I spent a bit of time this afternoon assembling this interesting little kit from Solarbotics. Now wait a minute I hear you cry, isn't that just your Marble Machine #1? The answer is 'yes' and that makes it all the more exciting. I've given Solarbotics permission to manufacture the design on my behalf and they're doing a great job of it, they took hundreds of units with them to the bay area maker faire to be sold in the Maker shed and they all sold out. Anyway back to the kit....
The kit comes in a heat sealed cellophane packet which is a lovely touch. The parts have been rounded up to 4 and half panels which clearly makes them easier to pack. Leaving in all this excess material has left room for helpful assembly diagrams. The parts are cut with sprues holding the pieces in but they are easy enough to remove with a sharp knife.
The central axle for the lifting wheel receives a very clever upgrade. The axle is stepped and the holes in the wheels get smaller. This means it is impossible to put the wheels on in the wrong order. Another nicety is the etching on parts to be glued, places where the glue is to be spread are etched and there are arrows to show which parts are to be glued together. These are all great little features and I'll certainly be putting some back into my kits and using these tricks on future kits.
The other new feature is the addition of a solar motor to the kit. The solar motor circuit stores up energy in a capacitor until it reaches a certain level. It then dumps all the power into the motor causing it to step round a fraction of a turn, eventually this spits out another marble. It's a bit slow to power up in the UK sunshine but when it does finally drop a marble it's actually very cool. This one sits in my window sill and make me smile whenever it turns over.
The solarbotics kit is about 95% the size of my kit. This is achievable because of thinner wood and clearly I built in more tolerance to my machine than I needed to. It's a great upgrade to my kit and I'm rather jealous of the solar engines. I shall be getting a batch of those as an option for my shop as soon as possible.
One other little bonus from my parcel, I also received one of the 'other' useless machine kits so I assembled that too and took these photos for size comparison. It's basically the same machine internally, using the same toggle switch and almost identical motors. The black box uses AA batteries and mine uses AAA batteries (although AA would fit in the wooden box). I obviously have a preference for the wooden ones and not just because I make them, they're just a bit easier to assemble and in my opinion are a much nicer box.