Skip to main content

LEGO Tinkering Balance Prototyping

LEGO Tinkering Balance Prototyping

After spending a couple of months prototyping ideas LEGO art machines and sound makers, we've now started exploring balance as the next LEGO tinkering theme. Amos from the LEGO foundation has spent some time working on an activity called 'sky parade' where participants build motorized gondola-like contraptions and we've seen Peter from the Science Museum of Minnesota testing out zip-line creations in his camps and classes. While we've been inspired by these ideas, we wanted to start out with simple non-motorized objects that balance on a single point. A few years ago we experimented with balancing objects as part of the Open MAKE: Toys event and at the subsequent Bay Area Maker Faire, and these initial ideas gave us a starting point for LEGO balance R&D.

For our first testing session with just our team, I hot glued thumb-tacks to three hole technique beams for a balancing point and also used hot glue to attach objects of different weights to LEGO pieces much like the clothespin we used for the previous two activities. While this worked pretty well on the dowels, it made it painful to balance on our fingers which turns out to be a good way to feel to weight distribution.

We also set up motors to give a sense of movement to the objects after they became stable on a point. The spinning platform allowed for a more suspenseful display and as we started testing, we also found that it would be better if the stick was diagonal so that the weight on the bottom could hang unimpeded.

We noticed that slight differences in the creations really affected the balance. Meg developed a new piece that allowed her to slide an axle back and forth to create more minute adjustments then the technic hole pins allow.

And although we started with gluing everyday objects to technic beams, Nicole devised a more elegant solution of just drilling a hole the same size as the technic pin in various objects. This allowed us to connect lots of different materials to the LEGO set in multiple orientations.

This technique also allowed us to think about other types of starting points for the balancing objects that would be a little easier to work with like this acrylic triangle.

We also experimented with lasercut pieces that could both have a single point to balance on while also having attachment points for different types of LEGO pieces to come off at more helpful angles.

We also hoped that by gluing alligator clip heads to a type of technic beam, we could more easily attach light objects like paper, colored plastic, and paper to the balancing sculptures. One thing that's interesting to experiment with for the balancing sculptures is to arrange both very heavy and very light objects in ways that produce unexpected equilibrium.

A few days later, we took an initial set of materials on the floor to start testing out the activity with visitors to the Tinkering Studio. As usual, giving participants the chance to try out these half-baked ideas allows us to learn quite a lot about the possibilities for the exploration.

As we built examples and saw what visitors tended to begin with, we moved a bit away from the custom starting points and tried to come up with various 'base models' using only LEGO pieces. Some of the triangle shaped pieces gave us the chance to experiment with different possible ways to arrange the weight on the below the sculpture.

Storytelling seems to be an important part of the activity and we saw balancing characters from chickens to spaceships. We think it could be fun to push on the narrative element to give people the chance to really personalize their creations.

However, abstract shapes and colors also seemed to be a compelling direction and we were excited to see how this different frame could get us to think about the LEGO pieces in a new light.

We'll continue to explore these ideas in our workshop and with visitors to the museum. We're looking forward to sharing the results of the R&D and getting to see what others try around this topic!