Hummingbird Robotics

Contributed By: Kim Desveaux


Click here for a forum post that is associated with this classroom project. I would be happy to help you out with any questions you or your students may have. 


We’re taking the traditional Rube Goldberg machine to the next level with motors, sensors and code! Yes, that’s right – it’s already a complex machine with levers and planes and pulleys – and now it’s going to be even more complex with motors and sensors and code.

Are you ready to get your students talking about the everyday simple problems that bore them? Simple tasks like getting a drink, pressing a button, turning on a light switch. We’ll show them how those everyday boring, repetitive tasks – can become incredibly exciting, action packed, spine tingling production worthy moments!

Level Up!

Rube Goldberg Machine: 

Purchasing Options

Click on the image of the item below for our preferred purchasing locations. 

Drink Fill’erUpper

Check out this video of our ‘Drink Fill’erUpper’….who would have thought getting a glass of water could be so exciting.


Tips & Tricks

We’ll provide tips and tricks to how you too can make exciting task completing machines – and we’ll include easy to follow videos on how to add Lego WeDo motor and tilt sensor programmed with Scratch and also how to program the Lego EV3 Mindstorms motors and touch sensor. 

HummingBird from
Bird Brain Technologies
Curriculum Connections

Once again, the hands-on project based learning reaches so many curricular outcomes, that it is possible to use this as a project in many subject areas. The design and exploration concepts combined with the team work, brainstorming and problem solving skills, make it a classroom favorite.  And of course, the projects are so fun and easy to share – that students are happily developing their communication and presentation skills.   But, there are some curricular outcomes that are perfectly suited to the reimagined Rube Goldberg machine.  We have listed 2 just to get you started…but please share your completed projects with us and let us know how you were able to integrate this project in your classroom. 

The natural fit of course is: 

Science 5 


Describe examples of how simple machines have improved living conditions and identify machines that have been used in the past and that have developed over time (105-5, 107-8, 205-8) perform experiments to describe the force needed to lift or pull a given load in standard and non-standard units (205-4, 205-5, 205-6) design a system of machines to solve a task (204-7) investigate and compare the effect of friction on the movement of objects over a variety of surfaces (204-1, 204-5, 303-15) use simple machines to identify the effort and load required to move objects (205-2, 206-9, 303-17) observe, investigate, and describe how forces can act directly (contact) or from a distance (non-contact) to move or hold objects in place (303-12, 303-13) demonstrate and describe the effect of increasing and decreasing the amount of force applied to an object (303-14) demonstrate the use of rollers, wheels, and axles in moving objects (303-16) design a lever for a particular task and differentiate between the positions of the fulcrum, the load, and the effort (303-18, 303-19) compare and record the force needed to lift and load an object by using a single pulley system with that needed to lift it by using a multiple pulley system and predict the effect of adding another pulley or load-lifting capacity (303-20, 204-3) 


Another perfect time to incorporate this redesigned Rube Goldberg project would be in:  

Technology Education 7 


3.1 interpret a plan to develop a system 

3.2 create a model or prototype of an existing invention 

3.3 differentiate the components of simple technological systems 

3.4 examine and communicate the importance and impact of invention and innovation 

3.5 develop improvements to an existing product 

3.6 investigate the manufacturing process of a product 

3.7 engineer a prototype to solve a design challenge 


And of course – the addition of coding/programming to our designs helps to reach the new outcomes for coding in the curriculum.  

Step-by-Step Tutorial

Step 1:

First, students will need to understand the elements needed to build a simple machine to accomplish a task. This is a great point to discuss levers, pulleys, planes, force, load and more.  Illustrating basic concepts early on will allow for more creative machine building. It is also an ideal time to explore the Rube Goldberg experience.  Here is a great site for all things Rube Goldberg: 

I have attached a pdf of a Rube Goldberg Simple Machine lesson plan to this tutorial. Here is the link to the original: 


The purpose of this tutorial is to go beyond the Rube Goldberg Simple Machine and to add technology – add motors and sensors and code! To take our Rube Goldberg’s to the next level.  So once, we’ve explored simple machines and the Rube Goldberg theory – now it’s time to let the students’ imaginations soar.  What would they build if there were no limits! 


Now is a great time to introduce motors and sensors and code.  We’ve prepared two videos for this discussion.  


The first is the How to Use the Lego WeDo system to add to your design.  Check this video out!

The Lego WeDo video assumes users have experience with the MIT Scratch program. We, at Brilliant Labs are big fans of the Scratch programming environment and have created a number of tutorials to introduce Scratch – so, if you haven’t had a chance to explore this wonderful world of computer code, please take a few moments to watch our introduction to Scratch programming video.  

Computer Software Installation

To use the Lego WeDo system, you must download a plug-in.  The Scratch website will walk you through the steps to do this – don’t worry, it’s easy.  The link to the plugin information can be found here:


Step 1: Open Scratch program at 


Step 2: Choose “More Blocks” from the menu items 

Step 3: You will now have the option ‘Add an Extension’ 

Select this option. The Lego WeDo system is an added extension to the Scratch program. 

Step 4: Choose the Lego WeDo (1.0 or 2.0) system that you currently have. 

Step 5: Follow the tips window to the right that will show you which link to download.  Click on the appropriate link and you will now be able to use the Lego WeDo motors as in the video attached.


You’ll need to install a plugin to use Scratch with the Lego WeDo 1.0. Choose the plugin to download based on your computer and the web browser you use for Scratch.  If you use a browser other than Chrome you will need to choose the appropriate option (all are listed on the site).  Note: you will need administrator access on your computer to install the plugin. 


If the the Lego WeDo is not working try: 

  • Make sure you have opened and installed the correct plug-in for your computer and browser 

  • Make sure you have set permission in your browser preferences to allow the plug-in to run 

  • Restart your browser 

  • Make sure that you don’t have Scratch open in another tab or browser 

  • Make sure the hardware (Lego WeDo) is plugged in to your computer/laptop 


And that’s it!   


It’s a great idea to allow the students to explore the Lego WeDo system…before they design their machines. This will give them time to imagine all the crazy, fun possibilities!

Using LEGO EV3 Mindstorms


The second video explores how to add Lego EV3 Mindstorms to your design.  

This video demonstrates the basic steps to get your Lego EV3 brick programmed. It covers motors, sensors, power, downloading to the brick and more.   


EV3 software is included with the purchase of your EV3 kit. If you have purchased the Lego EV3 Educational version, you will be given specific download instructions along with a registration code.  If you have purchased the home edition, you can find the free software download: 

Again, give your students time to explore the Lego EV3 motors and sensors before they design their machines.  This will ensure they understand the limitless possibilities for adding motors and sensors to their designs.

Designing the Machine

Often we hear --- ‘all the great things have already been invented’ – well, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, we have sliced bread and fire and the wheel – and electric toothbrushes.  But, think about how many machines and tools we use today that have only been invented in the last couple of years – iPads, 3D printers, and hoverboards! So, encourage students to think of one thing the bugs them! 

problem solving:

• What is one boring task you do everyday that you think a machine could do? 

•L ook over some of the drawings of Rube Goldberg 

• Imagine how you could make that simple task fun and exciting and really complicated? 

• How could we add motors, sensors, levers, pulleys, planes and more…what about gravity? 

• Remember, it’s not just about ‘getting the job done’ it’s about creating excitement and drama too! 

• Have fun! 

Illustrating the project is key. The creativity is in the design. So, have the teams work with pen and paper and sketch out their ideas.  Then, before the teams start to work on their designs, we recommend having a design briefing. 

How to do a Design Briefing

Have the student teams imagine they are presenting their design to the company CEO.  Let the students pitch their ideas and have the other students ask questions, and possibly make design suggestions.  It is this peer feedback that may make a great impact on the design.  Remember – feedback is critical to improving and developing all great ideas.

Time to Build 

Now, after the students have identified their problem and designed their solution it’s time to build the fantastical, one-of-a-kind, problem solving, mystery machine!  The students will need quite a bit of time to build the machine. This in fact may require afterschool and/or home assigned time. 



There is a significant amount of work and pride that will go into these machines. So, in order to showcase the students’ efforts it would be great to allow time for brief presentations.  This will allow for sharing of ideas, failures/successes and tips for future builders.   


Not all machines will work as planned – and so it’s a great time to learn about failure – and talk about just how many inventors have failed first and succeeded later! Students can learn that it’s ok to accept failure as part of the design process.

Classroom Considerations

As with many hands-on project based learning assignments – the classroom will soon become a fun, exciting, noisy, chaotic, energy centre! So, a few tips before you begin the process:

Pro Tip:


  • Have students work in teams 

  • Limit the number of ‘steps’ per machine. While this may seem to limit the creativity – it is important to realize building these machines take a considerable amount of time.  So, to accomplish the task it really is necessary to limit the machine size to 3 steps. 

  • Discuss design failure. Failure is part of the process and students can still present their ideas and designs even if the machine fails.  This project is about machines and imagination! 

  • Present, present, present.  This is a great project to build on students’ communication skills. Have brief presentations at the design stage and at the conclusion to the project.  Encourage students to ask questions and provide feedback.  

Get started 


We are here to help with your planning and evaluation.  Let us know if you have any questions. Plus, we'd  like to share your project work so please keep us updated. 

Kim Desveaux

Kim is a self-proclaimed maker, mastering everything from silkscreen and jewellery design to 3d printing and robotics.  With an MBA in Community Economic Development, Kim combines a love of technology with the belief that education and entrepreneurship are the key to a brighter future for Atlantic Canada. Kim joined Brilliant Labs as Nova Scotia Co-Program Director in 2015.