Rube Goldberg and the Guinness World Record attempt

Posted on April 25, 2014 by Siddhanathan Shanmugam

I ended up being part of a team of 45 freshmen engineering students who attempted breaking the world record for the largest Rube Goldberg machine. This world record attempt was the kickoff event for the Philadelphia Science Festival being held on April 25, 2014.

The team was planning to present a machine that will include more than 400 steps, which would have broken the record at the time of a 300-step Rube Goldberg machine. The 45 students were divided into 15 teams, each responsible for building a section of the machine with about 30 components.

Rube Goldberg Drexel Image Credits: Drexel University

On the day of the event, we did the kickoff for the Rube Goldberg machine. And when I say we, I actually mean my team consisting of 3 people. We were the first team in the sequence. Not only did we have to worry about ensuring that the Rube Goldberg machine we built ran successfully, but we also had to make sure that the Dean of the university had a simple push button which would start the machine.

I ended up building a big blue button connected to an NXT robot, which communicated with another NXT robot at a distance via bluetooth to send the start signal wirelessly. The reason for wireless communication was to ensure that the Dean had a safe distance from the Rube Goldberg machine. It was a machine that occasionally broke and had to be reset, so keeping the Dean safe was (technically) one of the design constraints.

On the day of the event, my heart was racing. 3 months of hard work with building a 30-step Rube Goldberg machine that not only was easy to start, but also had to kick-start the second team’s Rube Goldberg machine, and this was the moment of truth. I recalled the countless sleepless nights spent on making small adjustments to the machine as the Dean pressed the button. I watched our entire sequence correctly run, and then kickstart the second team’s sequence correctly. I jumped with joy, yelling “YES!”, but sadly, my joy was shortlived as the second team’s sequence never completed. We reset our Rube Goldberg machine multiple times, and every time the same thing happened.

I was disappointed that we didn’t break the world record, but it was fun trying. I learned a lot about woodworking, bluetooth, and stable mechanical systems in the process. Our 30-step Rube Goldberg was selected as one of the best projects for Freshman Engineering Showcase, which I thought was amazing. And it’s just freshman year - still have time to do amazing things in college!