Useless Joe’s Useless Box (Design Review Report)

For my project I want to make something that I recently found out is called a useless box. What it is is a box that has a switch on top of it. When this switch is flipped a “creature” will flip the switch off and go back to hiding in the box. I’m sure that there is a decent amount of commentary that can be demonstrated with this that I will look further into. For example, it the creature could be a reflection of my inner self when I just want to be alone, or the box itself can be an analysis of how we are continually advancing technology, but in many applications using it in pointless ways. Another way this could be looked at is that as we use technology more and more we become more and more separated from society staying within our own box. I want it to at first glance to reflect it’s name. I want it to be cute and funny, but all the while to be useless. It is my hope that it gives the appearance that whatever is inside actual has feelings.  This way, the useless box can act as a companion or just an interesting way to kill time.

wall-eFigure 1: Wall-e

For the final product I want it to retain its uselessness, but I want it to have a feature that makes it seem alive, similar to if Wall-e wanted to take a nap in this box, but you kept opening the door. I hope to be able to code it so that there are multiple reactions that will have every time the flip is switched. For example, at first it will just flip the switch back. Over time, it will get more annoyed or try to get you to stop.

I was inspired to do this particular project through a long series of changing the idea that I wanted to have for this project that can be seen in this link Primarily, I was inspired by the concept of pranking and how it is more of a comedic joke box than anything. In addition, there are many variations to the product like the one can be seen in figure 2. However, most of them only have the one function of flipping the switch closed. As mentioned earlier, this product will hopefully be more fun and interactive.

BoxFigure 2: Original Useless Box

The most difficult part for this project will definitely be the electric and programming component. I have little experience in this area and it is an absolutely necessary component to the product. In addition, the overall design of the internal mechanics may end up being difficult, but I am looking forward to the challenge. In order to overcome some of the difficulties with the physical aspects of it, I will most likely make many sketches and possibly prototypes as well. I can start by making wood prototypes and have a final product made of either plastic or metal.

In terms of cost, I do not expect this to be a terribly expensive project. The Arduino circuit board I plan on using for the electrical components should cost approximately $10. The plastic or metal materials will be relatively small and shouldn’t cost upwards of $30. Finally the remainder of the electrical components should be about $5-$10 depending on complexity of the parts. For my timeline I hope to be done ideating sketches and very basic models by the week of March 7th. That way I can order anything I need to and will have my materials the week before spring break. By the end of the week after spring break I will be done with my critical parts and my first prototype. I will continue to work on the project and testing and revising will be done by the presentation date.

The video of my presentation can be found through the following link: (Sorry the majority of it is sideways)






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5 Comments. Leave new

  • Ryan Yankowsky
    March 6, 2016 11:05 pm

    Great idea, prank gifts and such always get a laugh from me, you said you may be prototyping in wood, I might suggest using 3d prints, small parts come out in a half hour or so, and might be faster than hand carving wood, also you may consider developing the internal mechanism in Solidworks allowing you to predetermine how the pieces interact. Also Lego’s are a great way to get basic shapes and mechanisms planned out, they make for quick and easy prototyping. Lastly consider using cam lobes to drive shafts as they can create linear motion from rotating assemblies, making arduino programming easier as you only need to control a motor rather than a piston or plunger. Good luck with your project, looks like fun!

  • Elyse Skinner
    March 6, 2016 3:46 pm

    This seems like a really cool project and I like how you are taking a different take on the useless box and making it personal, poetic, etc. I think it sounds like a really neat idea and am excited to see how it will work and what aesthetic you apply to it/what form it will take. I applaud you for taking on such a large challenge since you stated you aren’t super skilled in the electrical programming component. I am really interested to see where this project takes you and I think you will learn some really cool skills from this project. Great idea!

  • This is a really cool project idea. I especially like the idea of having it have multiple reactions and getting more and more frustrated. Have you thought about adding sounds to contribute to its personality? Roughly how big were you thinking of making the project? Cool idea. I’m excited to see where this project goes.

  • Albert Como
    March 5, 2016 7:59 pm

    I think you can parameterize the software using a random number generator. Each time the button is pushed, a random number is generated which can determine the response. A timer can also be used to increment a kind of annoyance factor. If you push the button too often, the most frenzied response is selected more often.

    Consider putting a squirt gun in it.

  • Christopher Coffman
    March 3, 2016 1:00 pm

    Once again, I really like the idea of this project. I agree with you that the hardest part will be the electronics portion. I have close to zero experience with electronics and robotics so I would have nowhere to start on this project. Hopefully this proves to be a great learning experience for you where you can get some good hands on skills that you can utilize in the future for other electronics projects.


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