Great Ball Contraptions (GBCs) are one of the most fascinating and mesmerizing pieces of LEGO art out there. GBC layouts at any convention will always enjoy an onslaught of wonderstruck fans. But what those fans may not know is that many LEGO GBC modules were inspired by one person. Of course, not all of them – there’s tons of originality in the hobby. That said, a household name amongst GBC enthusiasts is Akiyuki. His incredible designs have been the inspiration for hundreds of builds. Now he’s back with an incredible new creation, his “Five Tilted Rings” module.
The one thing that JK Brickworks does well is to combine LEGO bricks and motion. Well, okay, there’s more to their builds than that. There’s also the stellar look to their creations. And the great photos they take of them. And…well, look, we’re dangerously close to just doing a Spanish Inquisition tribute here. Let’s just say they’re a master at their craft and move on. Because JK Brickworks has finally entered the realm of the GBC, and it’s a wonder to behold. (That’s a “Great Ball Contraption” for those of you who haven’t encountered them yet.)
In Robot Dreams a quartet of workers rhythmically and endlessly pass tiny LEGO basketballs to each other. Each one has unique coloring and characteristics, but otherwise they’re just extremely decorative cogs in a machine. There’s an old saying about sled dogs – unless you’re in the lead, the view never really changes. Kinda makes you feel bad for at least three of these robots.
But words don’t really do this one justice. You need to see it in action. And, thankfully, there’s a video that not only shows this one in motion, but also gives some great looks at the Technic gearing and methodology that brought these robots to life.
This railway contraption by Akiyuki seems to have a single objective: mesmerizing viewers with an incredible orchestration of moving trains while appearing to be doing something relatively productive.
Its only function is a closed looped system that transports LEGO balls. This type of machine is commonly known by LEGO fans as a Great Ball Contraption. Here, the machine consists of a circuit of tracks and seems to perform a crucial task, and that appearance is itself quite a major feat of design and ingenuity. For me, I’d prefer to call it out as an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) machine—which is a fancy way of saying it gives me the shivers—and it makes me want to stare at it continuously.
Consisting of several modules and utilising four carriages to transport the balls from section to section, let’s take a look at the various modules that make this thingamajig tick.
Apparently German builder Quanix knows about engineering with LEGO something that I can refer to simply as “magic”. With only 3 Power Function motors (plus 1 servo-motor) he somehow controls 17 independent pneumatic cylinders, which are capable of moving 1200 LEGO basketball/soccer balls around the circuit in an hour. This monstrosity is built with more than 3,000 LEGO bricks including more than 150 cm of conveyor belt.
Not sharing a video of this beauty in action would be a terrible mistake. Make sure nobody disturbs you during the next 10 minutes of this mesmerising performance:
Berthil van Beek loves making some of the coolest LEGO machines around. Just a few week ago we highlighted his awesome LEGO ball maze that accelerates balls to 1,000 rpm, and he’s already back having spent more than 100 hours designing another breathtaking creation. This time, it’s an undulating wave of LEGO colors featuring 38 distinct swatches from LEGO’s palette (a palette that’s changing over the years).
Like Berthil’s ball maze, this mechanism is designed to fit with the Great Ball Contraption standard, fitting end-to-end with other fans’ creations for continual movement of LEGO’s tiny soccer balls and basketballs. Berthill tells us he was inspired to create the rainbow wave machine after seeing the vibrant rainbow of colors in the official image of LEGO’s Creator XXXL Box, which he also used a source for many of the colored bricks.
The Rainbow Wave Great Ball Contraption uses about 1,150 pieces and is powered by a single motor, with each of the colored pistons sitting on an 8-tooth gear. Each piston’s gear is exactly 1 tooth offset from its neighbors, and this means the balls travel in a perfectly level line as they move across the waving surface. Berthil says this mechanism took a lot of testing and redesigning to perfect, in particular because digital prototyping with LEGO rendering programs isn’t feasible for complicated moving machinery.
If you’ve never heard of a Great Ball Contraption (or GBC for short), you’ve probably never been to a LEGO convention. The term describes a popular theme of complicated LEGO machines built by fans, which can interconnect to continually pass LEGO soccer balls and basketballs around in a mesmerizing fashion, and they’re a mainstay of LEGO fan conventions. This particular GBC is built by Berthil van Beek, who was inspired after seeing another fan’s marble run. Berthil’s machine shoots the tiny balls up to the top of the run, where they hurtle down and are recycled.
Japanese builder akiyuki applies the concept of strain wave gearing to Great Ball Contraptions, a popular LEGO fan convention theme in which hundreds of balls are passed through complex machinery. From both an engineering and a visual standpoint, the module is mesmerizing to watch. See the module in action in the following 2 minute video.
A fascinating read detailing the design process and engineering challenges faced by the builder can be found on akiyuki’s blog.