RFID Rube Goldberg device

London design firm Berg (formerly Schulz and Webb) is working on a series of provocative videos exploring "designerly applications for RFID." The first one is this lovely Rube Goldberg machine running on RFID: "With RFID it's proximity that matters, and actual contact isn't necessary. Much of Timo's work in the Touch project addresses the fictions and speculations in the technology. Here we play with the problems of invisibility and the magic of being close."



  1. yet at the same time I can’t help noticing that this higher-tech machine totally lacks the charming glee of one made by everyday objects.

    I felt the same way. If things aren’t actually audible and visibly banging into each other, it almost might as well be a physics simulation on the computer with poor collision detection – all the less impressive because we intuitively realize that the design need not be as precise physically given that rough proximity is good enough.

    I imagine it might be more impressive in person where remote action would (?perhaps) be a bit more mysterious. It might still suffer from too much of the same, though – from the lazy comfort of my sofa, I think it would probably work better as a fake-out in a device otherwise made with conventional mechanical connections, where one pass-off appears to fail mechanically only to be saved by RFID. As it is, it’s kind of the Phantom Menace of Rude Goldbergs.

  2. Something about using electronics makes it feel like cheating. Why not just have the first one activate the last one and be done with it?

  3. An interesting concept, but that’s about as far as it goes.

    The little steel balls involved in most goldberg machines are infinately more appealing.

  4. I thought it was a cool new twist of the rubes. Any of the purely physical ones could be just as direct as potentially an electronic one. The fact that it is entitled “Nearness” and each interface is from indirect interaction elevates this from science project to art for me. ;D

  5. I’d like to see you make it cute when you have to dig the mandatory implants outta yer arms to make another video.

  6. Steel ball just uses gravity and maybe some spring action to power its movement and essentially a closed system. This thing needs to be either plugged in or have its batteries charged.

  7. The “magic” and usefulness of RFID is NOT that it can “press a button” from a distance, which is all it’s doing in this video – it’s that each tag has a unique code that identifies it to the reader. This would be SOOOOOOOO much cooler if there were different tags that created patterns of different reactions, perhaps with an element of randomness thrown in from time to time. I think they have it wrong from the opening statement – will all due respect, it’s not proximity that matters with RFID, it’s more about the individual identities that anything equipped with a tag can have.

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