KISS Principle in Engineering vs Rube Goldberg Machines


The K.I.S.S. principle is widely referenced both inside and outside of Engineering.  It was coined by Kelly Johnson of the Lockheed Skunk Works.  Wikipedia has a good summary:

KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” as a design principle… The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided… Variations on the phrase include “keep it short and simple” and “keep it simple and straightforward”

This is entirely predictable.  The more parts, joints, software steps, etc, the more costs and points to introduce and accumulate errors and failures.  And yet, our human tendency (especially among engineers) is to be seduced by the usually false promises of complexity.

We’ve run into this principle a number of times in the design of our robot and armatures.  YouTube videos from previous years show majority of successful robots at the lower levels have very simple and lightweight chassis and armature design,

Unfortunately, we were led a bit astray by looking at the exceptions to this rule early in our season.  Perhaps the apex of absurdity in FLL robot complexity was the 2003 World Champion The Beast out of the UK. Now that we are field testing our mechanical and software designs, the ever-present KISS principle comes back to haunt us – especially as a first-year team.

Rube Goldberg Self Operating Napkin original art 2

On a humorous related note the artist Rube Goldburg became famous for parodying unnecessary and absurd mechanical complexity to solve trivial tasks.  The very phrase “Rube Goldberg Machine” is a synonym for this concept of counterproductive complexity.

Here are a few of my favorite real life Rube Goldberg Machines.

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