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What is a USB dead drop? ‘Dead Drops’ is an anonymous, offline, peer to peer file-sharing network in public space. This network is made up of USB drives that are embedded in walls, buildings and other public places. Anyone is free to access, download, and upload. It is very similar to geocaching but with data. The first USB dead drop network of five locations was created by Berlin-based artist Aram Bartholl in 2010. Since then, there have been over 1,000 dead drop locations that have been registered at deaddrops.com (Including one outside the Instructables office.) For a walk through of how to set up a standard USB dead drop, check out this instructable by user frenzy.

Up until now, this has been mostly restricted to urban locations. In this instructable, I am going to attempt to expand this project beyond city limits by showing everyone how to embed USB drives in natural fixtures such as trees and rocks.

Steps

Step #1: Materials

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Create a USB Dead Drop in Nature
  • Materials: USB flash drive Plumber's tape Wood Glue
  • Tools: Cordless Drill Drill bit set Screw driver, or other tool to pry open the flash drive

Step #2: Remove the Housing of the USB Drive

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Create a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in Nature

The first step is to open up the housing of the flash drive and remove all the unnecessary plastic. You can usually pry open the housing with a small screw driver or knife. Another option is to just squeeze the housing with a pair of pliers at the seem. Continue removing parts until only the USB connector and the circuit board remain.

Step #3: Wrap the USB Drive in Plumber's Tape

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Applying a layer of plumber's tape around the circuit board of the drive helps to keep it a little more protect. Don't go overboard, one or two layers is plenty.

Step #4: Select a Dead Tree or Stump as a Dead Drop Location

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Create a USB Dead Drop in Nature

Select a dead tree to locate your deaddrop. I do not recommend using a healthy tree for this project. In addition to the damage caused by drilling, the cavity that you create also provides a potential site for mold, rot and insect to take up residence. Because of this, I recommend using a tree that is obviously dead, fallen over, or just a stump.

Step #5: Drill Holes in the Trunk to Make Room for Your USB Drive

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Create a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in Nature
  • The USB connector and board of a typical USB drive is about 0.51inch (13mm) wide x 0.20inch (5mm) thick. There are a number of ways that you can drill out a slot to accommodate for it. The simplest and fastest method is to drill a single hole that is large enough to fit the whole drive inside of it. A 1/2" drill bit will usually suffice for this.
  • If you want to make a smaller imprint on the surface and make the end product look a little cleaner, you can drill a series of smaller holes in a line to make a slot. Each hole should be the same thickness as the USB drive (about 1/4 inch). Then you can finish the shaping with a knife or file.
  • Be sure to drill your hole is a part of the tree that is solid and free from rot.

Step #6: Apply the Wood Glue and Insert the USB Drive

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Create a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in NatureCreate a USB Dead Drop in Nature
  • Clear the saw dust and wood shavings from the hole by blowing on it. Then fill the hole most of the way with wood glue. Slowly insert the USB drive into the hole until the back edge of the metal on the connector port is even with the surface of the tree. Some of the glue will squeeze out around the edges. Wipe off the excess using some nearby leaves.
  • Once the glue dries, you have a USB deaddrop site out in nature.

Step #7: Cover or Cap the Flash Drive

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If you wish to prolong the life of the drive, you can put a cap on it to at least partially protect it from the weather. If left unprotected, the drive will corrode over time.

Step #8: Finished Dead Drop Site

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  • The last step is to upload the instruction text files and any other files that you want to share. You can find the readme file here: http://deaddrops.com/download/readme.txt. You can find the dead drop manifesto here: http://deaddrops.com/download/deaddrops-manifesto.txt.
  • I also decided to also load a copy of "The Giving Tree" by Shel Silverstein onto the flash drive (Yes, I got the idea from this xkcd comic by Randall Munroe).
  • To document the dead drop location, it helps if you take three pictures of the location (up close medium and far away). This makes it easier for others to find your dead drop.

Step #9: Stone Dead Drop Location

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Create a USB Dead Drop in Nature

You don't need to limit yourself to just trees. You can also setup a dead drop in stone. The process for this variation is identical to the original procedure that is used for brick and mortar locations. Just find a relatively soft rock, drill the hole with a mortar drill bit and use concrete patch or fast drying cement instead of glue to fill the hole.

Step #10: Register the Dead Drop Location on Deaddrops.com

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Create a USB Dead Drop in Nature

When you get back home, you can register the dead drop location here: http://deaddrops.com/dead-drops/db-map/.. This helps others to find it. Then check on the dead drop periodically to see if it is still working and if it is being used. As with all files of unknown origin, always be careful to avoid viruses.

Step #11: Special Thanks for Contributions

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Create a USB Dead Drop in Nature

I would like to thank Aram Bartholl, Instructables user frenzy and Randall Munroe for images, video and information that they provided via creative commons. So to check out more work by Aram Bartholl you can visit his website here: http://datenform.de/. To find more work by frenzy you can check out his profile here: http://www.instructables.com/member/frenzy/. To find more xkcd comics by Randall Munroe you can find his site here: http://xkcd.com/

Jason Poel Smith

My name is Jason Poel Smith. I have an undergraduate degree in Engineering that is 50% Mechanical Engineering and 50% Electrical Engineering. I have worked in a variety of industries from hydraulic aerial lifts to aircraft tooling. I currently spend most of my time chasing around my new baby. In my spare time I make the how-to series "DIY Hacks and How Tos."


Comments

  1. wayne westeram says:

    Could you PLEASE not litter our forests with industrial garbage? Seriously this is not particularly interesting and not worth having yet more plastic and heavy metals polluting what little remains of our natural world.

    1. DerShleek Meister says:

      Now you tell me, I just finished drilling out my 380th great western redwood. Sigh

  2. Eric says:

    Wayne, are you joking? Whatever energy and raw materials consumed to build and power the computer you use has done a lot more environmental damage than a few USBs scattered through forests.

    Want to save the environment? You can go sustainably sequester some carbon by sustainably farming and never using modern technology again.

    1. Rantling says:

      You are missing the point. By your logic, let’s dumb all of our old rusty musty computers in the forest too, since after all our cars are doing much more.. It has to stop someplace, and this is stupid. Use a can leave an item move on. Putting pollution into the environment less than a good reason is very very irresponsible and just wrong. I am surprised that Make would condone the pollution of our forests for some geeks semi wet dream. Seriously? An upstanding magazine like this condoning this?

      Wake up and Smell the Coffee…

      1. warhol says:

        Your parents called, they have your Willamsburg rent in the mail.

  3. Marc says:

    I wouldn’t go sticking things I find poking out in forests into my equipment. Just think of the viruses you could catch!

  4. wayne westeram says:

    OK Eric where do you live, I’ve got a couple of containers of industrial waste I need to get rid of and your backyard is as good a place as any, right? What’s that, you object? Well then you must be a hypocrite because you are using the internet! Wow, specious logic IS really easy!

  5. Peter says:

    I agree with Wayne, seriously leave the forrest alone, it does not need morons with drills and glue pretending to be artistic.

  6. joe says:

    I like the idea, but I never understood these. Plug my computer into a usb drive that could have any amount of viruses and trojans on it (though I guess they’d likely be out of date and my antivirus would catch it). Also, how long before that metal corrodes from the weather?

  7. Wilson! says:

    Why would anyone hook up to one of these? I could easily rig up a battery pack and a camera flash capacitor to a USB connector and nuke whatever device decides to hook up….

  8. Marker says:

    What happens when it rains?

  9. Csense says:

    This stupidity needs to be stopped in the bud.
    1) plumbers tape does not magically seal the thing. it would need to be encased in epoxy resin.
    2) rain WILL penetrate. Circuitry WILL get damaged. Unit may short circuit. Your 5V laptop supply getting shorted on the USB may damage the laptop
    3) Anyone stupid enough to plug their computer RISKS destroying the motherboard unless they keep the laptop perfectly aligned and stationary. USB’s are usually straight on multi-level motherboards. Screw that up and you will need a new laptop
    4) It will be full of bugs (real ones as well as computer types)
    5) Anyone up to this type of NON SENSE has too much time on their hands and needs to find something else to do. If all else fails go help a charity.
    6) End this stupidity. Grow Up. Please.

  10. Wild Bill says:

    I have used items like this we have ones like this in every dj booth we leave notes and song for the next dj all the time if you like it DON’T USE IT. Wow that was easy

    1. Rantling says:

      I would suspect two things. One you know most of the DJ’s who are going to be there or who were, and DJ booths probably aren’t in the forest and hence can be polluted. So WOW that was easy. Silly Silly person…

      Wake up and Smell the Coffee…

  11. William says:

    Most of the forests I have visited are gone now thanks to urban sprawl, I love nature but what the hell, its going to rust back to nature in a year or two if the areas not built up by that time anyway. and why don’t people put a cap on the plug instead of leaving it exposed to the weather, etc.

  12. I really don’t find the logic in this… While I do see the idea as being interesting, I think that, in practice, this is just another easy way to infect your computer. Plus, any dead drops that are out in the weather/elements will gunk up your USB port when you try to plug into it.

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