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The Flying Marbellos

Click!…Whirrr…Hummm…Bang! These are the sounds of “The Flying Marbellos”: a rolling ball sculpture with marbles and small metal “bugs” to run the show. The purpose of a rolling ball sculpture (RBS) is to transport balls to the top of a system of tracks, where they proceed to find different and amusing paths on the way down. Is this a silly thing to do? Yes! Do people love to watch these things for long periods of time? Yes! Put an RBS in a public place and you can attract a crowd surrounding it. I love watching mechanical things, but building this turned out to be even more fun.

Since I have a fascination for mechanical things, and also enjoy working with Basic Stamp microcontrollers, this 6 1/2 foot tall RBS finds some different ways of going up with the balls as well as going down. It all starts with a motor that elevates the marbles to the top, and as they roll down they encounter switches that change paths with every marble. The insects and spiders add a circus flair to the whole thing. A helicopter carries one marble from a low platform to a higher one so that it can begin another journey down. An elevator carries another marble to the top, sends it to drop through the air to a pad where it bounces up and into a basket. One marble lands into the muzzle of a cannon, where a bug lights a torch, leans over and lights the cannon’s fuse, and then the cannon fires the marble into the basket. Two marbles at once go down into a tube, where 90 LED lights follow the marbles, cascading in sequence down the tube. Others follow turns, loops and spirals, jump from a ski jump and ring bells on their way down.

The Flying Marbellos was the cover story for Nuts and Volts Magazine, December, 2005. It is now on display in the Chaney dental office waiting room.