Keep an Old Real Time Clock Module Ticking

Sometimes we run into real problems restoring old machines. [RedruM69] recently ran into a system with a dead Real Time Clock (RTC) module. These modules were used on computers and all sorts of other equipment, storing time, date, and 100 or so bytes of battery backed SRAM (before the days of cheap, plentiful flash memory). Often an external coin cell would supply power to the module. In some cases though, cost savings would take over, and the battery would be incorporated into the module. Such is the case with many Dallas Semiconductor models, and the benchmarq bq3287 module [RedruM69] was working with. If we’re reading the date code right, the module was produced in mid 1995 so we’re well past the advertised 10 year battery life.

Apparently Texas Instruments is the current owner of this design, and they even have a datasheet online. (PDF link). It turns out that the bq3287 is a descendant of the bq3285, except that the battery pin is internally disconnected. For most people this would mean a search for a compatible replacement. An industrious hacker might even whip up something compatible from modern components. Not [RedruM69] though. He broke out his Dremel tool and cut into the potted case. Exposing the internal connections above pins 16 and 20 allowed him to solder two wires on. Connecting these wires to an external coin cell brought the module back to life.

[RedruM69] isn’t the first one to perform this hack. Sun computers kept their MAC address in chips like this. When the battery went dead, the computer was off the network. Hackers have been cutting the modules open and adding batteries for years. You could always forgo RTC modules completely and use the power grid as your timebase.

VFD Clock Only Speaks Romanian

There’s no shortage of clock projects, but [niq_ro] has his own take using a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD), and Arduino, and a pair of MAX6921 ICs. Those chips are made to drive a VFD, and the use of two of the ICs required a bit of work. The Arduino is not a great time keeper, so the clock also uses a DS3231 clock module and a humidity and temperature sensor.

The clock is in Romanian, although there are some options for different text. You can find the code on GitHub and can see the result in the video below.

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Tiny PIC Clock is Not a Tiny Bomb

It’s been a few weeks since the incident where Ahmed Mohamed, a student, had one of his inventions mistaken for a bomb by his school and the police, despite the device clearly being a clock. We asked for submissions of all of your clock builds to show our support for Ahmed, and the latest one is the tiniest yet but still has all of the features of a full-sized clock (none of which is explosions).

[Markus]’s tiny clock uses a PIC24 which is a small yet powerful chip. The timekeeping is done on an RTCC peripheral, and the clock’s seven segment displays are temporarily lit when the user presses a button. Since the LEDs aren’t on all the time, and the PIC only consumes a few microamps on standby, the clock can go for years on a single charge of the small lithium-ion battery in the back. There’s also a phototransistor which dims the display in the dark, and a white LED which could be used as a small flashlight in a pinch. If these features and the build technique look familiar it’s because of [Markus’] tiny MSP430 clock which he was showing around last year.

Both of his tiny clocks are quite impressive for their size, features, and power consumption. Some of the other clocks we’ve featured recently include robot clocks, clocks for social good, and clocks that are not just clocks (but still won’t explode). We’re suckers for a good clock project here, so keep sending them in!

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What is the Matrix…Clock?

We’re surprised we haven’t seen this kind of clock before, or maybe we have, but forgot about it in the dark filing cabinets of our minds. The above picture of [danjhamer’s] Matrix Clock doesn’t quite do it justice, because this is a clock that doesn’t just tick away and idly update the minutes/hours.

matrix clock

Instead, a familiar Matrix-esque rain animation swoops in from above, exchanging old numbers for new. For the most part, the build is what you would expect: a 16×8 LED Matrix display driven by a TLC5920 LED driver, with an Arduino that uses a DS1307 RTC (real-time clock) with a coin cell battery to keep track of time when not powered through USB. [danjhamer] has also created a 3D-printed enclosure as well as added a piezo speaker to allow the clock to chime off customizable musical alarms.

You can find schematics and other details on his project page, but first, swing down below the jump to see more of the clock’s simple but awesome animations.

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Jaw-Dropping Atomic Clock Build

You could cruise the Internet bazaars for a talking clock but you’ll never find one as awesome as this. Just look at it… even if it didn’t work it would be awesome.

[Art] certainly lives up to his username. His Rubidium-standard atomic real-time clock is surely an example of hardware art. The substrate is a collection of point-to-point soldered perfboard modules. Each laid out meticulously. What does such layout call for? A gorgeous enclosure which doesn’t obscure your view of the components. For this he went with a copper tube frame and a custom fabricated aluminum chassis pan.

For the circuit itself [Art] tells us he wanted to build something akin to the old HP nixie frequency counters so he went with logic chips. The pictures and a few video annotations are the only clues we have for how this works. Hopefully your encouragement in the comments will help prompt him to share more about that.

Oh, and the talking clock part that we referred to earlier? Every minute you get a readout of the time thanks to a PIC playing back audio using [Roman Black’s] BTc sound compression algorithm.

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Topsy Turvy Clock Tells Confusing Time

Looking for a new clock but hate the fact that all the numbers are always in the correct order? Look no further than [Andy]’s topsy turvy clock which correctly tells time despite the fact that the numbers on the face of the clock are in random positions.

At first glance, the clock looks fairly normal despite the mixed-up numerals. Upon closer inspection, the clock is much more than it appears to be. A battery backed real-time clock keeps track of time, and a microcontroller turns the hands of the clock to where they need to be. The clock uses optical sensors to make sure the hands are in the correct starting position when it is first powered on.

Check out the video below for a better illustration of what the clock looks like when in operation. The hour hand is always pointing at the correct hour, and the minute hand starts every five minutes at the number it would have started at on a normal clock, i.e. at 1:15 the hour hand will point at “one” and the minute hand will point at “three”.

We love this very interesting and unique take. It was inspired by a few other clocks, including a version of the infamous Vetinari “random tick” clock which will drive you crazy in a different way.

Infinity Mirror Clock: There’s a Time Joke There Somewhere

Infinity Mirror Clock

We don’t think we’ve seen an Infinity Mirror Clock before, but we love this new twist on an old favorite. Different colors distinguish between seconds, minutes and hours, and an additional IR sensor detects when someone is directly in front of the clock and switches the LEDs off, allowing it to be used as a normal mirror. This build is the work of [Dushyant Ahuja], who is no stranger to hacking together clocks out of LEDs. You can tell how much progress he’s made with the mirror clock by taking a glance at his first project, which is an impressive creation held together by jumbles of wire and some glue.

[Dushyant] has stepped up his game for his new clock, attaching an LED strip along the inside of a circular frame to fashion the infinity mirror effect. The lights receive a signal from an attached homemade Arduino board, which is also connected to a real-time clock (RTC) module to keep time and to a Bluetooth module, which allows [Dushyant] to program the clock wirelessly rather than having to drag out some cords if the clock ever needs an adjustment.

Stick around after the jump for a quick demonstration video. The lights are dazzling to watch; [Dushyant] inserted a stainless steel plate at the center of the circle to reflect the outer rim of LEDs. After a quick rainbow effect, it looks like the mirror enters clock mode. See if you can figure out what time it is. For a more step-by-step overview of this project, swing by his Instructables page.

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