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Friday, 4 May 2012

Ultimate Useless Machine

Again this isn't a puzzle post as such, but as it has been so popular whenever I have taken it to puzzle gatherings and the like I thought it would definitely be worth a quick mention here.

In this particular incarnation this wonderfully pointless device is called the 'Ultimate Useless Machine' and I bought it as a DIY assembly kit from the Canadian based manufacturers the Frivolous Engineering Company.

I'm sure at some point many of you will have seen a device like this before. It's sole purpose in life is to turn itself off whenever someone flicks the switch to the on position.
I honestly have no idea why it is so satisfying to play with, but after watching many many other people constantly flicking the switch on this mysterious black box I know I'm not alone in finding it so fascinating.

This version is made from black laser cut acrylic which I think looks really sleek. Plus the clear acrylic finger that flicks the switch lights up in both red and green depending on the direction of travel.

The Frivolous Engineering Company does sell the Ultimate Useless Machine fully assembled, but as I thought it would be fun (plus it's a bit cheaper) I ordered it as a kit that I could assemble myself. The website includes full soldering and assembly instructions that are incredibly easy to follow, and even though I haven't soldered anything for many years I had no trouble with it at all.

Check out the assembly and soldering instructions page for some good pictures of the parts and what is involved. I think it took me about an hour and a half to two hours to finish the build.

The whole kit came to me as a flat-pack. The electronic parts get soldered and assembled first, then the case gets assembled using the little nuts and bolts provided. There is no glue involved in the whole process, which I was quite thankful for as that would normally mean some kind of mess when I'm involved.

This is a great little gizmo to own. And also I'd say a pretty neat thing to give as a gift!

Check out this video on YouTube for an idea of just how useless and charming this machine is:
Order either the kit or the fully assembled Ultimate Useless Machine from the Frivolous Engineering Company Store for a very reasonable price.


  1. Thanks Oli - that was the reminder I needed to order one! :-)


  2. Too funny. I have two of the servo only kits that I've been building custom boxes for myself. I'll need to throw a post up about it when I have them finished! Such a fun and pointless item, really how can you not want one?

  3. You're right, there's something intriguing about this box. It would be great if there was some kind of random timer attached.

  4. Very cute....I am tempted to get the one without the need for soldering!

  5. See Neil, great minds think alike! Jerry, don't worry about the soldering, it really is simple. If you can find or buy a cheap soldering iron you won't have any trouble doing it yourself. Plus it makes it more fun if you do!

    1. Given some of the robotics stuff I've done in the past, soldering is no issue, and I have all the gear to do it :)

  6. I had a dream last night where I was a "Useless Machine Repairman". Or was it a nightmare? Sounds like a good plot for a Monte Python skit!

  7. Thanks for the fantastic review, Oli!


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