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Systems Engineering: Rube Goldberg Machine (RGM)

Try out this iconic engineering exercise and make your own Rube Goldberg machine!
Rube Goldberg Machine Example - STEM project
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Systems engineers oversee all aspects of a project or system in a variety of fields, such as software, transportation, product development, and manufacturing. Their job is to develop a system that creates a product or project from beginning to end.

Being a systems engineer is not a binary condition. We all are systems engineers, to some extent.

A Rube Goldberg machine (RGM) is a crazy contraption which accomplishes a simple task in the most complicated and funny way possible.

These machines use everyday items (mostly junk); they tell a story, and most important of all — they make you laugh! You can even make music videos with them.

Today, you get to be a systems engineer and design a Rube Goldberg machine that will crush an aluminum can. 

What You Will Need

Anything you want! 

Seriously though, you can use whatever you have handy to build your Rube Goldberg Machine. Choosing your supplies is important because they encompass the complexity or simplicity of the machine and how it goes about completing the identified task.

Keep in mind that you may change your mind and add or leave out materials during the building process. Some ideas to get you started include:

Things That Roll

  • Marbles
  • Balls: Tennis, Baseball, Bowling, etc.
  • Toy Carscolorful marbles to use in a rube goldberg project
  • Dominoes
  • Skateboards
  • Roller Skates
  • Mousetraps
  • Legos 

Things That Move

  • Mousetraps
  • Dominoes
  • Toasters
  • Fans 

Ramps dominoes to use in a stem project

  • Toy Train Tracks
  • Marble Runs
  • Books
  • Trays
  • PVC Pipes
  • Plastic Tubing

Recyclables

  • Cardboard
  • Cereal Boxes
  • Cardboard Rolls
  • Plastic Water Bottles colorful balloons to use in a rube goldberg machine
  • Cans
  • Aluminum Foil

Household Materials

  • Chopsticks
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Rulers
  • Wooden Blocks
  • Bowls
  • String
  • Tape
  • Sand
  • Pins
  • Hammers
  • Balloons
  • Water
  • Baking Soda and Vinegar

Building Your Rube Goldberg Machine

Step 1: Gather your supplies and sketch out your design.

This will help you choose the right materials, identify gaps, and assemble a mechanism that will work. Use the space below or as much paper as you need to create a plan for your RGM. 

Not sure where to start? How about some of these ideas:

  • Use circuits to conduct electricity for small motors.
  • Create a popsicle stick ramp that knocks over a series of dominos and then creates a chain reaction.
  • Send a soup can rolling and create weighted movement in a pulley system.

Keep in mind the ultimate goal: to crush an aluminum can! Consider working backward from that action. Start with no less than three different actions in your RGM to complete the task.   

You can print out this page & use this space to plan your RGM!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2: Build it! 

Test each part of your RGM as you build it, before adding on the next step. Once the whole machine is complete, test it to see if it accomplishes your task. 

If something doesn’t work, what can you do to make it work next time? Try one small change each time you test it until your amazing machine works! 

 

Step 3: Try adding additional actions.

Go from three to five actions. Try making an RGM that involves seven steps! 

You can also pick a different task (like watering a plant or turning on a light switch), and start all over.

Enjoy this fun music video to help inspire your inventions:

Author

  • SWE Blog

    SWE Blog provides up-to-date information and news about the Society and how our members are making a difference every day. You’ll find stories about SWE members, engineering, technology, and other STEM-related topics.

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