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Directly quoted from Wired.com
RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINES make accomplishing a simple task – like putting a stamp on an envelope – an over-engineered marathon of moving parts. This year's Rube Goldberg Machine Contest held at Purdue University featured one of the most complex contraptions yet: The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers created a machine that blew up and popped a balloon in a winding 300 steps, breaking the team's own Guinness world record for "Largest Rube Goldberg Machine."
Based on the work of famous American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, there's no shortage of elaborate Rube Goldberg machines. But none are more complex – in terms of total sequenced steps – than the Purdue Society of Professional Engineers' latest creation. A 14-person team made up of Purdue undergraduates and one graduate student spent some 5,000 hours over six months designing and building the new record-breaking contraption.
"One of the biggest challenges is that we are all college students. I'm trying to motivate 14 total people to give up their free weekends and evenings, and all it leads up to is a machine that runs three times at a competition," Zach Umperovitch, team president and a master's student in geology, told Wired. "Technically, our biggest challenge was building the steam locomotive engine – it took us 600 hours."
The machine used the locomotive engine to drive a radial pump wheel, performing half of the required task of blowing up a balloon. A Rube Goldberg cartoon-style accordion arm then shot out to pop the balloon, completing the other half of this year's competition task. But the team's machine accomplished much more than the required task – it also incorporated all 24 assigned tasks from previous years of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.
"My rule is to tell an intricate story and make people laugh, and have people sit down and go, 'Wow!'" Umperovitch told Wired. "Since it was the [competition's] 25th anniversary, I thought, 'Why don't we have a machine that does it all?'" The result was a machine that made a piece of toast, juiced oranges, assembled a hamburger, inserted a CD into a CD player, shut off an alarm clock, put a stamp on an envelope, sharpened a pencil, watered a plant and more. And it incorporated multiple energy transfers, including mechanical, thermal and electrical.
Since the competition rules state that an entry machine must fit within 200 cubic feet, the team made all of this possible with two rotating fins that featured parts for the various tasks. As you can see in the video below, pieces are attached to all sides of the fins so they aren't vulnerable to gravity and take up less space.
The team broke its own world record for individual sequenced events. The Purdue Society of Professional Engineers' previous record-breaking machine from the 2011 contest included only 244 steps (seen here). "Now I'm sitting here once again, asking how do we top this. But we found a way this year, so we'll find a way next year," Umperovitch said.
To see the record-breaking machine in action, check out the video below. (If you're interested in seeing how the team built the machine, you can also watch a 33-minute long time lapse – a lot better than 5,000 hours – here.)