LEGO Linkage Experiments


Over the past couple of weeks, we've been working with LEGO foundation to think about how to incorporate LEGO elements into tinkering experiences. We started out with exploring art machines and in the process noticed the ways that the technic pins encouraged participants to think about systematic iteration and appreciated the complexity of the different types of motion, including linkage based mechanisms. So it was an easy transition for us to start thinking about LEGO as a way to explore linkages as it's own area for exploration.


Linkages are something that we've been messing around with for a while since Noga Elhassid from the moving toys workshop spent time with us as an artist-in-residence last summer. Her beautiful and whimsical creations from simple materials like cardboard, brads, and paint inspired Lianna to lead the group in thinking about cardboard linkage workshops with museum visitors. We appreciated the expressive quality of these materials but observed that the cardboard made it more difficult to make small adjustments and iterations. IMG_1273

Linkages also relate to the Strandbeest summer exhibition at the Exploratorium, and can be a great way to explore the mechanisms that power the incredible creations of Theo Jansen. As we started exploring linkages and trying to mimic some of the classic models, we created base plates of that gave a surface for building.


Soon after, Sebastian designed an illustrator file for a pegboard panel that could match up with the LEGO technic holes as a way to experimenting with linkages. IMG_1405

We experimented with the size and material of these pegboards and eventually created a collection of personal boards with motors mounted for building. These mini boards provided a starting point for our first extended exploration.


Nicole was inspired by the useless robot arms of Simone Gietz, and Nicole riffed on her amazing and hilarious contraptions and build a breakfast machine out of mostly LEGO parts. IMG_1366

This got us thinking about other daily tasks that could be accomplished with linkage arms and how these familiar materials and actions could help lower the threshold and help people set their own goal for the linkage investigation.


It also gave us a chance to reuse our pen holders from the lego art machines activity to create machines that held a wide variety of objects like this chopstick wielding robot. IMG_1382

We collected a series of interesting everyday objects that we thought would be cool to try to animate. At this stage we wanted some elements that had both a characteristic motion but could be used in different ways.


It seems like robot arms may be a pretty interesting avenue to explore using LEGO linkages and can be a great way to encourage thinking about adding in extra materials to the LEGO set. There seems to be a lot of potential for getting to really complex creations, but gives people a reason to really experiment with linkages. As we continue to think about how to best introduce the idea of LEGO linkages, activities like this can provide a personal goal that encourages linkage use and explorations. We'll continue to explore the possibilities both at the museum during the summer show and also at our annual maker faire booth in a couple of weeks.

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