All Your Displays Are Belong to Us

Artist and Hackaday reader [Blair Neal] wrote in with his incredible compendium of “alternative” displays. (Here as PDF.) From Pepper’s Ghost to POV, he’s got it all covered, with emphasis on their uses in art.

There’s an especially large focus on 3D displays. Projecting onto screens, droplets of water, spinning objects, and even plasma combustion are covered. But so are the funny physical displays: flip-dots, pin-cushions, and even servo-driven “pixels”.

Flavien Théry’s La Porte 
Flavien Théry’s La Porte

We really liked the section on LCDs with modified polarization layers — we’ve seen some cool hacks using that gimmick, but the art pieces he dredged up look even better. Makes us want to take a second look at that busted LCD screen in the basement.

We’re big fans of the bright and blinky, so it’s no surprise that [Blair] got a bunch of his examples from these very pages. And we’ve covered [Blair]’s work as well: both his Wobbulator and his “Color a Sound” projects. Hackaday: your one-stop-shop for freaky pixels.

[Blair]’s list looks pretty complete to us, but there’s always more out there. What oddball displays are missing? What’s the strangest or coolest display you’ve ever seen?

A Windowless Elevator with a 360º Panoramic View

The Amoreiras Tower, in Lisbon, Portugal, recently added a rooftop viewing area that is open to the public. The top of the tower is one of the highest spots in the city, and the viewing area gives an impressive 360º view of the surrounding area. However, the elevator to get to the top left a lot to be desired. It’s an interior elevator, and didn’t itself offer any view.

So, Artica, along with Schindler, were brought in to solve that problem. The solution was to mount displays on the interior of the elevator, in order to simulate a 360º panoramic view of the city outside. The video is synced up with the elevator, so the view changes as the elevator passengers move up and down between floors.

Artica, who was responsible for the concept, design, and electronics installation accomplished this by first building a prototype in their office building. This was a full-size elevator replica with which they could test the design and get it ready for installation. They then partnered with Schindler to actually install the system in the elevator of the Amoreiras Tower, which necessitated almost completely rebuilding the elevator. As you can see in the video, the resulting view and accompanying music (definitely not elevator music) are fantastic, and it was even done in time for the public opening of the rooftop viewing area.

Like us, you may be wondering where the video footage came from. The scene moves in apparent parallax so video was obviously captured with continuous motion and isn’t a scrolling image. This is the work of a camera toting drone.

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Animated Progress Bar Shows LCD New Tricks

A small LCD screen can be extremely helpful with small microcontroller projects. Not everything needs to communicate to a fancy server using an ESP8266. However, if the simplicity of the character displays irks you, it’s possible to spice them up a little bit with custom characters and create animations, like [Fabien] did with his animated Arduino progress bar. (Google Translate from French)
The project started out simply enough: all [Fabien] needed was a progress bar. It’s easy enough to fill in the “characters” on the 2×16 character LCD screen one-by-one to indicate progress, and the first version of this did exactly that. The second version got a little bit fancier by adding a border around the progress bar and doubling its resolution, but the third version is where knowing the inner machinations of the microcontroller really paid off. Using a custom charset reuse optimization, [Fabien] was able to use 19 custom characters at a time when the display will normally only allow for eight. This was accomplished by placing the custom characters in memory in the correct order, to essentially trick the microcontroller into displaying them.
These types of microcontroller hacks get deep into the inner workings of the microcontroller and help expose some tricks that we can all use to understand their operation on a deeper level. Whether you’re using PWM to get a microcontroller to operate a TV, or creating the ATtiny-est MIDI synth, these tricks are crucial to getting exactly what you want out of a small, inexpensive microcontroller.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular, Low Cost Braille Display

A lot of work with binary arithmetic was pioneered in the mid-1800s. Boolean algebra was developed by George Boole, but a less obvious binary invention was created at this time: the Braille writing system. Using a system of raised dots (essentially 1s and 0s), visually impaired people have been able to read using their sense of touch. In the modern age of fast information, however, it’s a little more difficult. A number of people have been working on refreshable Braille displays, including [Madaeon] who has created a modular refreshable Braille display.

The idea is to recreate the Braille cell with a set of tiny solenoids. The cell is a set of dots, each of which can be raised or lowered in a particular arrangement to represent a letter or other symbol. With a set of solenoids, this can be accomplished rather rapidly. [Madaeon] has already prototyped these miniscule controllable dots using the latest 3D printing and laser cutting methods and is about ready to put together his first full Braille character.

While this isn’t quite ready for a full-scale display yet, the fundamentals look like a solid foundation for building one. This is all hot on the heels of perhaps the most civilized patent disagreement in history regarding a Braille display that’s similar. Hopefully all the discussion and hacking of Braille displays will bring the cost down enough that anyone who needs one will easily be able to obtain and use one.

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The Politest Patent Discussion, OSHW v. Patents

We’ve covered [Vijay] refreshable braille display before. Reader, [zakqwy] pointed us to an interesting event that occured in the discussion of its Hackaday.io project page.

[Vijay] was inspired by the work of [Paul D’souza], who he met at Makerfaire Bangalore. [Paul] came up with a way to make a refreshable braille display using small pager motors. [Vijay] saw the light, and also felt that he could make the vibrating motor display in such a way that anyone could make it for themselves at a low cost.

Of course, [Paul], had patented his work, and in this case rightly so. As jaded as we have become with insane patent trolls, our expectation on receiving the tip was that [Paul] had sued [Vijay] out of house and home and kicked his dog while he was at it. A short google search shows that [Paul] is no patent troll, and is a leader in his field. He has done a lot to help the visually impaired with his research and inventions.

Instead we were greeted by a completely different conversation. [Paul] politely mentioned that his lawyer informed him that in order to protect his IP he needed to let [Vijay] know exactly how the information could be used. No cease and desist, in fact he encouraged [Vijay] to continue his open research as long as he made it clear that the methods described could not be used to make a marketable product without infringing on [Paul]’s patents. They’d need to get in touch with [Paul] and work something out before doing such.

[Vijay] responded very well to this information. His original goal was to produce a cheap braille display that could be made and sold by anyone. However, he did use [Paul]’s work as a basis for his variation. Since [Paul]’s commercial interests relied on his patent, there was a clear conflict, and it became obvious to [Vijay] that if he wanted to meet his goal he’d have to pick a new direction. So, he released his old designs as Creative Commons, since the CERN license he was using was invalidated by [Paul]’s patent. He made it very clear that anyone basing their work off those designs would have to get in touch with [Paul]. Undaunted by this, and still passionate about the project, [Vijay] has decided to start from scratch and see if he can invent an entirely new, unprotected mechanism.

Yes, the patent system is actually encouraging innovation by documenting prior work while protecting commercial and time investments of beneficial inventors. Well. That’s unexpected.

Kudos to [Paul] for encouraging the exploration of home hackers rather than playing the part of the evil patent owner we’ve all come to expect from these stories. Also [Vijay], for acting maturely to [Paul]’s polite request and not ceasing his work.

1575 Bottles of Beer on the (LED) Wall

Say hello to my little friend, lovingly named Flaschen Taschen by the members of Noisebridge in San Francisco. It is a testament to their determination to drink Corona beer get more members involved in building big displays each year for the Bay Area Maker Faire. I pulled aside a couple of the builders for an interview despite their very busy booth. When you have a huge full-color display standing nine feet tall and ten feet wide it’s no surprise the booth was packed with people.

Check out the video and then join me after the break for more specifics on how they pulled this off.

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Paraffin Oil and Water Dot Matrix Display

In preparation for Makerfaire, [hwhardsoft] needed to throw together some demos. So they dug deep and produced this unique display.

The display uses two synchronized peristaltic pumps to push water and red paraffin through a tube that switches back over itself in a predictable fashion. As visible in the video after the break, the pumps go at it for a few minutes producing a seemingly random pattern. The pattern coalesces at the end into a short string of text. The text is unfortunately fairly hard to read, even on a contrasting background. Perhaps an application of UV dye could help?

Once the message has been displayed, the water and paraffin drop back into the holding tank as the next message is queued up. The oil and water separate just like expected and a pump at the level of each fluid feeds it back into the system.

We were deeply puzzled at what appeared to be an Arduino mounted on a DIN rail for use in industrial settings, but then discovered that this product is what [hwhardsoft] built the demo to sell. We can see some pretty cool variations on this technique for art displays.

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