fall, but get itself back up.

The E2-DR is just a prototype, and Honda will continue to work on it for the foreseeable future. For now, though, it’s made an impressive start.

[h/t IEEE Spectrum]

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This Just In
Want to Become a Billionaire? Study Engineering
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If you want to get rich—really, really rich—chances are, you should get yourself an engineering degree. As The Telegraph reports, a new analysis from the UK firm Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment finds that more of the top 100 richest people in the world (according to Forbes) studied engineering than any other major.

The survey found that 75 of the 100 richest people in the world got some kind of four-year degree (though others, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, attended a university but dropped out before graduation). Out of those who graduated, 22 of those billionaires received engineering degrees, 16 received business degrees, and 11 received finance degrees.

However, the survey doesn't seem to distinguish between the wide range of studies that fall under the "engineering" umbrella. Building a bridge, after all, is a little different than electrical engineering or computing. Four of those 100 individuals studied computer science, but the company behind the survey cites Amazon's Jeff Bezos (who got a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton) and Google's Larry Page (who studied computer engineering at the University of Michigan and computer science at Stanford) as engineers, not computer scientists, so the list might be a little misleading on that front. (And we're pretty sure Bezos wouldn't be quite so rich if he had stuck just to electrical engineering.)

Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment is, obviously, a sales-focused company, so there's a sales-related angle to the survey. It found that for people who started out working at an organization they didn't found (as opposed to immediately starting their own company, a la Zuckerberg with Facebook), the most common first job was as a salesperson, followed by a stock trader. Investor George Soros was a traveling salesman for a toy and gift company, and Michael Dell sold newspaper subscriptions in high school before going on to found Dell. (Dell also worked as a maitre d’ in a Chinese restaurant.)

All these findings come with some caveats, naturally, so don't go out and change your major—or head back to college—just yet. Right now, Silicon Valley has created a high demand for engineers, and many of the world's richest people, including Bezos and Page, earned their money through the tech boom. It's plausible that in the future, a different kind of boom will make a different kind of background just as lucrative. 

But maybe don't hold your breath waiting for the kind of industry boom that makes creative writing the most valuable major of them all. You can be fairly certain that becoming an engineer will be lucrative for a while.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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