Wacky Automation Devices

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Electronic devices are built to automate routine tasks simply and efficiently. They offer us the promise of making life easier by allowing us to spend more time doing the things we love to do.  A perfectly engineered device, especially a complicated machine, can do this with as few moving parts as possible.  An emphasis on design engineering made Apple relevant again, rescuing it from the brink in the late 90s, and is something that is carefully considered whenever a contender for the next big thing emerges.


The Wacky Automation Device competition from Project14, takes this concepts, and flips it over in a (hopefully) absurd and humorous way in homage to Rube Goldberg, the man who left engineering school to be an artist.  Rather than try to engineer the next iPhone, the idea is to add as many moving parts as possible to create an automation device that is absurb in the all the automated steps it takes to do the simple tasks is was designed to do. This is a project that you can have a lot of fun with.


Thinking about how a Rube Goldberg device works is a great way to build appreciation the thinking that needs to happen with design engineering.  Engineering fraternities have held routine Rube Goldberg competitions and it’s a part of recommended early curriculum for students in the K-12 range who hold interest in an engineering career.


These students are trained at an early age to use Rube Goldberg cartoons as a way to engage their critical thinking on the way devices can be used to make simple tasks more complicated.  The objective is to consider the importance and usefulness of the technology and devices around them. 


Thanks to the Internet it’s now easier to get devices and invention you could think of on a whim, adding it to a shopping cart, and having it delivered to your door or at your desk.  For the world we live in today, digital age seems a bit antiquated considering its been tossed around since the 80s.


If you were a gadget hound in the 80s you had a Casio watch to digitally give you the time, a calculator to save you from doing long division manually, a Handy Cam with an actual video tape that you could take out and pop into your VCR, and a Walkman to listen to mix tapes you made using a dual cassette deck.


Something to think about is that many of these devices were mass marketed and produced to replace other single function devices that were mass marketed and produced a decade earlier.  For someone growing up with gadgets in the 70s the Casio watch probably didn’t provide a useful upgrade over the analog wrist piece they may have already grown accustomed to using.


The Polaroid camera would have provided a fundamentally different way to instantly capture and store memories compared to the handy cam. Nevertheless, it can be argued that the loss of the popularity of one device to store memories, supplanted a form of capturing memories that was subsequently lost.


The record player you owned to play your analog music produced a sound that some people still prefer heavily to the sound of digital recordings.  Even in a world where single purpose devices reigned supreme, whether or not they represented an upgrade over what came before is subjective, especially considering the revival older “analog” devices such as record players and instant film cameras.


The world we live in today has many devices that fill the niche left behind when single function devices fell by the wayside.  Do we really need another way to listen to our music and don’t you miss your old photo camera?  What’s lost on those of us who never grew up with these devices and don’t share the same hankering for beloved devices that only served one function and were simple enough in how they were engineered electronically?


Rube Goldberg entered the lexicon as an adjective to describe accomplishing by complex means what could be done simply. It’s a concept that has resonated well past his cartoon strips, witnessed in movies such as the Goonies, and continues to shape the way we relate to electronics and technology. Beginning in 1988, the National Rube Golberg machine contest , has witnessed contest winners featured on Newton’s Apple,  Johnny Carson, the Today Show, and Good Morning America.




While we can’t promise any guest appearances after the Wacky Automation device competition closes.  We can offer a Shopping Cart to 3 First place Winners and have some fun as this is Project14!