Neon binary clock

[Josiah] said ‘no’ to LEDs and instead used blue-phosphor neon lamps to build this binary clock. The ATmega328 inside uses three 8-bit shift registers to control the display. Each lamp needs a high-voltage NPN transistor in order to switch on the 150V necessary for proper illumination. A simple circuit was used to pull a 60 Hz clock signal out of the incoming 16VAC power. Unfortunately it was a bit too simple and didn’t provide a clean signal. [Josiah's] workaround is something of a debounce subroutine in the firmware to prevent multiple interrupts on the falling edge.

The last project we saw from [Josiah] was the Coachella Lamp. That was a show piece of antiquated technology and this is another show piece with a minimalistic style. We also liked seeing the protoboard work on the inside. That’s a pretty jam-packed circuit board and keeping everything in the right place while you build up each trace with blobs of solder is no small feat.

SPRIME controlled AC outlets

Reader [Tim Upthegrove] sent in a novel take on powering and monitoring AC outlets and devices called SPRIME, or Simple Powerline Remote Interactive Monitor and Enforcer. Compared to previous hacks, such as 120v switching or Quick cheap remote outlets, that only turned an outlet on or off; SPRIME allows not only control over outlets via the internet, but also power usage of devices currently plugged in.

We really liked their idea of giving power companies access to SPRIME outlets to reduce power consumption during peak hours, but sadly we don’t see it being implemented in homes any time soon. Catch a video of SPRIME after the rift.

[Thanks Chris McClanahan and Jeff Starker for the project, and deyjavont for pointing out our silly mistakes]

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Logic clock without an on-board oscillator

[Lucassiglo21] developed this logic clock without using a crystal oscillator or a resonator. Instead, he’s letting the incoming electricity keep the time for him. The supply is AC at 50 Hz so he’s using some 4017 decade dividers to reduce that down to a 1 Hz signal. From there it keeps track of the ticks just like the last digital logic clock we saw.

If you’ve used AC line frequency as the clock source in your project we’d like to hear about it. Send us a tip and make sure your writeup includes a schematic. We’re especially interested to see if anyone has a good way of using this method with inexpensive microcontrollers.

Robot waits for no man when recharging

Yikes, that power connector certainly wasn’t designed by Apple. Ugly as it may be, it’s the charging cable for a robot and acts as a sensor that allows the robot to properly align and plug into a power receptacle.

We’re going to go off on a tangent for just a second. We often think of the Rat Things from Snowcrash when considering robot power. They were nuclear powered (or something) and instead of recharging required constant cooling. Those day’s aren’t exactly around the corner but we think they’ve been realized in the lawn mowing robots that have a little nests to recharge in. Base stations work but they require the machine to return to the same place, or to have multiple charging stations.

The point is, this specialized cable makes base stations for robots obsolete. Now a robot can plug into any outlet it can get near, a great thing for robots roving large facilities. After the break you can see a video of this process. The robot arm zeros in by scanning horizontally and vertically and measuring the magnetic field put out by the AC in the wires of the outlet. Take a look, it’s a pretty neat piece of engineering.

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Arduino traffic light

[Rockwell] sent us an update on his traffic light hacking. Dedicated readers will remember seeing this legally attained traffic signal controlled through a parallel port from back in 2005. The new update swaps the old port for USB and adds several autonomous functions which are demonstrated in the clip after the break. The update includes a nice UI and some notifications for things like email, IMs, Reddit posts, etc.

He’s given control of the hardware over to an Arduino. Instead of building the board into the project he’s included just the parts he needs; an AVR running the Arduino bootloader, a crystal and filtering caps, and an Arduino serial to USB module for connectivity. The AC load switching is handled by three relays. The relays he links to are 12VCD rated coils. We think this should have pointed to 5VDC coils as that’s the voltage that the logic circuit are running at. Be careful with switching these AC loads, this traffic light isn’t a toy.

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AC Shield will take your breath (heart beat) away.

[Ryanjmclaughlin] came up with the idea of a Arduino shield that uses TRIACs to switch four channels of AC power. The forum thread he started delves into several interesting discussions covering what it would take to convert this for use with 240v power and of course, a debate about safety.

A reader named [Victor] sent this tip to us and mentioned that this shield might significantly reduce the number of Arduino related projects we see. That’s because mixing high voltage alternating current with delicate 5v logic circuitry can be a bad idea. We’re not saying the creator of this didn’t know what he’s doing, but if you don’t you could fry up your Arduino, or your body.

Working with relays

relay

SparkFun’s latest tutorial shows you how to work with relays. A relay is an electrically operated switch. In this case, they’re using it to switch a 120V AC outlet. The article carries the standard warnings about how not to kill yourself with AC (plus some non sequitor linking throughout). As an extra precaution, they chose a GFI outlet. You probably know how a relay works, but it’s worth seeing how they implemented it. They use a transistor to prevent overloading the microcontroller’s GPIO pin. The control pin is pulled to ground to keep the relay off. A diode is placed across the relay coil to manage the power flow when it discharges. An indicator LED is included to show when the relay closes. This is a great foundation for an automation project, or maybe you just want to terrorize your cat.