Inventions: Heath Robinson, eat your heart out


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The Independent Tech

A team of geeks has devoted 5,000 man hours over six months to building a van-sized contraption designed to do nothing more complicated than pop a single balloon. Because, well, why not?

Their record-breaking Rube Goldberg machine, shown off on YouTube this week, involves 300 steps, which run in an automated chain reaction lasting for two minutes. It includes an orange juicer, a burger-assembly station and pencil sharpener.

When a comedy hand pierces the balloon, the reaction of the competitors in an annual Rube Goldberg Machine contest at Purdue University in Indiana could only have been more fevered had they landed their device on the moon.

But who was this Rube and why do garage dwellers as well as ad men with million-pound budgets get so excited about machines whose point is to be pointless?

Goldberg was America's Heath Robinson. His cartoons showed complex devices completing simple tasks. After his death in 1970, the devices leapt from the page into three dimensions. Purdue launched its contest in 1987 and in 2003 Goldberg inspired Cog, the award-winning Honda advert that featured dozens of moving car parts.

See the balloon: