• 10.26.16

Watch A Rube Goldberg Machine Go Around The Country In 5 Minutes

Teams in five cities collaborated to craft interlinked messages that unite, rather than divide.

Watch A Rube Goldberg Machine Go Around The Country In 5 Minutes

It started in Oakland, with a Rube Goldberg machine made with twigs, toys, and old cans. As the machine finished, it triggered an email to Phoenix, which automatically printed out, pushing a ball down a track and setting off a chain reaction that knocked down a wall. The Phoenix machine set off a device in Atlanta, which led to New Hampshire, then Detroit, and, finally, back to Oakland.


“It’s a full circle around the United States in about five minutes,” says Jason Naumoff, a partner at New Creatures, the participatory design company that organized the project, called Common Ground.

In each city, groups of artists, makers, or students spent 48 hours designing their project, focused on an issue they cared about. A domino expert wrote out a message about women in STEM; the Arizona makers shared a quote from Isaac Newton (“We build too many walls and not enough bridges”) before their machine knocked the wall down. A gospel choir in Oakland sang about police brutality.

Though most issues were locally inspired, each group had to collaborate with the next to make the real-time “machine” work.

“We got really into the idea of a bunch of people doing things and making things in different places, but it’s all part of one bigger installation or project,” says Naumoff.

It’s meant as a metaphor for what a divided country should be doing. “It just felt really timely, with all of the election craziness,” he says. “We really liked this analogy of this project that brings people together in a nonpartisan, nonpolitical way, but is really focused on issues and problem solving.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.