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These chain reactions combine dominoes with switches, sensors, and motors.

Smart Domino Tricks

I've actually never played dominoes. But I've used them to build chain reactions. When we tried it in class, it seemed there were so many possible ways to trigger things to happen. Fun. - Margaret
stuff you need
  • Dominoes
  • Alligator clip sensor
  • LEGO RCX or a Cricket
  • Copper foil
  • Metal balls or marbles
  • Motors and cables
  • Art and recycled materials (including cardboard, bottle caps, boxes, tubes, etc..)
  • Tape and glue

What could a "smart" domino run do? How can you use dominoes to make something happen?

Maybe a falling domino could press a switch to turn on a light. Or you could use a sensor to trigger the start of a domino chain reaction.

Here's a way to make a switch out of copper foil that you can use with dominoes. Start with pieces of copper foil and an alligator clip sensor.


Tape the sensor to a domino, with one piece of copper on each side. (Our tape is bright orange.) Make sure the copper sticks out beyond the edge of the domino (see how beneath the thumb in the photograph).

It will lay flat like this and the final domino will fall on the copper pieces, causing them to touch - sending a signal to your cricket.
You don't have to use copper as the conductor for your sensor, anything metal will work. These aluminum discs also worked. I hung these from a stick - when the domino fell, they touched.

Here's a different way to make a switch that uses water as the conductor.

When a heavy domino falls on the lever, it lifts the copper piece out of the water, BREAKING the circuit.

Here's another example that involves breaking, rather than completing, a circuit.

The metal ball balances on the copper and conducts electricity until the domino falls - knocking the marble off and breaking the circuit.

Here's another example that uses foam instead of cardboard to hold the marble.

Hint: if your domino isn't heavy enough to trigger the sensor (or knock the ball off), try taping weights (such as coins or washers) onto the domino.

Make sure you tape even weight to both sides of the domino or it won't stand up.

Here's an example of a "smart" domino run. When the marble rolls down the ramp, it causes the dominoes to fall (see bottom of photo). The last domino pushes two pieces of copper together, triggering the alligator sensor. The RCX then sends a signal to the motor to turn on, which rolls a ball towards the dominoes (standing at the top right of the photo).
What else
See photos and movies from a Domino Devices workshop at MIT Museum
View Roger's instructions for making smart domino runs
Learn more about using copper foil

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