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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Slippy Slapper Uselessly Uses All The Arduinos

Want to take that annoyingly productive coworker down a notch? Yeah, us too. How dare they get so much done and be so happy about it? How is it possible that they can bang on that keyboard all day when you struggle to string together an email?

The Slippy Slapper is a useless machine that turns people into useless machines using tactics like endless distraction and mild physical violence. It presses your buttons by asking them to press buttons for no reason other than killing their productivity. When they try to walk away, guess what? That’s another slappin’. Slippy Slapper would enrage us by proxy if he weren’t so dang cute.

You’re right, you don’t need an Arduino for this. For peak inefficiency and power consumption, you actually need four of them. One acts as the master, and bases its commands to the other three on the feedback it gets from Slippy’s ultrasonic nostrils. The other three control the slappin’ servos, the speakers, and reading WAV files off of the SD card. Slap your way past the break to see Slippy Slapper’s slapstick demo.

Need to annoy a group of coworkers all at once? Slip a big bank of useless machines into the conference room while it’s being set up.

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A Useless Tomb Of Eternal Doom

It’s officially October, and that means we can start unleashing the Halloween hacks. Take for example this restless skeleton that master automaton maker [Greg Zumwalt] has doomed to spend eternity inside of a useless box. If that wasn’t enough to wake the dead, every time some joker pushes the button, these blinky lights come on. Hey, at least there’s no opera music.

The ironic thing about useless machines is that there are a ton of ways to make them. This spooktacular Halloween-themed do-nothing box doesn’t use a microcontroller, or even a 555 — it’s purely electromechanical. When the button is pressed, two AAAs power a small gear motor that simultaneously lifts the lid, raises the dead, and twists him a quarter turn so he can close the lid and put himself back to eternal rest.

The intricately-printed skeleton doesn’t really push the button — he’s far too dead and frail for that. The gear motor also turns a dual-lobe cam that activates a pair of roller switches that handle the candles and lower Mr. Bones back into his crypt. Clear as blood? Skitter past the break for a closer look at the mechanism.

Halloween or not, we love a good useless machine around these parts. Here’s one that incorporates a real candle and who could forget this octo-switched beast?

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