Dottie the Flip Dot Clock


What is it that we like so much about inefficient, noisy clocks made with inappropriate technology? Answer the question for yourself by watching the video (below) that [David Henshaw] sent us of Dottie, the flip-dot clock.

But besides the piece itself, we really like the progression in the build log, from “how am I going to do this?” to a boxed-up, finished project.

Another stunning aspect of this build is just how nice an acrylic case and a raft of cleverly written software can make a project look. You’d never guess from the front that the back-side was an (incredible) rat’s nest of breadboards and Ethernet wires. Those random switching patterns make you forget all the wiring.

And the servo-steered, solenoid-driven chimes are simply sweet. We’re sure that we’d love to hear them in real life.

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Hacking a flip dot display

While casually lurking on a famous auction website, [TeddyDesTodes] found the gem shown in the above picture and reverse engineered it. This is a flip dot display, the Brose Vollmatrix compact to be precise. It consists of a grid of small metal discs that are black on one side and yellow on the other, set into a black background. With power applied, the disc flips to show the other side. The disc is attached to an axle which also carries a small permanent magnet. Positioned close to the magnet is a solenoid. By pulsing the solenoid coil with the appropriate electrical polarity, the magnet will align itself with the magnetic field, also turning the disc.

After carrying the 25kg display from his post office to home, [TeddyDesTodes] opened it and discovered that the main control board was using two RS422 transceivers. So he fired up his bus pirate, started to sniff the traffic and noticed that several commands were repeatedly sent. [TeddyDesTodes] stopped the transmission, sent these particular commands and had the good surprise to see some dots flipped. From there, displaying something was a piece of cake.

If this is familiar to you it may be because it was shared in one of the Trinket Contest Updates. But the background details were just so much fun we think this deserves a full feature of it’s own. Do you agree?


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