In previous articles I’ve demonstrated how to use littleBits and erector set parts to build a magnetic stirrer and a sample rotator. Since I was able to drive Erector set machines with the littleBits motor I decided to try to use it to drive K’nex contraptions. In this first attempt, I was able to design a hybrid of Erector set parts and K’nex parts to build a K’nex kinetic interactive sculpture I call “Mutually Assured Destruction.”

I was unable to come up with a simple way to attach the littleBits motor directly to K’nex parts without using, say, a hot glue gun, so I decided to use erector set parts for a non-permanent attachment to K’nex parts. The Erector set motor mount for the littleBits motor can not only be attached to K’nex parts with nuts, bolts, and washers but can also be attached to Lego Technic parts as well as other construction toys or materials.

The following photos are a step by step build of the motor mount:

I put the rectangular plate on the motor axle and used the small hex wrench to mount the Erector set pulley on the axle—I had to use two set screws to center the axle since the littleBits motor axle is smaller than an erector set axle.

Next I built a base and a stem for my clockwork flower.

Then I added the littleBits motor to the flower stem.

I topped the flower stem with the housing for the gears for the clockwork flower.

Next I added the lower axle and the small K’nex gear.

I then added the upper axle and the large K’nex gear. I also mounted the belt from the large pulley to the small pulley. The flower petals will be added to the lower axle.

The littleBits circuit is very simple. It consist of the battery and power module, the light sensor module, and a wire module that will be connected to the motor.

To operate the clockwork flower, simply switch on the littleBits power module and move your hand over the littleBits light sensor to slow down or speed up the spinning of the flower petals.

Why the title “Mutually Assured Destruction?” It’s a mechanical flower, but the petals are made of foam missiles and for some reason I thought of the 1967 photograph “Flower Power” where hippies are stuffing flowers down the barrels of M14 rifles pointed at them by National Guardsmen at a Vietnam War protest. The Vietnam War was part of the larger Cold War in which there was a nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Foam missiles > Flower Power > Vietnam > Cold War > Arms Race > MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). Don’t worry if you’re not following the progression—modern art just happens that way sometimes.

The simple design of the motor mount out of erector set pieces for the littleBits motor allows it to be easily attached to K’nex parts to motorize your K’nex contraptions. The same motor mount can be attached to Lego Technic and other construction toys or materials.