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Mechanical engineering students at Michigan build giant working Rubik’s Cube

Why it matters to you

Fancy a bit of fun between your mechanical engineering classes? This giant Rubik's Cube may help -- and teach a valuable lesson about design and teamwork in the process.

In an impressive, fun demonstration of design and engineering in action, the University of Michigan’s G.G. Brown Building is currently home to a giant working Rubik’s Cube.

Created as a senior design project by a team of seven mechanical engineering students, the sizable puzzle is constructed mainly of aluminum, measures 4.5 feet across, and weighs a total of 2,400 pounds — steel stand included. It’s not quite world’s biggest (one built by puzzle enthusiast Tony Fisher claims that record), but it’s definitely an impressive achievement.

“In the past, giant versions of the Rubik’s Cube have been made, but they have either been electronic or very cumbersome to maneuver and solve,” Martin Harris, one of the creators, told Digital Trends. “By suspending our giant cube in a stand, users are free to walk around the cube as they solve it and interact with it from many angles with little additional effort.”

Harris said that the goal of the project was to create an interactive mechanical art piece that would introduce teamwork and collaboration to the problem-solving process, while also providing a lasting piece of artwork to Michigan’s north campus.

“Traditional Rubik’s Cubes have smooth plastic surfaces that slide across one another inside the cube, but on such a giant scale the resistance due to friction would have been magnified beyond what a human user could reasonably overcome,” he continued, describing one of the big design challenges the team faced. “To solve this problem, we designed a network of rollers and transfer bearings that work together to transform every instance of sliding contact into rolling contact, while preserving all of the necessary movability to have a solvable cube.”

The plan is for the giant Rubik’s Cube to stay indefinitely on the second floor of its current residence at the university. Since most of the team of engineers who worked on it have now graduated and moved away from Ann Arbor, Harris noted there aren’t any plans to take the project further — but only time will tell what future classes of Michigan engineers will bring to the table.

“After all, it’s their toy now,” he said.