Apparently Time IS Money

Some people like to tweak cars. Some like to overclock PCs. Then there are the guys like [Jack Zimmermann] who are obsessed with accurate time. He’s working on a project that will deploy NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers in different African countries and needed small, cheap, energy-efficient, and accurate servers. What he wound up with is a very accurate setup for around $200. Along the way, he built some custom hardware, and hacked a computer to sync to the GPS clock reference.

His original attempt was with a Raspberry Pi 3. However, the network adapter isn’t the fastest possible, both because it is 100 MBPS and, primarily, because it is connected via the USB bus. Network latency due to these limitations makes it difficult to serve accurate time.

His solution includes an Odroid C2. For $50 it is a very capable computer with four cores, gigabit Ethernet, and can even use eMMC storage which is faster than the usual SD card. You can still use a conventional SD card, though, if you prefer.

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ESP Clock Needs More Power

[Victor-Chew] is tired of setting clocks. After all, here we are in the 21st century, why do we have to adjust clocks (something we just did for daylight savings time)? That’s why [Victor] came up with ESPClock.

Based on a $2 Ikea analog clock, [Victor] had a few design goals for the project:

  • Automatically set the time from the network
  • Automatically adjust for daylight savings time
  • Not cost much more than a regular clock
  • Run for a year on batteries

The last goal is the only one that remains unmet. Even with a large battery pack, [Victor’s] clock runs out of juice in a week or so. You can see some videos of the clock syncing with network time, below.

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Sunrise Alarm Clock with Organic Twist

Most hardware hackers have a clock project or two under their belt. A pretty common modification to a generic clock is to add lights to it, and if the clock has an alarm feature, it’s not too big of a stretch to try to get those lights to simulate a sunrise for a natural, peaceful morning alarm. The problem that a lot of us run across, though, is wiring up enough LEDs with enough diffusion to make the effect work properly and actually get us out of bed without an annoying buzzer.

Luckily for all of us, [jarek319] came up with an elegant and simple solution that should revolutionize all future sunrise alarm clock builds. He found a cheap OLED display and drove it with an LM317 voltage regulator. By driving the ADJ pin on the regulator, he was able to effectively drive the OLED with a makeshift PWM signal. This allows the OLED’s brightness to be controlled. [jarek319] threw some NTP code up on an ESP12E and did a little bit of programming for the alarm, and the problem is solved.

While an OLED is pretty much the perfect solution for a sunrise alarm clock, if you have a problem sourcing one or are just looking for an excuse to use up a strip of addressable LEDs, you can build a sunrise alarm clock out of almost any other light source.

DIY Smartwatch Based On ESP8266 Needs Classification

Building your own smartwatch is a fun challenge for the DIY hobbyist. You need to downsize your electronics, work with SMD components, etch your own PCBs and eventually squeeze it all into a cool enclosure. [Igor] has built his own ESP8266-based smartwatch, and even though he calls it a wrist display – we think the result totally sells as a smartwatch.

His design is based on a PCB for a wireless display notifier he designed earlier this year. The design uses the ESP-12E module and features an OLED display, LEDs, tactile switches and an FT232R USB/UART interface. Our beloved TP4056 charging regulator takes care of the Lithium-ion cell and a voltage divider lets the ESP8266’s ADC read back the battery voltage. [Igor] makes his own PCBs using the toner transfer method, and he’s getting impressive results from his hacked laminator.

Together with a hand-made plastic front, everything fits perfectly into the rubber enclosure from a Jelly Watch. A few bits of Lua later, the watch happily connects to a WiFi network and displays its IP configuration. Why wouldn’t this be a watch? Well, it lacks the mandatory RTC, although that’s easy to make up for by polling an NTP time server once in a while. How would our readers classify this well-done DIY build? Let us know in the comments!

Hackaday Prize Entry: ESP Swiss Knife

The best equipment won’t help you if you don’t have it with you in the moment you need it. Knowledge, experience, and a thick skin may help you out there in the mud of the hardware battlegrounds, but they can’t replace a multimeter, an oscilloscope, a logic analyzer, a serial console or a WiFi access point. [Arcadia Labs] has taken on the challenge of combining most of these functions into a single device, developing the Hacker’s equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife: The ESP Swiss Knife.

esp_swiss_knife_enclosureJust like a Swiss Army Knife is first and foremost a knife, the EPS Swiss Knife is first and foremost an ESP8266. That means it is already a great platform for any kind of project, and [Arcadia Labs] supercharged the plain ESP-12E module by adding a couple of useful features commonly used in many projects. There’s an OLED display, four pushbuttons, a temperature sensor, and a Li-Ion cell with a charging module to power the device on the go. A universal “utility socket” breaks out the ESP8266’s leftover GPIOs and the supply voltage for attaching further peripherals.

With the hardware up and running, [Arcadia Labs] went on with building a couple of applications to provide the functionality that would make the device earn its name. Among them is a basic oscilloscope, a digital NTP based clock, a thermometer, a WiFi tester, a weather station and a 3D printer status monitor. More applications are planned, such as a chronometer, a timer, a DSLR intervalometer and more. A protective 3D printable enclosure is also in the works. [Arcadia Labs] has been joining the Hackaday Prize 2014 and 2015 before and we’re glad to see another great build coming into existence!

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A Networked Analog Clock

Even in the face of an Internet of Things grasping for a useful use case, an Internet-connected clock is actually a great idea. With a cheap WiFi module and a connection to an NTP server, any clock can become an atomic clock. [Jim] decided to experiment with the ESP8266 to turn a cheap analog clock into something that will display network time using a bunch of gears and motors.

The clock [Jim] chose for this build is an extremely cheap clock pulled right from the shelves of WalMart. This clock uses a standard quartz clock mechanism, powered by a single AA cell. The coils in these quartz movements can be easily controlled by pulsing current through them, and with a few a few transistors and diodes set up in an h-bridge, an ESP8266 is quite good at setting the time on this clock.

The software for this clock first connects to the WiFi network, then checks an NTP server for the true time. Once the ESP8266 gets the time, it starts hammering the coil in the clock movement until the hands are where they should be.

[Jim] says the project needs a bit of work – there is no feedback on the clock to determine the position of the hands. Instead, the time is just set assuming the clock hands started off at 12:00. Still, even with that small fault, it’s a great build and a great exploit of what can be done with a cheap quarts clock movement.

If you’d like to go to the opposite extreme of cost and complexity, how about a DIY retro atomic clock?  Or if you’re in need of a wakeup, we’ve seen a ton of alarm clock posts in the past few weeks.

Transparent Alarm Clock Runs Linux

[Benoit] was using an extremely old alarm clock which normally ran on mains power, and he plugged it in to his computer’s UPS to keep it operational during power outages. He noticed that when the UPS switched on that the clock would run fast, though, and apparently it was keeping time by watching the power system frequency. To solve this problem he created his own feature-dense clock which runs Linux.

This alarm clock has everything: seven-segment displays housed in clear epoxy, a touch interface, battery backup, the ability to retrieve the time from an NTP server, and a web interface to change the clock’s settings over the network. That was a large part of [Benoit]’s decision to have the clock run Linux; the network capabilities add a lot of functionality to the clock like the ability to send commands to other devices at particular times. The clock runs on an Aria G25 SOM and has a custom case that looks very professional.

We’re suckers for a high-quality clock builds here, and [Benoit]’s most recent project hits all of our buttons. Even though it doesn’t currently drive people insane or tell confusing time, the Linux and networking capabilities could certainly open up options!