The Giant Flip-Dot Display at CES

Flip-dot displays are grand, especially this one which boasts 74,088 pixels! I once heard the hardware compared to e-ink. That’s actually a pretty good description since both use a pixel that is white on one side and black on the other, depend on a coil to change state, and only use electricity when flipping those bits.

What’s remarkable about this is the size of the installation. It occupied a huge curving wall on the ooVoo booth at 2015 CES. We wanted to hear more about the hardware so we reached out to them they didn’t disappoint. The ooVoo crew made time for a conference call which included [Pat Murray] who coordinated the build effort. That’s right, they built this thing — we had assumed it was a rental. [Matt Farrell] recounts that during conception, the team had asked themselves how an HD video chat for mobile company can show off display technology when juxtaposed with cutting edge 4k and 8k displays? We think the flip-dot was a perfect tack — I know I spent more time looking at this than at televisions.

Join us after the break for the skinny on how it was built, including pictures of the back side of the installation and video clips that you have to hear to believe.

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Converting a Flip-dot display to work like Core Memory


It’s always interesting to see what will come out of a hacker meet-up. At the Observe, Hack, Make festival earlier this month [Bertho] was talking to a guy named [Erik] about how flip-dot displays work. [Erik] mentioned that the control theory is the same as core memory. So when [Bertho] got back to his home workshop he started playing around with it to see if a flip dot display can be made to behave exactly like core memory.

We’re really glad a successor to core memory was found since it’s pretty slow. But the concept still makes for some fun exploration (here’s the obligatory Arduino implementation of core memory). It uses magnetic rings with two conductors running through them that pass at right angles to each other. Sound familiar? This is exactly how flip-dot displays work.

There are, of course, some differences. The biggest one being that the displays don’t have the sense wire present in core memory. That was an easy enough thing for [Bertho] to get around. He added the grey sense wire by threading it through the inside of the hardware. The other hurdle he had to overcome was to alter the controller firmware to match the destructive tendency of core memory (reading the state also resets it).

So far he’s just set this up as a proof of concept, reading the sense wire while repetitively reading and writing to the “memory”. But it’s engaging to see what was captured on the scope. We asked him about his future plans, specifically what he would use to automatically read from the sense wire. His response is found after the jump.

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Flip-dot display is an advertising experience we can get behind

This huge and mesmerizing interactive display is just a big piece of advertising. It is a flip-dot display. Each pixel is a mechanical disk, white on one side and black on the other. The team over at BreakfastNY hacked the display modules and wrote their own software so that it can be refreshed with lighting quickness. To the left you can see the high contrast text, but on the right it’s showing the camera-based interactivity. A few seconds later this gentleman sweeps his arm to the side and all the pixels scatter as if blown away by a forceful wind. You might as well just skip down to the video after the break right now.

The display is an advertisement for a new show on the TNT network called Perception. We’ve got to say, if you’re going to advertise this is the way to do it. Make something cool, then share the details. We get to enjoy the clickity-clack of all those dots flipping into place and they got us to at least recognize the network and say the name of the show. Everyone wins.

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