Complicated And Useless Cancel Each Other Out

We all know what it means to procrastinate, but what about actively spending time building a useless machine? You have undoubtedly seen the ornamental boxes with a tempting little toggle switch on the top. When you inevitably flip the switch, an actuator pops out from one half of the enclosure with the sole purpose of undoing its own power switch. [Paz Hameiri] took it a step further by adding some [Rube Goldberg] flavor, and with the help of a microcontroller, his levers take their sweet time powering themselves down. (Video after the break.)

We didn’t find any code or diagrams for the project, but if you know the useless machine’s internals, it shouldn’t be any trouble to recreate one for your desk. The most significant design factor is that the switches. Their contacts must be wired in parallel so that the controller has power as long as one is active. How would you spice up the useless machine?

Even though these are called useless machines, they serve the purpose of decoration, conversation-starting, or a way to show off your woodworking and programming skills.

Continue reading “Complicated And Useless Cancel Each Other Out”

The Most Useless Book Scanner

How do artificial intelligences get so intelligent? The same way we do, they get a library card and head on over to read up on their favorite topics. Or at least that’s the joke that [Jakob Werner] is playing with in his automaton art piece, “A Machine Learning” (Google translated here).

Simulating a reading machine, a pair of eyeballs on stalks scan left-right and slowly work their way down the page as another arm swings around and flips to the next one. It’s all done with hand-crafted wooden gears, in contrast to the high-tech subject matter. It’s an art piece, and you can tell that [Jakob] has paid attention to how it looks. (The all-wooden rollers are sweet.) But it’s also a “useless machine” with a punch-line.

Is it a Turing test? How can we tell that the machine isn’t reading? What about “real” AIs? Are they learning or do they just seem to be? OK, Google’s DeepMind is made of silicon and electricity instead of wood, but does that actually change anything? It’s art, so you get license to think crazy thoughts like this.

We’ve covered a few, less conceptual, useless machines here. Here is one of our favorite. Don’t hesitate to peruse them all.

A Clockwork Useless Machine Prototype


Most of us have seen the [Useless Machine] where a switch is flipped and a finger comes out to turn it off, retreating into it’s box again. Most of those are electrical, but why not a [Useless Machine] made only of mechanical clockwork? Apparently this has been done before, but why not one more?

After some rough, sketches, and almost no research, I finally “came up with” a way to do this mechanically. A small wheel acts as the driver for the assembly, which is weighed down by a T-handle attached to a string wrapped around it. When released, this smaller wheel fully rotates causing the larger wheel to rotate up around ninety degrees then come down again. In reality, the flipped switch doesn’t reverse the motion of the finger at all, it instead stops it from cycling over and over. The video after the break may explain it a bit better.

This machine currently is a prototype. Although it works well without a lid on at simply reversing the switch, it’s much too fast and isn’t capable of lifting any sort of weight. Like a lid to come out of, for instance. This whole assembly was made possible with my CNC router and inexpensive/easily machineable MDF. Continue reading “A Clockwork Useless Machine Prototype”