16-311 Lab 1: Rube Goldberg Lab
Lab 1: Rube Goldberg Machines
Lead TAs: Kate Killfoile, William McHenry

The groups for this lab can be found here.

The floorplan for this lab can be found here.

Videos of explanations and the runs are now posted. The 2nd part of the latter video reveals the final energy transfer, making Geist climb up onto the table and almost break his neck trying to get a shot around people. So, it's hard to see the last half of the second run, but I was near death so you'll have to excuse me.

A really sweet Rube Goldberg machine - as cool as Honda's 'Cog' Commerical

Another Rube Goldberg Machine


In this lab you will design a simple Rube Goldberg Machine. The basic idea is that this machine performs a number of overly complex steps in order to complete a simple task. The images below should clarify this idea. We will present more detail in lecture.

For more information on Rube Goldberg machines, including an annual national contest, visit the Official Rube Goldberg website.

As you walk past cobbler shop, hook (A) strikes suspended boot (B), causing it to kick football (C) through goal posts (D). Football drops into basket (E) and string (F) tilts sprinkling can (G), causing water to soak coat tails (H). As coat shrinks, cord (I) opens door (J) of cage, allowing bird (K) to walk out on perch (L) and grab worm (M), which is attached to string (N). This pulls down window shade (O), on which is written, "YOU SAP, MAIL THAT LETTER."

Challenge Statement:

Build a Rube Goldberg Machine that will trigger the dispense of three pieces of candy or gum into a small container. Your machine should be started by a quarter. It should be easy to pick up your candy from this container. For example, it is easier to scoop candy out of a Dixie cup than a paper towel roll. No other part of your machine should be blocking access to the dispensed candy. You should dispense at least three pieces of candy/gum. Acceptable triggers include a button press, pulling/pushing a lever, or yanking a string. Your machine should consist of at least 5 energy transfers (steps). You may generate your own electrical potential, or utilize more creative sources of same, as long as you do not use a commercial product (like a battery, power supply, or outlet power). You may use any materials you can find except for those involving commercial sources of electrical potential as indicated above. Each step should be unique and contribute to the goal. Basically this means you can't, for example, have some rolling ball hit a few pins on its way down a ramp and have those actions count as steps. If you have questions, email Kate.

You should bring your machines to lecture on Wednesday, January 24 to demo them. Up to two human interventions are permitted: one to start the machine, and one to intervene if something unexpected occurs.

Inthe case of bonus points, the number of human interventions is limitedto one per machine; except for the first machine, which is stillallowed two. Also, interventions are not stackable. For example, if thefirst three machines work flawlessly and the final machine fails, theteam is not allowed to intervene three times to correct it. Additionally, the other machines may not interfere with the removal of the candy/gum at the end of the run.

Size constraints:

  • base: 3' x 4' maximum
  • height: 5' maximum


  • Your group's Rube-Goldberg Machine
  • A hard copy and a URL for a web site that
    • Depicts your Group's name and members' names.
    • Contains pictures of your Rube-Goldberg Machine
    • lists the energy tranfers
    • (Example webpage)
  • A copy of the grading sheet.


  • A (95): 5 energy transfers (steps)
  • B (85): 4 energy transfers (steps)
  • C (75): 3 energy transfers (steps)
  • D (65): 2 energy transfers (steps)
  • F (55): < 2 energy transfers or it doesn't work
  • F- (0): No machine at all

  • Bonus Points!

    Five bonus points will be awarded if your machine can be attached toanother group's machine and the two machines can run in SERIAL tocreate a larger (10+ transfers) Rube Goldberg machine. If three or moremachines can be attached serially (15+ transfers), two additionalpoints will be given for each successfully attached machine. Forexample, if four machines connected in serial successfully complete thegoal, each team will recieve 5 + 2 + 2 = 9 bonus points for a totalgrade of 104 per team! Please notify Kate by 12:00pm Sunday, January 21st with a list of the teams involved if you wish to pursue the bonus points.

    Aserial connected Rube Goldberg Machine is defined as one whose firstenergy transfer is initiated by the final energy transfer of theprevious machine.

    A parallel connected Rube Goldberg Machine is defined as one whose final energy transfer triggers multiple energy transfers.

    It is acceptable to either use the dispensed candy, or the candy dispenser to trigger the following machine, as long as each machine uses at least five isolated energy transfers. Connected machines must be able to operate independently, as well as in their connected configuration.

  • Lab 1 Grading Sheet
Some videos of previous years' machines:
Cracking an egg
Pouring a can of soda with a mouse
Pouring soda with Dominoes

Famous Honda 'Cog' Commercial: