Hacking Together a Serial Backpack

A serial backpack is really nothing more than a screen and some microcontroller glue to drive it. And a hammer is nothing more than a hardened weight on the end of a stick. But when you’re presented with a nail, or a device that outputs serial diagnostic data, there’s nothing like having the right tool on hand.

1383501485329153153[ogdento] built his own serial backpack using parts on hand and a port of some great old code. Cutting up a Nokia 1100 graphic display and pulling a PIC out of the parts drawer got him the hardware that he needed, and he found a good start for his code in [Peter Andersen]’s plain-old character LCD library, combined with a Nokia 1100 graphic LCD library by [spiralbrain]. [ogdento] added control for the backlight, mashed the two softwares together, and voilà!

A simple screen with a serial port is a great device to have on hand, and it makes a great project. We’ve seen them around here before, of course. And while you could just order one online, why not make your own? Who knows what kind of crazy customizations you might dream up along the way.

How to Make a Custom LCD from Scratch

If you have ever wondered what it took to make your own custom graphic LCD from scratch, this video from [Applied Science] is worth a watch. It’s concise and to the point, while still telling you what you need to know should you be interested in rolling your own. There is also a related video which goes into much more detail about experimenting with LCD technology.

[Applied Science] used microscope slides and parts purchased online to make an LCD that displays a custom graphic when activated. The only step that home experimenters might have trouble following is coating the glass slides with a clear conductive layer, which in the video is done via a process called sputtering to deposit a thin film. You don’t need to do this yourself, though. Pre-coated glass is readily available online. (Search for Indium-Tin Oxide or ‘ITO’ coated glass.)

The LCD consists of a layer of liquid crystal suspended between two layers of conductive glass. An electrical field is used to change the orientation of crystals in the suspension, which modulate the light passing through them. Polarizing filters result in a sharp contrast and therefore a visible image. To show a particular shape, some of the conductive coating is removed from one of the layers in the shape of the desired image. The process [Applied Science] uses to do this is nearly identical to etching a custom PCB. Continue reading “How to Make a Custom LCD from Scratch”

Reflow Oven Controller with Graphic LCD

Reflow Controller

A reflow oven is one of the most useful tools you will ever have, and if you haven’t built one yet, now is as good a time as any. [0xPIT’s] Arduino based reflow oven controller with a graphic LCD is one of the nicest reflow controllers we’ve seen.

Having a reflow oven opens up a world of possibilities. All of those impossible to solder surface mount devices are now easier than ever. Built around the Arduino Pro Micro and an Adafruit TFT color LCD, this project is very straight forward. You can either make your own controller PCB, or use [0xPIT’s] design. His design is built around two solid state relays, one for the heating elements and one for the convection fan. “The software uses PID control of the heater and fan output for improved temperature stability.” The project write-up is also on github, so be sure to scroll down and take a look at the README.

All you need to do is build any of the laser cutters and pick and place machines that we have featured over the years, and you too can have a complete surface mount assembly line!

Two-wire serial backpack for GLCD screens

[Debraj] wrote in about his 2-wire serial backpack he developed for a Graphic LCD screen. It’s build on a hunk of protoboard and uses a pair of 595 shift registers to translate incoming serial data to the parallel interface which is used by the LCD screen. It takes more time to push commands this way, but the interface is still quite snappy as you can see in the clip after the jump.

The real trick here is how the hardware has been configured to get away without a third wire for latching the shift registers (if you need a primer on 595 chips check out this feature). The idea of using a latch is that all of the data can be shifted in over the serial pin before it appears on the output pins. Otherwise, the GLCD would see each bit as it shifts into the register, wreaking havoc on its communication protocol. [Debraj] gets around this by using a diode AND gate trick he learned from this other serial LCD project.

One good thing about this method is the 595 chips have a wide range of control voltage that will allow you to drive this with 3.3V or 5V microcontrollers. But you do need to implement the communication protocol and push those commands via serial. For nearly the same cost in chips something like an ATtiny2313 could be substituted to make an even simpler addressing scheme — or even switch to 1-wire protocol. But you’d then lose the wide input voltage tolerance.

Continue reading “Two-wire serial backpack for GLCD screens”

Driving a T6963C based graphic LCD

[Tom Fleet] spent the dreary weekend inside learning how to drive this T6963C based graphic LCD controller. Although this is his first time venturing away from HD44780 character displays, the availability of an Arduino library helped him go from being a newbie to coding his own animated graphics.

The hardware setup is straight-forward. The screen has a 20-pin connector and operates at 5V. We don’t see it on his protoboard, but usually these displays also need a potentiometer which serves as a voltage divider for the screen contrast. The data and control pins eat up most of the available I/O on the ATmega328 chip he used, but the I2C and SPI pins are still open and he plans a future project to make this a wireless display for his PC using one of those protocols.

As for fonts and animation, [Tom] links to several tools which will come in handy. There’s a font program that will convert Windows system fonts into a C file for use on the Arduino. The animations start with a 1:1 ratio animated graphic drawn with his favorite image editing software. He then converts those to monochrome bmp files and used bmp2c to convert each frame to a C array. After the break there’s a seven second example that would work well as a boot screen for his project.

Continue reading “Driving a T6963C based graphic LCD”

Slot car lap timer/counter

For his first project using the TI Launchpad [VOJT4] built a lap timer and counter for slot cars. For us it’s always hardest to come up with the idea of what to build and we think he found a great one here.

Each time a car passes the finish line of the track it trips a reed switch that was hot glued to the underside of the track segment. Both reed switches have a capacitor to smooth out the inputs (is this acting as a hardware debounce?). The time and lap number are then pushed to a graphic LCD by the MSP430G2553.

You must be logged into the forum where [VOJT4] posted the project in order to see the images. Because of this, we’ve embedded them (including the schematic) after the break along with a demo video. But do take a look at his project thread to hear his thoughts and peruse the code he wrote.

Continue reading “Slot car lap timer/counter”

Learn the geometry to draw an analog clock on a graphic LCD screen

Does the image of the clock above make you shutter with fear because of the math you’d need to use to recreate your own version of the project? We certainly understand that High School geometry is becoming a very distant memory, but it’s really not as hard as you think. [Janw] built this analog clock using a graphic LCD and he’s done a great job of explaining the concepts behind it.

The hardware he’s using is pretty standard for an electronic hobby clock; an ATmega16, graphic LCD, DS1307 real-time clock, and supporting hardware like a potentiometer, resistors, and buttons. The code is written in Bascom, but like we said, [Janw] explains the concepts behind drawing the hands on the clock so you can recreate this with any microcontroller or software language you prefer. We  recommend grabbing a calculator and some blank paper. It took us a few tries to brush the cobwebs out and really grasp what he’s doing with each equation.