I’ve loved the concept behind the Blue Ball Machine ever since first stumbling across it in 2005. A large number of people made animated GIFs of a standard size, with a blue ball entering and exiting at a certain place and frame number.
When stacked together, the GIFs make a huge tapestry of moving balls, which is massively hypnotic.
I was wandering around Play Expo last year, and came across a stall selling spare parts for pinball machines, which is when inspiration struck. What if we made the BBM… But MASSIVE?
The A-Maze-Balls Standard
Inspired by Model Railway buffs, The AMB Standard defines standard module sizes to be used when making an AMB module. The ball must enter and exit at a certain place, but what happens in between is entirely up to the module’s maker.
Each module has a fall distance of 63mm between the entry and exit points, allowing us to build a ‘support staircase’ out of chunks of CLS timber, or MDF to support each module. The entry hole is sized for a standard pinball. The plates are 400mm wide, and 120mm tall. There are 8mm mounting holes to connect modules together.
The plates are designed to be flipped around, and are used with the holes at the top for entry, and at the bottom for exit. I suggest laser cutting them from 5mm plywood or acrylic. Each module should be 480mm long, but the height and width aren’t constrained. This version of the endplate is designed to be screwed onto the end of a module.
The amazebox is a full amazeballs module, designed to be cut on an A2 laser cutter. It incorporates the correct fall distance, and is built with a tabbed construction that doesn’t need any fasteners to assemble, just Glue.
Some modules will need power made available to them for running lights, motors, electromagnets etc. For this we’ve chosen a PC-style molex connector, using the standard PC pinout of +12V, GND, GND, +5V. These connectors are available from farnell for 50p each.
I was sold on the concept of using pinballs as soon as I saw them on the stall. They’re a standard size (1.06 inches), electrically conductive (this is necessary for the bumpers on pinball machines to work!), and will stick to magnets (so we can build a coilgun to fire them back up to the start!). This combination allows us to do a lot of very cool things. If you need any for testing, they can be bought here for £1.20 each.
Once a module is built, they can be stacked end-to-end, theoretically infinitely (assuming sufficient volumes of wood for the staircase). The ball holes line up, and the units can be bolted together using M8 bolts.
I plan on setting up the first AMB run at UK MakerFaire, in April 2015. I’m hoping to get people from all over the country involved. If you’d like to bring a module, please contact me (email email@example.com, @thinkl33t on twitter) and I’ll add you to the list. This will be a 10-module stack, so first-come, first-serve!
What you do inside your unit is completely up to you, as long as the balls enter and exit in the right place, and at a sensible speed!
- 2015-01-19 – Initial Module Specification
- 2015-01-19 – Added Module Length