Exploring Linkages with Tinkerer in Residence Noga Elhassid

Exploring Linkages with Tinkerer in Residence Noga Elhassid

Earlier this month we were so lucky to have Noga Elhassid in residence with us for two whole weeks! We've been long-time fans of her work with the Moving Toys Workshop, and are always inspired by her playful approach to creating motions and mechanisms.

For this time around we set out with an ambitious goal - explore linkages in 5 different ways over the course of the two week residency. We weren't sure how far we would get along that path, and chose to aim high to make the most of her time with us! The categories we hoped to try out were: creating a basic "vocabulary" of mechanisms; exploring 2D and 3D linkage systems; making linkages activated by pulleys, cranks, or motors; using linkages (and maybe coding too) to explore drawing shapes; and experimenting with collaborative linked systems.

On Noga's first day with us she arrived with a box of wonderful moving toys that we immediately unpacked and hung up on a pegboard wall in the Learning Studio. This beautiful collection served as both an inspiration for our future experiments and a way of keeping all the ideas visually accessible while still saving space at our work table.

Our first exploration stemmed from the idea of creating a common "vocabulary" of example linkage mechanisms. Karen and I had been using a combinations of letters, numbers, and waving hand gestures to describe types of linkages to each other, but our communication on what we were trying to describe wasn't always the clearest. Noga helped us give names to the types of mechanisms we were making (such as 3-, 4-, and 5-bar linkages) and see what they have in common, what their strengths are, and what ways they can be challenging. We ended up making a literal vocabulary where each letter demonstrates a different type of motion. What I loved figuring out was that different configurations can actually be the same type of linkage. For example, what Karen and I had been calling "H" linkages and "8" linkages are actually just variations on a 4-bar linkage (letters O and R in the vocabulary).

This video shows some of the letters in action.

Our next series of investigations was on translating 2D linkages into 3D space. Noga and I drew from different inspirational points for our exploration. She was interested in making a toy with a mouth that opened and closed based off a design by Keith Newstead, and I wanted to try creating something with moving ears based off of one of Noga's designs. We both tinkered with different tools, materials, and configurations to get our creations working. Noga ended up making a cute hippo-like push toy, and I made a running fox.

Around this time we also had a group building session with the whole Tinkering Studio team. Ryan took the idea of a 3D linkage to a new level and made a tool for parting crowds in busy spaces.

We also spent some time trying out linkages on the floor during Noga's visit. Our prompt revolved around the idea of turning a small motion in one place into a bigger motion somewhere else. We noticed that with this prompt, most visitors made a series of linked X's. While it's a compelling motion, that prompt didn't get us the variety of outcomes we were hoping for. On our next round of experiments in the Tinkering Studio, we'll definitely be considering what we can try next.

The next stop on our linkages journey was drawing with linkages. Although we didn't get to spend a ton of time on this one, Karen captured one of our explorations on drawing with linkages in this blog post

Just before Noga had to return home we were able to dip our toes into crank-operated and collaborative linkages. We used the pegboard from our workshop set of marble machines boards as the base for these linkages. We found that adding elements like eyes, hands, and feet made the motions more compelling and helped make testing more purposeful. As we continue to prototype with linkages, I think crank-operated contraptions will be what we try next in the Tinkering Studio. More updates on that to come soon!

Reflecting back on our time with Noga, I'm so thankful we were able to take the time for a deep-dive into linkage explorations. We learned so much from her, and the collaboration reinvigorated our collective enthusiasm around the topic. We have so many ideas and questions around linkages that we'd like to continue trying out, since it's such a rich topic to explore.

Keep an eye out for what we'll be trying next!