Introduction: Hack That Holy USB Cable!

This instructable is showing how to use the power of the USB PORT of the computer or laptop instead of batteries.
Lots of gadgets are made for the USB PORT nowadays, lamps, ventilators and small vacuum cleaners.

Why don't you try to make something funny yourself, using the USB?

This instructable very low tech, demanding your inventor and designer skills more than electronics. And no programming!

We will take one of these gadgets as a starting point (they are very cheap, 1-2 euro's) and make something experimental out of it, demonstrating the paper button principle. It is like having a very superficial dream compared to working with programmable chips and sensors and complex wiring jobs.

We use the principle of the paper button:
( see this instructable:  )

Step 1: Tools

You need simple tools for this instructable.
A screwdriver, scissors, a cutter, glue, tape, maybe a soldering device comes in handy too.

for the button: paper, aluminum foil, and electrical wires.

Paper is a rich material, there are a lot of different papers and quality of papers, for the buttons we use light pliable paper, but for a base you can use heavier more stiff papers. I like the Japanese papers very much, but also used paper, printed paper, paper with texture on it. Also the paper which has been in the sun, yellow is nice. Paper is very much wabi-sabi for me...

And we start with a gadget, but once you discover the principle, you can use old USB cables from a mouse, or whatever.

What you don't need is batteries!

Step 2: USB

After years of very big connectors, 24 or even 36 PINS, there was the USB connector....
Small, nice, clean, design!

This USB connector design, compared to these dinosaurs makes the USB mysterious, nearly holy. I never dared to open it up! But then you cut some deceased mouse and what do you see: actually the USB is just 4 wires:


But this "design" USB comes with a cost, if you want to connect a chip, or an Arduino, using the Serial PORT to the computer, you need an extra FTDI chip, where "normally" you could use RX, TX PINS...

How to hack the USB cable? Just cut it through!

Step 3: PARTS

We use a gadget of 2-3 euro's to start the experiment.
A vacuum cleaner (well not really!), test it - if it works, blows, gives a bit of light. (makes noise!)

open it up and get the parts out:

a button/switch
a motor
a circuit
and the USB cable

With these things and the paper button, we start experimenting.

The motor and the LED are normally running on 3V, the circuit inside the motor has small resistors diminishing the 5V (and the current) if you want to add LED's, be careful and add a resistor of between 300Ohms - 1K, this resistor will protect the LED's.

Step 4: Paper Experiments

Now the rest is up to your phantasy! Paper, cardboard, or other materials like fabrics can be used for inventing buttons, shapes, situations...

We started making a simple button of paper. (using aluminum foil, glue and electrical wires)
(Using fabric and foil, with a middle layer of neoprene with a hole in it you can make heavier buttons, e.g. for under your shoes)

Then we continued hiding the LED inside a paper folding. The surprise should be not only the light inside the paper, but also the simple text, only lighting up when you push the button. (If you prefer design typography you could think of using the laser cutter to get a good sharp regular balanced text.)

See a switch of "old" newspaper in a later step...

Step 5: MOTOR Experiment(s)

The motor is this simple cheap on/off motor, which rotates very quickly. You need a gearbox to make it run more slowly. But that is for the moment out of the scope of this experiment, since I want to work with the hacked parts of the USB vacuum cleaner only.

The first experiment involved graphite drawn on paper, to make a sort of voltage divider. That is a variable resistor in one of the motor wires, to slow the motor down.

This didn't succeed...the resistor needed to slow down the motor is 2 - 5Ohm (and it gets very hot) , the motor does not slow down very much, and the graphite certainly conducts current, but still has a resistance of 10-100K, more for signalling to a PIN of an Arduino than providing real power.

The thing which helped was putting the motor on a few layers of cardboard, and then something funny happened: on a smooth table, the spinning motor started to move (a bit like the vib motor on a tooth brush, but more like a hoover craft).

Step 6: An Old Newspaper Button

This is a two way button, there are three wires attached.

The button has two positions, up or down. The middle part has a aluminum strip all over, and the upper and lower are small aluminum squares. The wires are at the back side.

The middle one can be connected either to the left or the right wire.
One is connected to the LED's and the other to the motor.

A few seconds video to show the workings:

then you have to imagine a useful way to arrange the LED's....and the VEN part....
the article is about a philosopher, German, kind of difficult to read. (His text are difficult to translate because he is very much "into" the inner workings of the German language, that is why for instance French translations (not to speak of English) loose 50% of the meaning and wordplay.)

Step 7: Problems

The problems were (as always) unexpected: the wiring was too stiff, curled and made knots.
The paper is so light weight!

So I went from "normal" electrical wires (diameter 0.14 mm2  ) to my usual (smart textile) wires of diameter 0.05 mm2. This helped a bit, but still you had to tape the paper, the LED's, the buttons to the table to get something of a stable setup.

And then transporting the paper buttons (for a class...) you have to be very careful!


frank26080115 (author)2012-02-15

Try not drawing more than 500mA of current

private_1 (author)frank260801152016-04-20

Just use a 2.1 amp sub charger

nodoubtman (author)frank260801152012-04-17

computer usb draw only 100 mA , be careful!

contrechoc (author)frank260801152012-02-15

Good comment. Thx!
With LED's (with a proper resistor) and this kind of light motors, that will be ok.

alphausb (author)2015-08-13

Very cool stuff! There is a lot you can do with 5V from USB port. I make funny flash drives =0

GASSYPOOTS (author)2012-03-19

hack a flashdrive to have a female connector :D and make a 2 way male :D

megg (author)2012-03-14

i like the way this instructable helps demystify our computers a bit!

plerno (author)2012-02-19

:) you will indeed have trouble reading the article in german.its in dutch

contrechoc (author)plerno2012-02-23

Quite true, the newspaper is in Dutch, and the writings of Heidegger are in German. The paper button is made of an article about the "outrage" of Farias in 1987. The article was hidden in my copy of "Sein und Zeit", which I read in those days. Later on, my favorite text was "Die Technik Und Die Kehre", which, although only 34 pages, took me 1.5 years to read and understand. And this text influenced me much. (To be able to understand it I needed to read a bunch of other texts of Heidegger, like "Wass heisst Denken", "Der Staz vom Grund". ) Coming from the Dutch language (closely related to German, employing the same structure, but also quite distinct) I felt having both an advantage and a disadvantage regarding the understanding of the German of Heidegger.

Indeed my making of Instructables is indirectly related to the impact of "Die Technik Und Die Kehre" on my behavior. Heidegger situated "Technik" (technology) directly in the domain of "Kunst" (art) and being an artist, from that moment on, I zoomed in on technology...

Prfesser (author)2012-02-16

You have perfect timing! Rather than connecting to a USB port, I need to provide 5 V to a mini-USB connector on my MP3 player. Still, your Instructable showed me what I need to know. Thanks!!

contrechoc (author)Prfesser2012-02-16

Nice! It took me a while working with Arduino's to discover this 5V source. And even then - to take the step of cutting a USB cable. The reason why the word "holy" is in the title of this instructable. This USB cable seems to be protected by "magic"!

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