What is a Rube Goldberg Machine?

As per the wide wide interweb, “A Rube Goldberg machine is a machine intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overcomplicated fashion.”, such as a self-operating napkin.

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So, why did we do this?

In one of Tom Igoe’s class, he taught the MQTT class by making everyone ping their neighbors machine that would in turn ping their neighbors machine, and turn on a light. Thereby we ended up creating a rube goldberg machine to turn on the last light. He then mentioned an idea of doing this across all the ITP – IMA campuses, and so we decided to make one at just ITP for now!

Building the Rube Goldberg machine turn out to be a wonderful source of inspiration and an excellent collaboration between all students at ITP.

How did we run the session?

Split the work over 3 (+1) sessions

Session 0 – Pre planning

Mode – Emails and google forms!

When we decided that we were going to make a rube goldberg machine, we were close to finals. That meant people wanted to participate, but no one really had the time. So we made the decision that we were going to encourage people to recycle their projects. We asked people to fill out a form (format below). They had to fill out 2 fields – “input required” and “intended output” which we used and matched them up in order before Session 1!

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The Actual Planing

Once people had signed up and put in their projects, we had an order ready. We then planned 3 session over 3 weeks. We meet every Friday evening for 2 hours. (ITP is the most unproductive at that time =P )

Session 1 – Planning (April 13th – 4 – 5:30 pm)

Prior to the first session, we took up a room where people could sit in a large circle and made them sit according to the order that we had worked on.

Post some snacks, we went through peoples projects in the order we sat. That helped put everyones work in context and plan accordingly. After everyone going over their project, we broke up into smaller groups and everyone spoke tot he person whose project was before and after theirs

Action items before next session

  • Everyone had to finalize what they were going to work on next friday
  • Each person had to know how they were interfacing with their “before” and “After” person
  • Gather materials required for next session


Session 2 – Building individual parts

This session was much more organic. By this time the magical excel sheet had information about everyones projects and how they would be interfacing with the other projects. We spent 2-3 hours this session building out everyones project and testing smaller components.


Action items before next session

  • Complete your individual project
  • Ensure that it integrated with the project before and after

Session 3 – Integration + D-Day!

We made a sticky note map of how everything was going to be placed prior to meeting with everyone for session 3. We spent 2 hours helping put everyones project into place. This was made quite easy since most projects were testing with their adjacent projects.


What worked?

  • It helped to have this broken down into multiple smaller session over a month
  • Recycling projects was a big win!
  • Making sure everyone worked together was great!

What did not work?

  • Non-repeatable projects should be avoided as much as possible. It was nice to be able to run this 6-8 times to ensure we got the whole thing working and that’s not possible with pieces that can’t be reset
  • We would recommend avoid having too many buttons and they’re kind of a difficult sensor to use without having fingers to push 🙂

Ideas for next time!

  • Ideally, it would have been great if this was a 2 day hackathon – rough timeline below
    • Day 1 – Part 1 – What is a rube goldberg machine? Why are we building this? Examples of what we can build with it. Pair off people in pairs.
    • Day 1 – Part 2 – Workshops + build your own project and make it connect to one other person
    • At the end of Day 1, the organizers would need to spend some time figuring out how the smaller pieces can all connect
    • Day 2 – Part 1 – Based on the full structure, start building the connections + setting up the machine
    • Day 2 – Part 2 – Finish setting up the machine + RUN IT!
  • The second session of building could be longer (4-5 hours) with workshops to teach people methods to integrate, such as the below –
    • How can we make one component talk to another without wires
    • Examples of how we can rig existing projects together


The result!

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/272855721″>The ITP Rube Goldberg Machine</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/itpred”>ITP_NYU</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

A huge shout out to everyone who made this possible


The project team-

  • Aidan Nelson
  • Amitabh Srivastava
  • Barak Chemo
  • Caleb Ferguson
  • David Lockard
  • Hayeon (Hayley) Hwang
  • Jesse Simpson
  • Lindsey Daniels
  • Micheal Simpson
  • Mithru Swarna
  • Regina Cantu (Lola)
  • Utsav Chada
  • Yeseul Song

Photography –

  • Itay Niv
  • Caleb Ferguson

Editing –

  • David Lockard

Faculty Advisors –

  • Tom Igoe
  • Ben Light

Coordinators –

  • Rushali Paratey
  • Stephanie Koltun
  • Mathura Govindarajan