Well Engineered Radio Clock Aces Form and Function

Clocks that read time via received radio signals have several advantages over their Internet-connected, NTP-synchronised brethren. The radio signal is ubiquitous and available over a fairly large footprint extending to thousands of kilometres from the transmitting antennae. This allows such clocks to work reliably in areas where there is no Internet service. And compared to GPS clocks, their front-end electronics and antenna requirements are much simpler. [Erik de Ruiter]’s DCF77 Analyzer/Clock is synchronised to the German DCF77 radio signal, which is derived from the atomic clocks at PTB headquarters. It features a ton of bells and whistles, while still being simple to build. It’s a slick piece of German hacker engineering that leaves us amazed.

Among the clock functions, it shows time, day of the week, date, CET/CEST modes, leap year indications and week numbers. The last is not part of the DCF77 protocol but is calculated via software. The DCF77 analyzer part has all of the useful information gleaned from the radio signals. There are displays for time period, pulse width, a bit counter, bit value indicator (0/1) and an error counter. There are two rings of 59 LEDs each that provide additional information about the DCF77 signal. A PIR sensor on the front panel helps put the clock in power save mode. Finally, there is a whole bunch of indicator LEDs and a bank of switches to control the various functions. On the rear panel, there are RJ45 sockets for the DCF77 receiver antenna board, temperature sensor and FTDI serial, a bunch of audio sound board controls, reset switches and a mode control switch.

His build starts with the design and layout of the enclosure. The front panel layout had to go through a couple of iterations before he was satisfied with the result. The final version was made from aluminium-coated sandwich-panel. He used an online service to photo-etch the markings, and then a milling machine to carve out the various windows and mounting holes. The rear panel is a tinted acrylic with laser engraving, which makes the neatly laid out innards visible for viewers to appreciate. The wooden frame is made from 40-year-old Mahogany, sourced from an old family heirloom desk. All of this hard work results in a really professional looking product.

The electronics are mostly off the shelf modules, except for the custom built LED driver boards. The heart of the device is an Arduino Mega because of the large number of outputs it provides. There are seven LED driver boards based around the Maxim 7221 (PDF) serial interface LED drivers – two to drive the inner and outer ring LEDs, and the others for the various seven-segment displays. The numerous annunciator LEDs are driven directly from the Arduino Mega. His build really comes together by incorporating a noise resilient DCF77 decoder library by [Udo Klein] which is running on a separate Arduino Uno. All of his design source files are posted on his GitHub repository and he hopes to publish an Instructable soon for those who would like to build one of their own.

In the first video below, he walks through the various functions of the clock, and in the second one, gives us a peek in to its inside. Watch, and be amazed.

Thanks for the tip, [Nick]

Continue reading “Well Engineered Radio Clock Aces Form and Function”

Binary Clock Would Make Doc Brown Proud

[Brett] was looking for a way to improve on an old binary clock project from 1996. His original clock used green LEDs to denote between a one or a zero. If the LED was lit up, that indicated a one. The problem was that the LEDs were too dim to be able to read them accurately from afar. He’s been wanting to improve on his project using seven segment displays, but until recently it has been cost prohibitive.

[Brett] wanted his new project to use 24 seven segment displays. Three rows of eight displays. To build something like this from basic components would require the ability to switch many different LEDs for each of the seven segment displays. [Brett] instead decided to make things easier by using seven segment display modules available from Tindie. These modules each contain eight displays and are controllable via a single serial line.

The clock’s brain is an ATmega328 running Arduino. The controller keeps accurate time using a DCF77 receiver module and a DCF77 Arduino library. The clock comes with three display modes. [Brett] didn’t want and physical buttons on his beautiful new clock, so he opted to use remote control instead. The Arduino is connected to a 433MHz receiver, which came paired with a small remote. Now [Brett] can change display modes using a remote control.

A secondary monochrome LCD display is used to display debugging information. It displays the time and date in a more easily readable format, as well as time sync information, signal quality, and other useful information. The whole thing is housed in a sleek black case, giving it a professional look.

Master Clock Keeps Time for All Other Clocks

[Brett] just finished construction and long-term testing of this extremely accurate timepiece. It keeps such great time by periodically syncing with the atomic clock in Mainflingen, Germany.

The core of the project is an ATMega328 which uses the new DCF77 library for decoding the signal broadcast by an atomic clock. The libraries written by Udo Klein significantly increase the noise tolerance of the device reading the signal, but they will not work with any project that use a resonator rather than a crystal.

In the event of a complete signal loss from the atomic clock, the micro driving the clock also has a backup crystal that can keep the clock running to an accuracy of within 1 second per day. The clock can drive slave clocks as well, using pulses with various timings depending on what [Brett] needs them to do. The display is no slouch either: six seven-segment displays show the time and an LCD panel reads out data about the clock. It even has chimes for the hour and quarter hour, and is full of many other features to boot!

One of the most annoying things about timekeeping is daylight savings time corrections, and this clock handles that with a manual switch. This can truly take care of all of your timekeeping needs!

DCF77 Powered Clock is a Work of Art

[Brett] just completed his DCF77 Master Bracket Clock, intended to be a backup to an old logic controlled clock he made. For our readers that don’t know, DCF77 is a German longwave time signal whose transmitter is located near Frankfurt (Germany). Every minute, the current date and time are sent on the 77.5kHz carrier signal.

The result, which you can see above, is made using an Ikea lantern, a skeleton clock, an ATmega328 (for Arduino compatibility), a voice recording playback IC (ISD1730), a cheap 20×4 LCD display, a DCF77 receiver module, and many LEDs. We’re pretty sure that it must have taken [Brett] quite a while to get such a nice looking clock. In case the clock loses power from the power supply, 3 AA cells provide battery backup. On the firmware side, making the platform Arduino-compatible allowed [Brett] to use its libraries so the coding was quickly done. Embedded after a break is a video of the final result.

Continue reading “DCF77 Powered Clock is a Work of Art”

LCD-based QR clock

Here’s a new take on the QR clock concept that uses an LCD display. The concept comes from the work [ch00f] put into his two versions of a QR clock (both of which used LED arrays). The time of day is encoded using the Quick Response Code standard. This version generates a new code each second which encapsulates date, hour, minute, and second information. If you look at the image on the left you’ll notice the code is not centered. Take a look at the video after the break and you’ll see that’s because it’s bouncing around the LCD like a screensaver. Watch a little longer and you’ll see the psychedelic effects shown in the image on the right.

A PIC32 is driving the display. It’s connected to a DCF77 radio module which feeds the system atomic clock data. The color plasma effects are used to show when the device has locked onto the radio signal.

Continue reading “LCD-based QR clock”

Sunrise alarm clock uses DCF77 for perfect time


Here’s a sunrise alarm clock that keeps perfect time. It was designed and built by [Renaud Schleck] who also published a post detailing the process.

As you can see, a series of white LEDs inside of the transparent case which provide the simulated sunrise. As the days get short and the nights longer we do see the benefit of having your clock brighten the room before it jolts you out of your slumber. Speaking of, that alarm sound seems to be the weak link in his design. He’s using a square wave smoothed with capacitors to drive a speaker at either end of the case. We didn’t hear an example but we imagine this not the most gentle of sounds.

The rest of the design is quite well done. He’s using a 4×20 Character LCD display and adjusts the backlight using PWM. A DCF77 radio feeds data from an atomic clock signal to the MSP430 chip which runs the clock. There’s even a battery backup in case the power goes out.

We just saw a project yesterday that aims to improve signal quality with a DCF77 radio.

[via Reddit]

DCF77 signal filtering and decoding


[Udo] decided to build a clock using the DCF77 radio module seen above. This of course has been done before: the hardware draws a clock signal from the atomic clock in Braunschweig, Germany. So he grabbed a library for Arduino and got to work. But he was getting rather poor results and upon further investigation realized that the library had been written for 20 Hz modules and his operates at 300 Hz. This means better accuracy but the drawback is that the hardware is more susceptible to noise.

So began his journey to filter, process, and decode the DCF77 protocol. That link goes to the project overview. It will be in several parts all of which will be linked on that page. So far he has applied a low-pass filter and coded some exponential smoothing. He has yet to write the other four parts, but does mention that early testing shows that this technique will make the reception better than what is achieved with commercially available clocks. He was able to lock onto a signal that had more than 80% noise ratio. That’s impressive!

Just want to see a clock that uses a DCF77 module? Check out this PIC-based atomic clock.