Last year I saw a video of the “Leave Me Alone Box” built by Michael Seedman. Flip its switch on, and an arm reaches out of a door to turn the switch back off. To paraphrase The Terminator, that’s what it does, that’s all it does, and it will not stop until its circuit is dead.

I had to have one of my own, so I made a useless machine. Seedman’s design uses a microcontroller to run two servomotors: one to open the lid, and another to push the switch. This makes for an impressive performance, but seemed too complicated, and actually, his circuit remains powered even when the box is idle.

For existential purity, I wanted a super-simple machine that really turned itself off. So I came up with a single-motor design controlled by a 555 timer chip, with a curved arm that both lifts the lid and flips off the switch. I called it the “Most Useless Machine” and posted it on Instructables along with a YouTube video of the box in action. The project soon went viral, attracting millions of viewers, thousands of comments, and many builds and design variations. Whew!

Along the way, Instructables member Compukidmike came up with an even simpler version that dispenses with the 555 circuitry entirely by using a gearmotor and two switches. The resulting project, presented here, is the ultimate in technology for its own sake, a minimal assemblage of parts that, through its one meaningless act of defiance, speaks volumes.


Gearmotor and mounting parts:

  • Plastic gearmotor
  • Gearmotor mount and mounting bracket

To source servos, try a hobby shop, or else:

  • Clear servomotor
  • You can also use a continuous rotation R/C servomotor. With this, you don’t need to modify the gears, but you will still have to modify the wiring.
  • Stay away from the micro sized servos, which don’t deliver enough torque.

Instructions for modifying a standard R/C servomotor to ignore signal input and allow continuous rotation

For kits, parts, open source templates/designs, and more information on the Useless Machine please visit Frivolous