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Outré USB Gadgets 102

Posted by kdawson
from the any-port-in-a-storm dept.
PreacherTom writes, "We've all connected a myriad of useful things to USB ports: flash drives, printers, webcams. How about a vacuum cleaner? Pair of heated gloves? Anti-cubicle missile system? Joseph Pisani offers a listing of some of the most creative USB-controlled gadgets available, and includes a slide show of the most popular."
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Outré USB Gadgets

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  • by sporkme (983186) * on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:16AM (#16094112) Homepage
    My most sincere apologies to Fiftythree.org, but when I read about plugging unconventional things into the computer, this classic came to mind. Note: the USBKiller is not listed. Scatter a few of these outside the back door of your local bank.

    The EtherKiller and friends: http://www.fiftythree.org/etherkiller/ [fiftythree.org]
    The Google cache [64.233.167.104]

    Or this stupid thing [thinkgeek.com] is more in line with the aim of the article.
    • by mlush (620447)

      The EtherKiller and friends: http://www.fiftythree.org/etherkiller/ [fiftythree.org]

      I once had a PC case where the connection to the 'hard disk is running' LED had an evil twin that connected to the power supply....

    • by balbord (447248)
      >Or this stupid thing [thinkgeek.com] is more in line with the aim of the article.
      Bah! I have one those right in front of me by the tft... the stupid thing broke down 36 hours after arriving!
    • by Porchroof (726270)
      The people at fiftythree.org need to proofread their site. It's full of spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:20AM (#16094128)

    I'm only interested in weird stuff that uses the USB data connection also.

    • However, by the same token I'm way more interested in really cheap wireless telemetry a-la zigbee (thermometers, etc) than I am in USB, which was junk to begin with, once it decided to try to play in areas where it really didn't belong.

    • by Qadesh (998988) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @01:46AM (#16094430)
      I am so disappointed. I thought the vacuum cleaner would connect via the usb to a plan of the house and do the vacuuming for me.
    • by DittoBox (978894)

      Yeah but you don't get on Digg with that kinda tripe...oh wait this is /.

      Never Mind... :)

    • I agree with parent that anything that just steal USB isn't really a USB device.

      However it is worth noting that it is the power that really makes USB different from other interfaces (sure you can steal a few mA from RS232). I quite often use USB to power small electronic circuits (development boards etc) instead of a wallwart or a bench power supply, even if they are using some other connectivity.

  • USB (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:20AM (#16094132)
    They're not USB controlled at all. They're USB powered, and I wish people who write articles would get the difference (hint: one can be replaced with batteries, the other can't).
    • Re:USB (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:25AM (#16094157)
      I got a USB fan that has a software-controlled speed setting. It's pretty useless outside an air-conditioned room, but it's mostly around for novelty's sake. I hate when people just yank the cord out without right-click removing it from the device list. It leaves the fan in an unstable state and blue screens Windows when I plug it back in.
      • Re:USB (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:38AM (#16094217)
        That's what you get for being a Windows Fan-boy.

        I know, I know: {groan}
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by uncle_riley (655260)
          The Linux USB fan drivers are still in beta I'm sure
          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward
            Of course, Linux doesn't need fans when it has rabid zealots.

            Go on, mod me down, but you know it's true.
        • No, really. A USB device driver shouldn't do that. Though it has nothing to do with Windows, that's what you get for using proprietary software.
    • Re:USB (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cyno01 (573917) <Cyno01@hotmail.com> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @02:57AM (#16094586) Homepage
      The missile launcher is aimable and fireable through windows.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        hahaha, did you mean, through Windows (tm) or through windows (is it open or did someone polish the glass really well?)
      • by Raumkraut (518382)
        There are a few interfaces for other OSes too. Someone below mentioned OSX, and there are two that I've seen for linux - I use pymissile [weston.id.au] at the moment (though it needed some fixing to get to work) - being able to control it over the network for teh win! :D
  • I knew there was a reason Intel invested $6 bln in R&D last year: so I'd have plenty of power left over to run my USB nose hair trimmer.
  • by The Bungi (221687) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:23AM (#16094143) Homepage
    Remember when USB started to go mainstream? After reading for a while about the 'glut' of 'wonderful devices' that would come down on the market and then hearing about USB-powered Tamagotchi (or some such stupidity) I pretty much gave up on the idea... until the laptop light. The USB-powered laptop light. Hell hath no fury compared to my reaching for my wallet to get one of these things at CompUSA the first time I saw them.

    If USB gives us nothing more in the way of alternative devices and gadgets, I will consider it a victory anyway =)

    • by mgblst (80109)
      Well you could just by an IBM, they have a laptop light built in. As if producing the best laptops alone wasn't enough.
  • iBrator (Score:4, Funny)

    by diablo-d3 (175104) <pmcfarland@adterrasperaspera.com> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:23AM (#16094144) Homepage
    Well, there is always the iBrator [flamingmailbox.com], the most, uh, "friendly" of USB devices.
  • MirrorDot [mirrordot.org] mirror.

    The site's down for me (BusinessWeek.org down?! Maybe it's just gremlins in my walls.)

  • by Matt Perry (793115) <perry.matt54NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:26AM (#16094163)
    Pisani offers a listing of some of the most creative USB-controlled gadgets available

    Only the little missles look like they could be USB controlled. The rest just seem to be drawing power from the USB port.
    • by sporkme (983186) * on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:49AM (#16094257) Homepage
      Well, this qualifies. DIY USB phone handset [instructables.com]
      The guy combined a USB skype/gaming headset and an older style telephone handset for something that actually seems somewhat practical compared to a USB aquarium.
    • Only the little missles look like they could be USB controlled. The rest just seem to be drawing power from the USB port.

      Got that one for my Dad for Father's day. Not only are the missiles controlled by USB, it comes complete with realistic soundeffects, and ducking co-workers! (nothing like a little in-office terror :)

    • by praedictus (61731)
      In other news, Tesora Gifts of Australia has been puzzled by huge numbers of web hits from Iran and North Korea. An unidentified NK source remarked that the off the shelf solution was much better than the software responsible for the recent failure of their long range missile test. Homeland Security has dispatched a Special Forces team to seal this obvious breach of export restrictions.
  • USB power is cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bombcar (16057) <racbmobNO@SPAMbombcar.com> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:33AM (#16094193) Homepage Journal
    I wish more devices used USB power to charge, then I wouldn't have to carry as many different power adapters around.
    • by CrazyJim1 (809850)
      They need the Irish magnetic system attached to the USB port so you could recharge your laptop with it.
    • by mcrbids (148650)
      Say goodbye to karma. Oh well.

      What really friggin annoyed me is that I have a shiny, new cell phone, with a universal plug on the bottom. The charger plugs into that plug, and so does the USB cable. So I can't use the USB interface at the same time as I charge the phone with the AC adapter.

      BUT IT WON'T CHARGE THE PHONE WITH A USB CABLE!

      What kind of retarded corporate brain damage is that? It would be SO NICE if I could plug my phone into my laptop and charge the phone while I'm plugged in at a starbucks.

      Fri
      • Sometimes a half-assed attempt at a good idea is more contemptible than ignoring the idea completely.

        Let me tell you about such a half-assed attempt. I too have a shiny new phone with a universal plug on the buttom. Both the charger and the USB cable plug into it (as well as other stuff like a headset). The phone determines what kind of device is connected by using an ADC to check the voltage on pin 4 of the connector and changing its behavior accordingly (so this is all in software! !). This behavio
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ajs318 (655362)
          I think you'll find that the phone's main processor is controlling the switched-mode power supply for battery charging. Instead of a comparator, a few resistors and a hefty transistor, they use an ADC and some spare CPU cycles to operate said hefty transistor. The idea is that as soon as there's enough voltage just to power the processor at all, it can deal with the whole business of interrupting and restarting the charging current to the supply capacitor {which is how a conventional SMPS regulates its v
      • by iMaple (769378) *
        My Motorola phone charges from the usb cable like a dream (I forgot the model number maybe 350 or 385 .. its new). Maybe you your usb port are have a cutoff circuit and the Motorola cell phone has a high power rating (which would mean that I am frying my usb port)
      • I have an LGU8360 which has exactly the same problem - it charges through the same port as the USB data port BUT IT WON'T CHARGE THE PHONE WITH THE USB CABLE! Worst of all is that, when transfering data (it has an incredibly slow data modem, i think it's a 14.4kbps modem) the external screen displays the "connected" image... so if I leave the data to transfer overnight (necessary for anything that is over about 50mb) the external screen drains the power. If it had a seperate data to power port OR it charged
  • by Zaffle (13798) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:46AM (#16094247) Homepage Journal
    I'm sick of every man and his dog working out that their product can run from 5v dc, and therefore sticking a usb port on it, and saying its now able to connect to your computer!

    Imagine if a photocopier did this. Oh no, you can't *print* to it. It just runs off USB power, but because the specification limits a single USB port to 200mA, we have provided a "conveniant" multiheaded usb plug (count them, 4 usb plugs).

    No no no no no no

    There are some really neat ICs out there that allow you to build a device thats USB controlled, eg the PC can send a signal down the wire (and vice versa) and you can make the device do something. USB pencil sharpers are not a great category for this. USB weather stations are.

    Heck, I've always wanted to build a USB *controlled* fan. One that you can change the direction and speed via the USB port.

    A really big useful-ness of the USB devices is that you can now replace almost any part of your PC. USB serial, USB parallel, USB sound, USB network. Case-in-point, my network took a power surge via the network/switch. Best I can tell, the server took the main charge, probably though the power supply, and happily diverted it through the ethernet port, which the switch passed on to each device connect. Then end result is the network component on every device on the network is fried. The simple answer, especially for my beauitful geeked-out slimline MythTV box is a USB network. (No room for any more PCI cards)

    • by P-Nuts (592605)

      There are some really neat ICs out there that allow you to build a device thats USB controlled, eg the PC can send a signal down the wire (and vice versa) and you can make the device do something.

      Do you have any more information on these ICs? How difficult and expensive is it to build a simple few-channel low-voltage DC DAC/ADC device? Something where I can simply set an output to a desired voltage, and read the voltage into an input channel. I'm not talking waveforms: a response of around 1 Hz would

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jridley (9305)
        Pick up any copy of Nuts and Volts. There are ads galore for USB development kits and inexpensive interface chips, and most issues have some damn thing or another that interfaces to USB.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by saider (177166)
        Go to Sparkfun [sparkfun.com] and search for USB. Lots of cheap (less than $30) dohickeys for doing all kinds of electronics projects.
  • Realdoll (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @12:52AM (#16094268)
    The Realdoll was the best, at least until the time I left it plugged in while playing Quake.
  • Anti-cubicle missile system?

    I wished I had one of those when I was a video game tester at Atari. One of the supervisors used to fire his soft pellet air gun over the cubicles, especially when he lost at Counter-Strike.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      What they need now is a cubicle missile defense system. Let the cubicle arms war start!
    • by JonathanR (852748)
      I bet JFK wished he had one of those. ...Oh, you said cubical, not cuban.
    • by HTH NE1 (675604)
      Anti-cubicle missile system?

      It shoots down cubicles with missiles? I'd expect such a thing only in my Tetris-induced dreams.
      • by creimer (824291)
        When you work in the video game industry, you see a lot of weird stuff. At one E3 party, the vice president took off his pants to show off his fishnet stockings while doing a showgirl dance with the PR girls. Weird but he was French anyway.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The usb big red button. [reghardware.co.uk]
  • How about a vacuum cleaner? Pair of heated gloves? Anti-cubicle missile system?

    A pair of heated gloves? What a brilliant idea! Until, ya know, you have to actually go outside. In the cold. There ain't an extension cord long enough.

    • A pair of heated gloves? What a brilliant idea! Until, ya know, you have to actually go outside. In the cold. There ain't an extension cord long enough.

      What is this outside you speak of? My life revolves around being within 4 feet of my computer at all times.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Rageaholic (728509) *
      A pair of heated gloves? What a brilliant idea! Until, ya know, you have to actually go outside. In the cold. There ain't an extension cord long enough.

      Well Duh. Thats why you have a laptop...

    • Sir! I'm sure Bob Cratchit would disagree!

      (...Ebenezer Scrooge? A Christmas Carol?)

      Actually...if you were really desperate to save money (yet *needed* to use your computer), these might be useful - you put your winter jacket on, and these could keep your fingers warm for typing.. :-)

      (Admittedly, it does seem like being cold to save money on heat then running a computer might not truly be economical...)
  • by phillymjs (234426) <slashdot AT stango DOT org> on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @01:25AM (#16094377) Homepage Journal
    I wanted to up the ante in a rubber-band-gun arms race in my office, but I couldn't find it available from any online vendors in the U.S. I see ThinkGeek now has a listing for them and they're expected in stock there in October. Anyway, I ended up picking one up on eBay from a guy in Australia for a decent price, about a month and a half ago.

    It takes AA batteries to actually power the launcher motors, with a switch on the underside of the base. The part of the missile that locks into the spring mechanism is actually heavier than the the rest of it, so it doesn't always fly nose-first like you'd think. It also doesn't have much in the way of range. If I could find extra missiles for it I'd experiment a bit with weighting the tips to try to address those issues.

    I haven't used the included (Windows-only) control app yet, but a guy wrote a control app for it for OS X that's not too bad. You can find it on Versiontracker, I'm too lazy to hunt it down and make a link right now.

    ~Philly
    • by Bill Currie (487)
      Instead of weighting the tips, extend the fins backwards or out with tape/paper. All that's needed is for the center of area to be behind the center of gravity.
    • by Raumkraut (518382)
      The part of the missile that locks into the spring mechanism is actually heavier than the the rest of it, so it doesn't always fly nose-first like you'd think.


      We armed our missiles with white-tack warheads (it sticks surprisingly well to foam), and they do fly much better, without a significant loss in range.
      They do tend to pick up a lot of hairs and muck from this grotty old carpet though.
  • uhhh. yeah. (Score:2, Informative)

    by highwaytohell (621667)
    how this [condomcountry.com.au] didnt rate a mention is beyond me!
  • And yet, still no combined bottle opener/usb memory.
    • by SharpFang (651121)
      Of course. The bottle-opener and USB memory are totally separate devices simply attached to each other, without any influence on each other.

      Now if there was a bottle opener and USB memory that automatically backs up YOUR physical memory to the drive when the bottle opener is used, allowing to restore it once the effects of the contents of the bottle expire, that would be useful.
      • Now if there was a bottle opener and USB memory that automatically backs up YOUR physical memory to the drive when the bottle opener is used, allowing to restore it once the effects of the contents of the bottle expire, that would be useful.
        That's a brilliant idea - except how would one remember there is a backup to restore to when one needs to restore the memory first to remember there was a backup? ;-)
        • by SharpFang (651121)
          You carry it with yourself at all times, on your keychain for example. And in the morning when you fumble for your memory desperately, you check your pockets and here it is, this little gizmo, with a promising-looking button labelled "restore memory". Zip! and here you are... fumbling for a button labelled "erase memory" :)
  • All these comments, and not a single mention of the USB Ghost Detector/Radar.

    http://www.engadget.com/2005/04/02/usb-ghost-detec tor/ [engadget.com]

    http://www.coolest-gadgets.com/20060712/the-usb-gh ost-radar/ [coolest-gadgets.com]

  • When you think about it, when you carry a laptop with you all the time, all you're really lugging around is a massive battery with a computer on top of it. Seems to me, that battery could be used to power all the OTHER crap I have to lug around - why carry three power adapters when I really only NEED one?

    You can show me all the flashy usb devices that currently exist, but NOTHING is as convenient as one of these [westsidecellular.com].

  • by Ben Jackson (30284) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @03:23AM (#16094650) Homepage
    I want a USB Bayonet.
  • I think they missed this USB device [demon.co.uk].
  • USB in the PSU (Score:2, Informative)

    by Madbastard (708924)
    With this thing it seems that I can keep my USB missile launcher at Defcon 1 even when the PC is off. Wuhahahahahaha http://www.northq.com/products/powersupply/nq4200G P-USB.html [northq.com]
  • My favourite USB thingy is my memory card reader. Instead of the 347-in-1 readers that take up a lot of desk space, this one is a SD memory card reader shaped like regular thumbdrives. This should last a life time (mine or of the SD/MMC card standard). http://www.amazon.com/Simple-BONZAI-CARD-READER-ST I-USB2BONZAI/dp/B000189W0A [amazon.com]
    • by bogado (25959)
      I was searching for one of these. I couldn't find it anywhere. It's damn stupid to buy a large 623in1 card reader, when all you need/want is a reader for a tiny card... :-P
  • An USB flash drive with three LEDS (RGB) that are individually controllable by the host computer. Maybe the driver on the host and a dedicated directory on the flash drive with a configuration file. The idea is the flash drive could alert the user to new email, a weather change (like a tiny, old John Hancock building), whatever they wanted.


    So, how hard would this be to develope, how much would it add to the price of a flash drive and is it practical? Would it sell?

    • "and is it practical? Would it sell?"

      1 What does it do that the screen/screensaver/speaker cannot?

      2 No
  • I'm amazed that the USB Fondu pot [thinkgeek.com] didn't make the list!
    • I'm amazed that the USB Fondu pot didn't make the list!

      Maybe they got punished for that incredibly nasty sounding recipe for fondue at the website. It sure killed my desire to have one.
  • The rocket launcher was features as a gadget to get for Xmas last year on the Register in the UK.

    Sold by Marks and Spenser for 20 quid.

    And now only available in Aus? Someone didn't check things out properly. This is Slashdot, what's new?

  • by Exploid (945241)
    Well I would like the heating gloves...My class is so cold
  • by PreacherTom (1000306) * on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @10:47AM (#16096126)
    Some video of what one can do with a number of launch vehicles: http://scott.weston.id.au/software/pymissile-20060 126/ [weston.id.au] Gotta love technology in action.
  • Last I looked, USB development kits with any chance of helping you succeed right away were about $2000. If you wanted to make a USB device that supplied some simple information, e.g. temperature probe? the light is on --or not--, how would you go about it?

    Make a device and supply a command line program to retrieve that simple information. It would seem to be expensive and more than a couple weekends of work.

    • by wiml (883109)
      $2000? Where on earth are you shopping? Here are a few less expensive products for one-offs:

      What does cost a few thousand dollars is joining the USB-IF [usb.org], which is necessary to get a unique vendor ID, which is necessary for drivers to be correctly associated with your device. But you can buy small blocks of product IDs from other peoples' vendor space, if y

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bassman59 (519820)

      Last I looked, USB development kits with any chance of helping you succeed right away were about $2000. If you wanted to make a USB device that supplied some simple information, e.g. temperature probe? the light is on --or not--, how would you go about it?

      Look again: Silicon Labs [silabs.com]

      makes some nifty microcontrollers and you can buy a developer's kit [silabs.com] with in-circuit debugger for a hundred bucks. And you can use sdcc [sourceforge.net] for your compiler.

      Of course if you want to sell your USB device you need to get your own Ve

    • Go to microchip.com [microchip.com], and search for "PIC18F4550." They'll even give you free samples and code to make it work. You can build the programming cable yourself, or buy one. Google for "PIC programmer."
  • by SEE (7681) on Wednesday September 13, 2006 @09:32PM (#16100858) Homepage
    I mean, sure, there was a reference to the fictional iBrator, but this is real [sexshop365.co.uk].

    .

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