Laser cut bug body with pincers and electronics to control the pincers

A Buggy Entry In The Useless Robot Category

No one loves a useless robot more than we do here at Hackaday. But if anyone does it might be [ARC385] with her Bug Bite Bot.

A true engineering marvel, [ARC385]’s bug bot extinguishes the candle on its own little birthday cupcake. Yup. That’s it! Even more peculiar, (and to be fair, somewhat fittingly) before her bug releases its less-than-crushing bite, it plays itself a little Happy Birthday jingle. Seems legit.

If you choose to build this little bug yourself, you’ll be happy to know that the electronics on this build are pretty straightforward. Servo motors control the pincers and a photoresistor detects the flame. [ARC385] tried using a flame sensor instead of the photoresistor, but mentioned she couldn’t get consistent performance at her required sensing distance. She also mentions that you’ll probably need to calibrate the photoresistor to ambient light if for whatever reason you choose to embark on this build yourself.

[ARC385] did a pretty good job with the laser-cut plywood to construct the bug, but using plywood adds a few more question marks to this already puzzling build. She even mentioned having to modify the pincers so they wouldn’t catch fire trying to extinguish the candle.

Would be cool if the candle could rekindle itself, but we can’t possibly support making this hack even more of a fire hazard┬áthan it already is.

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Sneaky Clock Displays Wrong Time If It Catches You Looking

We have a soft spot for devices that subvert purpose and expectation, and that definitely sums up [Guy Dupont]’s Clock That Is Wrong. It knows the correct time, but whether or not it displays the correct time is another story. That’s because nestled just above the 7-segment display is a person sensor module, and when it detects that a person is looking towards it, the clock will display an incorrect time, therefore self-defeating both the purpose and primary use case of a clock in one stroke.

The person sensor is a tiny board with tiny camera that constantly does its best to determine whether a person is in view, and whether they are looking towards the sensor. It’s a good fit for a project like this, and it means that one can look at the clock from an oblique angle (meaning one is out of view of the sensor) and see the correct time. But once one moves in front of it, the time changes. You can watch a brief video of it in action in this Twitter thread.

One interesting bit is that [Guy] uses an ESP32-based board to drive everything, but had some reservations about making a clock without an RTC. However, he found that simply syncing time over the network every 10 minutes or so using the board’s built-in WiFi was perfectly serviceable, at least for a device like this.

This reminds us a little of other clocks with subtly subversive elements, like the Vetinari Clock which keeps overall accurate time despite irregularly drifting in and out of sync. Intrigued by such ideas? You’re not alone, because there are even DIY hobby options for non-standard clock movements. Adding the ability to detect when someone is looking directly at such a device opens up possibilities, so keep it in mind if it’s time for a weekend project.

Useless Machine Is A Clock

Useless machines are a fun class of devices which typically turn themselves off once they are switched on, hence their name. Even though there’s no real point, they’re fun to build and to operate nonetheless. [Burke] has followed this idea in spirit by putting an old clock he had to use with his take on a useless machine of sorts. But instead of simply powering itself off when turned on, this useless machine dislodges itself from its wall mount and falls to the ground anytime anyone looks at it.

It’s difficult to tell if this clock was originally broken when he started this project, or if many rounds of checking the time have caused the clock to damage itself, but either way this project is an instant classic. Powered by a small battery driving a Raspberry Pi, the single-board computer runs OpenCV and is programmed to recognize any face pointed in its general direction. When it does, it activates a small servo which knocks it off of its wall, rendering it unarguably useless.

[Burke] doesn’t really know why he had this idea, but it’s goofy and fun. The duct tape that holds everything together is the ultimate finishing touch as well, and we can’t really justify spending too much on fit and finish for a project that tosses itself around one’s room. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more refined useless machine, we have seen some that have an impressive level of intricacy.

Thanks to [alchemyx] for the tip!

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Retro Useless Clock Eventually Shows You The Time

It’s true; hackers like clocks. And hackers like useless machines. But would they like an intersection of the two? We’re thinking yes, probably, though we would argue that this QR clock was at no point fully useless. Yes, a QR clock as in, whip out your phone and, ignoring the conveniently-available phone time, open the bar code reader so you can check the time on this thing. So, it’s semi-useless. But at least it doesn’t detect cameras and then hide the QR code. That would be evil.

This project started life as a display piece for the hex wall down at [megardi]’s hackerspace, but, state of the world being what it is, [megardi] hasn’t made it down there yet. And meanwhile this little guy was looking cuter and cuter, so [megardi] decided to make him more useful and freestanding. The ESP32 inside gets the official time from NIST and displays it on the 1.5″ OLED screen. It also has a single alarm now, along with some other non-QR code clock faces that display the time in various ways.

We really like the look of this clock. Honestly, with those uniform tics around the edge, it sort of reminds us of the doomsday clock — you know, the ‘minutes to midnight’ quarter clock face that shows the current perceived threat level of how close we are to destroying the world with the technologies we’ve created. That clock is kind of cute, too, which is a little bit weird considering what it represents.

Speaking of our delicate planet, here’s a gorgeous little Earth clock that casts a shadow on whatever slice of the planet is currently shrouded in darkness.

Mouse-Controlled Mouse Controller Is Silly, But Could Be Useful

Useless machines are generally built as a fun pastime, as they do nothing of value by their very definition. The most popular type generally involves a self-cancelling switch. However, there’s plenty of other useless machines to build, and we think [Jeffery’s] build is particularly creative.

The build consists of an XY gantry that moves a standard computer mouse. To control the gantry, a Raspberry Pi feeds the system G-Code relative to the motion of a second mouse plugged into the single-board computer. It’s pretty standard fare overall, with the Pi sending commands to an Arduino that runs the various stepper motors via a CNC controller shield.

Yes, it’s a mouse that moves a mouse – and on the surface, this appears to be a very useless machine. However, we could imagine it being useful for remote control of a very old system that uses a non-standard mouse that is otherwise difficult to emulate. Additionally, it wouldn’t take much extra work to turn the XY gantry into a competent pen-plotter – of which we’ve seen many. Video after the break.

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Finally, A Differently Useless Machine

Traditionally, the useless machine is a simple one that invites passersby to switch it on. When they do, the machine somehow, some way, turns itself off; usually with a finger or finger-like object that comes out from the box in what feels like an annoyed fashion. Honestly, that’s probably part of what drives people to turn them on over and over again.

But [Bart Blankendaal] has managed to turn the useless machine on its head. When this machine is switched to the on position, unseen forces inside the box will spin the toggle switch around 180┬░ to the off position.

What’s really happening is that an Arduino is getting a signal from the toggle switch, and is then rotating it on a ball bearing with a stepper motor driven through an H-bridge.

It shouldn’t be too hard to make one of these yourself, given that [Bart] has provided the schematic and STLs. If we weren’t living in such touchy times, we might suggest building one of these into your Halloween candy distribution scheme somehow. Sell the switch as one that turns on a candy dispenser, and then actually dispense it after three or five tries.

Many see useless machines as tangible examples of existential quandary. Here is one that takes that sentiment a bit further by snuffing out a candle.

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Useless Machine For An Existential Quandary

There’s no project that dives into existential quandaries more than a useless machine, as they can truly illustrate the futility of existence by turning themselves off once they have been powered on. Typically this is done with a simple switch, but for something that can truly put the lights out, and then re-illuminate them, [James]’s latest project is a useless machine that performs this exercise with a candle.

The project consists of two arms mounted on a set of gears. One arm has a lighter on it, and the other has a snuffer mounted to a servo motor. As the gears rotate, the lighter gets closer to the candle wick and lights it, then the entire assembly rotates back so the snuffer can extinguish the flame. Everything is built around an Arduino Nano, a motor driver powering a Pitman gear motor, and a set of Hall effect sensors which provide position data back to the microcontroller.

If you’re in the mood for a little existential angst in your own home, [James] has made the project files available on his GitHub page. We always appreciate a useless machine around here, especially a unique design like this one, and one which could easily make one recognize the futility of lighting a candle at all.

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