Dueling Mechanical Bulls at Google I/O 2012

Bull-riding is considered a super tough-guy activity, a chance for cowboys, rodeo queens, and wannabees to prove that they have what it takes to triumph in this quintessentially American pastime.

In our minds, all mechanical bulls fall short of being truly American in that they lack competition, the opportunity to directly humiliate another person. To elevate yourself at the expense of another– that is the real American way, and this ride will provide what the usual (suspiciously non-competitive in an almost Canadian kind of way) bulls fail to deliver.


These two bulls require two riders (one rider on each bull, just to be clear) to function, facing each other, Mano-a-Mano, Taurus-a-Taurus. They start off slow, and the difficulty mounts, bucking and spinning faster and faster, the motion of one mirrored in the other.


The bulls are built as near to identical as we could manage: same motors, same gearing, same motion, and are both controlled by one set of controls– what happens to one bull happens to the other, maintaining the same level of difficulty. The ride lasts until one rider flies off, leaving the other rider victorious.


In case there is any doubt in the mind of the riders or audience as to who has won (and who has lost), there is a big sign above it all, saying “LOSER”. A blinking arrow flashes towards the loser so everyone knows who is the lesser man.


The bulls spin on steel wheels.



The riders become the bulls by donning foam bull heads.


The riders are stuck with foam spears thrown by the Madadors and members of the crowd.


The motion of both bulls is controlled by a single joystick. Arcade buttons control the two LED arrows on the sign.

Would you like to taste pure awesome? Please contact us about running the bulls at your event.



An Adafruit MENTA board animates the LED pixels on the sign when a button is pressed. The code is open source and you can download it from Github.


In June Madagascar Institute presented the new Dueling Mechanical Bulls ride at the Google I|O After Hours party.


It’s our third year at Google I|O.


Tracy and Mary Beth flew to California with the in-progress bull heads.


They met up with Danielle who was up to some crafty fun making costumes.


The rest of us packed up the bulls in Brooklyn and headed west ourselves.


New artstar Colin received his first (of many) artscar. The grinder leaped out of his hands and went for blood, gouging a charred path in the flesh of his thigh.


Disdainful of the dangerous nature of the work required, Mark Krawczuk made some snazzy patches to commemorate the experience.

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5 Trackbacks

  1. [...] week I went with seven other members of The Madagascar Institute to present our new ride, the Dueling Mechanical Bulls, at the Google I|O After Hours party. It was a big collaboration with lots more hands than just [...]

  2. By Dueling mechanical bulls - Hack a Day on July 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    [...] bull longer than the next guy? Who cares! We want to know if you’ve got what it takes to build your own dueling mechanical bulls. After seeing the development stages in the video after the break we think you’ll agree that [...]

  3. [...] Madagascar Institute built Dueling Mechanical Bulls, two mechanical bulls that compete against each other with riders in foam bull headgear. They were [...]

  4. [...] of bucking bulls? The Madagascar Institute brought that concept to fruition last week with their Dueling Mechanical Bulls during a Google I/O after hours party. From Hackett, Madagascar’s founder: The bulls are [...]

  5. By Dueling Mechanical Bulls | Sternlab on July 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    [...] was a member of the team from The Madagascar Institute that brought the Dueling Mechanical Bulls to life at the Google I/O [...]

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