Fidget-Spinning Robot Out-Uselesses Other Useless Machines

When the [Director of Legal Evil] at Louisville’s LVL1 Hackerspace decided to demonstrate the uselessness of a 3D printer by printing a fidget spinner, another member at the space’s Tuesday meeting rose to the challenge and built a machine that whose sole purpose is to spin fidget spinners.

[Gary Flispart] used an Arduino clone and what appears to be a motor driver in conjunction with a stepper motor. The motor moves a belt that turns a series of metal scraps serving as a four-bar linkage. The linkage moves the dowel that turns the spinner and then gets out of the way so it doesn’t inhibit the toy’s rotation. The Digital Fidget Digit, as [Gary] calls it, looks like it was built out of scrap metal and random pieces of wood in the glorious tradition of hackerspace projects.

We at Hackaday love crazy projects that come out of hackerspaces, like the iris porthole at i3Detroit, another space’s ultimate fume extractor, and LVL1’s doomcano.

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New Useless Machine Does The Twist

Useless machines might not do any work or produce anything of value on their own, but they can be a great learning tool, and are often beautifully crafted as an expression of the builder’s artistic talents. By and large, they consist of a switch to turn the machine on, and an arm that switches the machine back off in response to this. Vladimir had a different take, and built this twisting vase useless machine instead.

The build references the twisting vases we saw recently – [Vladimir] loved the way they so elegantly opened and closed, and decided to base the build around that. The useless part of the machine is the lifting mechanism – a servo turns a pulley, which uses a magnet on a rope to lift the vase. Upon reaching a certain point, the vase drops, and the magnet is once again lowered to lift it back up again.

The first prototype used a simple delay-based timing loop to determine when to drop the magnet again, however over time this would fall out of sync with the vase’s position and the magnet would fail to attach to the vase. For the second version, [Vladimir] improved things by using a limit switch to determine the position of the vase instead of running on timing alone. The machine’s frame was also rebuilt using copper pipe, which allowed the wires and servo to be hidden from sight. The second revision of the project shows the difference polish can make – differences like these make the machine more suitable for display as a curio in a stylish home setting, rather then a messy project that lives on the workbench only.

Be sure to check out the video of the project below the break. For a simpler useless machine, check out this build. 
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This Useless Machine Now Plays With Fire

The Useless Machine, Candle Edition

Useless machines are a lot of fun, if not just a little overdone. Looking for a new twist, [bd594] decided to try making one that integrates a candle — it works quite well!

While not quite as impressive as some of [bd594’s] previous projects, like his rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody on old school computer equipment, we like how he used regular DC motors in this design, instead of servos (the easy way).

A PICAXE14M2 microcontroller controls the H-Bridge responsible for the geared DC motors (taken from a Mac floppy drive), and a light sensor checks for the flame. He’s also made use of some NPN transistors to invert some logic levels to show you if you’re running low on I/O pins, its always possible to incorporate some other discrete components like a transistor to achieve your design.

Among others, some great alternative spins on the “useless machine” include the moody useless machine, an even more useless machine (featuring 8 switches!), a pull-string version, and even a rather ridiculous elevator button pressing useless machine!

Stick around to see this one put out the candle (Caution: Very exciting).

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Moody Useless Machine

If you ever get bored of trolling the internet seeking inspiration for your next big project, try a YouTube search of “useless machine”. After a few hours of watching these pointless, yet hilarious creations, we’re sure you’re going to want to build one. Luckily for us, [Arvid] documented the design of his moody useless machine to get you started.

Why is [Arvid’s] machine moody? Well, to fully appreciate the emotional sensitivity of a useless machine, you first need to understand what it is they do don’t do. A one sentence explanation is all that is needed here; you flip a switch and the machine flips the switch back… that’s it. [Arvid] implemented a two servo system with a stand-alone Arduino, which allowed him to give his machine a “personality”. Sometimes the switch is thrown back quickly without argument, other times the machine throws a fussy tantrum.

Although the machine is useless, the electronics inside are anything but. To keep everything clean and innocuous looking, the machine is powered by batteries, so [Arvid] places the Arduino into a ‘sleep’ mode until the switch is toggled. The switch is configured as an interrupt on the Arduino, which when toggled, wakes the Arduino.  Once the Arduino is awake, it enables power to the servos via a power MOSFET, then everything’s ready to go; the machine makes its response and goes back to ‘sleep’. This was a great project, but believe it or not, things can get more useless, like with this advanced useless machine.

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An Even More Useless Machine

Here’s the most useless machine we’ve seen so far. It comes from the workshop of [forn4x] and happily turns itself off whenever any one of its eight switches are flicked to the on position.

The build began when [forn]’s Canon 850i printer gave up the ghost because of a broken print head. All the other electronics and mechanics were still salvageable, so it was decided to turn this printer into something a little more useless.

The printer used a regular DC motor with an optical encoder to move the print head. [forn] easily found the schematics for this optical sensor, because of the TTL output was able to read out the position of the slider. The rest of the build is an ATMega8, a servo, and an octet of toggle switches. [forn] has been able to get the accuracy of the servo-controlled arm down to about 0.1 mm, more than enough to accurately turn all its switches off.

You can see [forn]’s most useless machine in action after the break.

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Pull-string Most Useless Machine

The mechanical simplicity of this pull-string controlled most useless machine is delightful. You can see the metal gripper which is reaching up to tug on a light-fixture-style pull chain. This is how it turns itself off after you’ve pulled the string to power it up.

The device is [Alex555’s] entry in the 7400 Logic competition. We do hope that he ends up posting a schematic because we’d love to see the gritty details of how it works. After the break you can watch two doors open, allowing the arm to raise up and the gripper to grab the chain. This takes just four servo motors, which are controlled by the signal from a 555 timer and some accompanying hardware.

Apparently the chain is a fake, as the servos didn’t provide enough force to actuate that type of switch. It’s not a surprise as those pull chains do require quite a tug. An optical sensor was used to trigger the movement when your hand reaches for the chain.

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Battling Most Useless Machine Gets An Expressive Upgrade

We suppose the only thing more useless than a most useless machine is giving it an emoticon face. But that’s exactly what has happened with this project. But you’ll want to seen the whole thing, as the presentation involves much more than an angry box that can shut itself off.

This is the second iteration of the angry box. As we saw about 18 months ago, it will eventually get fed up with you turning the switch on and freak out by driving itself all over the desk. This version starts off with a rather pleasant face drawn on the red LED matrix which takes up the front side of the enclosure. It will nonchalantly flip the switch to the off position after first being activated. But if you insist on turning it back on things get angry rather quickly. This is shown in the video after the break. But if you can get past the horrible machine translation there are some build details to be had in this post.

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