The most impressive feats of engineering. . . . . . using Lego.

By Rhys L Griffiths
Chevrolet built a life sized batmobile made up of more than 340,000 bricks.

Chevrolet built a life sized batmobile made up of more than 340,000 bricks.

Lego started out as the brainchild of Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter from Denmark, who started out making wooden toys in 1932. He decided to name his company “Lego” which is derived from the Danish phrase leg godt, which translates to ‘play well’. Lego carried on making wooden toys for 15 years before it decided to expand into plastic and it wasn’t until 1949 until the world first saw the now famous Lego interlocking brick. Since then Lego have managed to produce over 400 billion Lego bricks. Not only is it one of the most popular children’s toys of all time, it has spawned movies, video games, and theme parks as well as being the number 1 manufacturer of tyres in the world – these tyres just wouldn’t fit on your Fiat!

One reason that Lego is so popular is because you can build absolutely anything. The bricks come in all shapes, sizes and colours and all it takes is a little imagination and ingenuity and you can have anything you want. Personally I’m a bit useless when it comes to using my imagination. I’m in the group of people who have to follow the instructions step by step to get what I want, unless what I want is a cube. I can build one of those no problem. But there are people out there who are referred to as ‘Master Builders’. These people are tasked with designing and building life size objects using only Lego. Just like the life sized Batmobile (picture above) that was built for the promotion of ‘The Lego Batman Movie’.

Lego bathroom - working toiler, shower and sink.

Lego bathroom – working toiler, shower and sink.

But taking this one step further, some people devote their lives to pushing the boundaries of engineering using Lego. In 2009, former Top Gear presenter James May focused an episode of his popular ‘Toy Stories’ series on building a full size Lego house.  Along with 1,000 volunteers, James May and his Toy Stories team built a 20ft tall Lego house with a working toilet, a working sink and a working shower. I’m assuming when it says a working shower that you would be showered with water and not Lego bricks, because that would be quite painful. But with working toilet and shower facilities, that means the house must have had actual plumbing embedded in it’s Lego foundations which makes it truly an outstanding feat in both architecture and engineering.  However one major drawback is the house isn’t actually waterproof. May only found this out after he spent the night there, sleeping on a Lego bed with Lego pillows which he described as ‘the most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever slept in’, which is hardly surprising.  Unfortunately the house was demolished in 2009 after Legoland pulled out of a deal to purchase it saying it was too expensive to move.

James May's fully functioning Lego house

James May’s fully functioning Lego house

Gosse Adema's 3D chocolate printer, made of Lego.

Gosse Adema’s 3D chocolate printer, made of Lego.

Lego encourages children to think like engineers, constantly problem solving and thinking, ‘how can I push these boundaries further?’  Last year a 12 year old managed to build a working 3D printer using a Lego Mindstorm EV3 kit. Lego Mindstorm contains software and hardware to create and program robots. A few years ago I used one of these kits and managed (after an embarrassingly long period of time) to make a little Lego monkey bang a little Lego drum.  I can only imagine the skill and innovation it took to design and build a working 3D printer out of Lego. The 12 year old known as ‘amoghp’, isn’t the only person to do this. Others have been successful including Gosse Adema from the Netherlands who managed to make a chocolate printing 3D printer out of Lego. He’s also designed and built a Lego 3D printer that prints Lego pieces. This is ingenious but also slightly worrying as I fear this is how the Lego uprising begins.

However, in my own personal opinion, I think the most impressive thing ever built with Lego has to be this:

This car was conceived by Steve Sammartino of Melbourne and then constructed by Romanian Raul Oaida. There have been many life sized Lego cars built before but usually they aren’t drivable. Firstly the windscreens are usually made out of Lego which makes driving conditions rather tricky, but most importantly they have never built a working Lego engine, that is until now. The car’s engine consists of four separate orbital engines, each are equipped with 64 cylinders and pistons. Somewhere inside the engine there is a canister of compressed air that drives the 256 pistons, pushing the car’s top speed to 30kph! Apart from some key, load bearing components such as the wheels and tyres, this car and its engine are built entirely out of Lego, making it the world’s first full size working Lego car, with a Lego engine.

Lego is a lot of fun for both children and adults, that is unless you step on a piece barefoot. But despite that it’s also a vital educational tool. A tool that encourages children to use their imagination, to think outside the box, to question how things work and how they all fit together. Lego is responsible for generations of engineers who learnt through play. But the main thing to remember when it comes to Lego, no matter what you build, everything is awesome.

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Posted in Engineering