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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DIY Seven Segment Displays

[Esai] wanted to build an electronic clock from scratch. A noble quest, but ordinary seven-segment displays are just that – incredibly ordinary. Instead of a few displays that can be bought from the usual retailers for a dollar a piece, [Esai] made his own four digit, seven-segment display on some perfboard.

Before soldering 58 SMD LEDs to a small rectangle of perfboard, [Esai] traced out each segment with a marker. Two LEDs make up each segment, and they’re all connected to a breadboard-friendly pin header with 30 gauge wire.

Each segment is connected as a single column in the LED matrix, and each digit is a row. It’s a simple design, but there aren’t any resistors on this board. Hopefully [Esai] will be using a proper LED driver with this display; you really don’t want LEDs to burn out twice a day at 1:11.

An Experiment In Shift Registers and Multiplexed LEDs

[Kratz] is working on a WiFi controlled scoreboard, but before building the full-scale version, he thought it would be wise to test out the multiplexing technique for the display. The experiment worked, but unless this scoreboard is for a foosball table, he still has a lot of work ahead of him.

The design of this prototype display is pretty simple, with just two ‘595 shift registers feeding bits to the display. Sixteen NPN transistors are being used to sink and source current to the display. It’s a relatively simple circuit, allowing [Kratz] to fit nine seven-segment displays on a small board with only six wires – ground, two V+ for the logic and LEDs, clock, data, and latch – going to the microcontroller.

There were a few snags in the design; the data is clocked in on a rising edge, but an extra falling edge was required before latching. [Kratz] can’t figure out the reason for this, and it might just be a timing issue.

The Original Seven (Eight?) Segment Display

The seven-segment LED display is ubiquitous. But how old do you think the fundamental idea behind it is? You nixie tube fans will be thinking of the vacuum-tube era, but a reader sent us this patent filed in 1908 where [Frank W. Wood] builds a numeric display with plain-vanilla light bulbs, slots cut in wood, and lots of wires.

The OCR on the patent is poorly done — you’re going to want to download the PDF and read it locally. But as it states in the patent, “Referring again to Fig. 1, the novel arrangement of the lamp compartments will be readily understood.”

Technically it’s not a seven-segment display at all. [F.W. Wood] designed these really nice-looking “4”s with the diagonal heads, and so he needed eight segments per digit. But the basic idea shines through, if you pardon the pun.

The other figures demonstrate the machine that’s used to send the signals to light up the lights. It’s a rotating drum with the right contacts on the bottom side to make connections and turn on the right lights at the other end. Low tech, but it’s what was available at the time.

We’re stoked that we’re not responsible for wiring this thing up, and we’re a bit awed by how old the spirit behind one of our most ubiquitous technologies is.

Thanks to [mario59] for the nostalgic tip!

A Tiny Bubble Display Alarm Clock

For one reason or another, we’re starting to see a lot of projects featuring some old seven-segment HP bubble displays. Yes, those displays once relegated to ancient electronic calculators are making a comeback for reasons we can’t understand why, other than speculation that someone found a bunch of NOS displays. [Markus] picked up a few of these olde tymie displays and built a very nice bubble display alarm clock.

To keep things simple, [Markus] didn’t go the usual ATMega with RTC route. Instead, he’s using an MSP430, a 32kHz crystal, and a few buttons to construct this tiny alarm clock. It’s powered by a single AAA battery, and in a nice change of pace from fancy, professionally made boards, [Markus] built this on some perfboard with a little bit of enameled wire.

It’s a neat little clock, and with the speaker and most likely extreme battery life thanks to the MSP430, a wonderful portable, classic-looking alarm clock. Video of [Markus] manipulating the time below.

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Fabricate Your Own 7-Segment Displays


We see more and more projects that use custom molds and casting materials. The latest is this custom seven segment display which [Ray74] put together. The idea of making your own LED displays couldn’t be much easier than this — everything but the LEDs and wire is available at the craft store.

He started by making models of each segment out of pink erasers. The lower left image of the vignette above shows the eraser segments super glued to some poster board. The decimal is a pencil eraser, with a fence of wood to contain the molding material. Amazing Mold Putty was mixed and pressed into place resulting in the mold shown in the upper right.

From there, [Ray] cast the clear epoxy three times. Once dried the clear pieces were sanded, which will shape them up physically but also serves to diffuse the light. They were then placed inside of another mold form and an epoxy pour — this time doped with black enamel paint — finishes the 7-segment module. The final step is to glue the LEDs on the back side and wire them up.

This definitely trumps the build which Hackaday Alum [Kevin Dady] pulled off using hot glue sticks as light pipes.


7-Segment Display Matrix Visualizes More Than Numbers


You can pretty much tell that this is an outstretched hand shown on a large grid of 7-segment displays. But the only reason you have to look twice is because it is a still photo. When you see the video below it’s more than obvious what you’re looking at… partly because the device is being used as an electronic mirror.

In total there are 192 digits in the display. To make things easier, four-digit modules were used, although we still couldn’t resist showing you the well-organized nightmare that is the wiring scheme. Each module is driven by its own discrete Arduino (driving 28 LEDs as they’re apparently not connecting the decimal point). All 48 Arduino boards receive commands from a Raspberry Pi which is running openFrameworks to generate the animations.

Now of course the project was well under way before [Peter] discovered a similar display from more than a year ago. But we’re glad that didn’t stop them from forging ahead and even building on the idea. They added a camera to the display’s frame which lets it mirror back whatever is in front of it.

What popped into our minds was one of the recent entries for the Trinket contest.

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