A Tubular Fairy Tale You Control with Your Phone

A Tubular Fairy Tale You Control with Your Phone

At first glance, this might appear to be a Rube Goldberg machine made of toys. The truth isn’t far off — it’s a remote-control animatronic story machine driven by its spectators and their phones. [Niklas Roy] and a team of volunteers built it in just two weeks for Phaenomenale, a festival centered around art and digital culture that takes place every other year.



A view of the tubes without the toys.

A red ball travels through a network of clear acrylic tubes using 3D printed Venturi air movers, gravity, and toys to help it travel. Spectators can change the ball’s path with their phones via a local website with a big picture of the installation. The ball triggers animations along its path using break beam detection and weaves a different story each time depending on the toys it interacts with.


Here’s how it works: a Raspberry Pi 4 is responsible for releasing the ball at the beginning of the track and for controlling the track switches. The Pi also hosts a server for smartphones and the 25 Arduino Nanos that control the LEDs and servos of the animatronics. As a bonus animatronic, there’s a giant whiteboard that rotates and switches between displaying the kids’ drawings and the team’s plans and schematics. Take a brief but up-close tour after the break.


This awesome art project was a huge collaborative effort that involved the people of Wolfsburg, Germany — families in the community donated their used and abandoned toys, groups of elementary school kids were brought in to create stories for the to ..