Towards DIY Flip Digit Clocks

Seven segment displays and Nixies are one thing, but the king of all antique display technologies must be electromechanical flip dots. These displays, usually found in train stations or rarely on old bus lines, are an array of physical disks, black on one side, light on the other, that ‘flip’ back and forth with the help of an electromagnet. They’re expensive and impressive, driving them is a pain, but oh man do they look awesome.

While flip dot displays can be bought new if you know where to look, [sjm4306] had the idea to build his own out of inexpensive materials. It might just be a prototype, but we’re saying he’s succeeded. He has the workings of a seven flip-segment display, and the techniques he’s using mean it shouldn’t be too expensive to build your own.

Instead of building a matrix of flip dots, [sjm] is building a mechanical seven-segment display. Each of the segments are 3D printed in black PLA, and mounted to a piece of cardboard via a thin wire ‘axel’ going through the length of the segment. Where normal flip dots use an electromagnet to change each dot from one state to another, [sjm] mounted a very small vibrating pager motor to one end of the segment. When one half of a tact switch h-bridge is activated, the segment flips to the front. When the other half of the h-bridge is activated, the segment flips back.

Right now, this hardware is in the ‘extreme prototype’ stage, but results so far are encouraging. [sjm] has already designed a single-segment ‘module’. Plans for the electronics include optocouplers for two microcontroller pins for each segment and reed relays for each individual digit. For a four-digit display, these flip digits will only require 18 I/O pins.

You can check out [sjm4306]’s video for this project below. It’s a little bit long, but watch those things flip!

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