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Intelligent Rube Goldberg Using Vex Robotics Development System

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Pedagogical Innovations in Laboratory Education

Tagged Division

Division Experimentation & Lab-Oriented Studies

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.787.1 - 15.787.12



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Paper Authors

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Arif Sirinterlikci Robert Morris University Orcid 16x16

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Sushil Acharya Robert Morris University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Intelligent Rube Goldberg Using Vex Robotics Development System


Rube Goldberg development is commonly used in early engineering education, especially in first-year programs and introduction to engineering courses as well as secondary school engineering activities. Regardless of the problem, the concept of utilizing Rube Goldberg in engineering education is about having engineering students understanding the problem solving process by experiencing it. They generate a design and see it through its development for a successful outcome. In the process of developing Rube Goldberg mechanisms, the students are able to practice skills such as communication, teamwork, time and project management, and experimentation. Rube Goldberg projects also assist in maintaining students’ interest in science, mathematics and engineering. These projects are great way to teach engineering applications of basic science concepts such as magnetic induction, gravity, friction, or drag. This paper starts with a background on Rube Goldberg mechanisms and their utilization in engineering education. However, the main focus is given to employment of microcontrollers in Rube Goldberg mechanisms. The authors worked with a multidisciplinary group of freshmen software and mechanical engineering students to complete an Intelligent Rube Goldberg mechanism to assemble cheese sandwiches. VEX Robotics Development System was selected to complete the task at hand. The project was accomplished by generating an automated assembly line with Rube Goldberg contraption elements controlled by a VEX microcontroller. The Robot C programming language was used for programming. The project details, project evaluation and student responses are also included to conclude this paper.


Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) and the industry demands that engineering students be able to “do” design, to work in teams and to be effective communicators1. Freshman engineering course “ENGR1010: Introduction to Engineering” introduces engineering students to the design and developments processes through an implementation of a Rube Goldberg device. Rube Goldberg is used to trigger and maintain student motivation for engineering as it provides a mechanism for “learning while having fun”. The development process used facilitates teamwork and emphasizes on communication.

Webster’s dictionary defines the Rube Goldberg concept as "Accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply”2. This is how for 55 years Reuben Lucius Goldberg, a Pulitzer Prize winning artist, portrayed machines and gadgets which he saw as excessive. He was sometimes skeptical about the technology as well. His cartoons combined simple machines and common household items to create complex and wacky machines that accomplished trivial tasks. While most machines work to make difficult tasks simple, his designs made simple tasks complex. For instance he designed a simplified pencil sharpener, a safety device for walking on icy pavements, and dealt with problems like putting a stamp on an envelope, screwing in a light bulb, or making a cup of coffee in 20 or more steps. Throughout the years more and more Rube Goldberg implementations have been seen. “The Way Things Go”, a 30 minute film produced in

Sirinterlikci, A., & Acharya, S. (2010, June), Intelligent Rube Goldberg Using Vex Robotics Development System Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15682

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