Never Miss a Thing With This Programmable Vacuum Fluorescent Display Ticker

VFD Ticker

[Coyt] wanted a more convenient way to keep up to date with the ever-changing Bitcoin exchange rates, as well as weather and other useful information. He realized that the vacuum fluorescent display (VFD) he had purchased a couple of years ago would be perfect to display small amounts of information.

[Coyt] discovered that the VFD had a serial interface. The problem was that the VFD was looking for a 12V serial signal but the Raspberry Pi he wanted to use runs at a 3.3V. Upon closer inspection [Coyt] discovered that the VFD actually ran at lower levels as well, but it had a level converter chip installed in front of the main connector. He simply bypassed the level converter and was then able to get the RasPi speaking directly to the VFD.

The brain running this display is a Raspberry Pi. The Pi runs a Python script that pulls down all of the relevant information from the internet and displays it on the VFD. [Coyt] didn’t stop there, though. He knew that having the screen on all of the time would be somewhat of a waste, so he hooked up a PIR sensor to automatically turn on the display only when needed. The PIR sensor can detect motion in the room and will disable the display after a set period of inactivity. Most of this is powered by an LM7805 voltage regulator. While [Coyt] admits a linear regulator is not his ideal solution, it does get the job done. The metal stand acts as a nice heat sink for the regulator.

[Coyt] also wanted his project to have a certain aesthetic. He started by bending a metal plate into a stand for the electronics. He then mounted the VFD on the front of the stand and the RasPi on the back. He also mounted green LEDs between the two plates to light up the edges for a little extra pizzazz. [Coyt] believes he can use the RasPi to PWM the LEDs but this has not yet been implemented. This would allow him to pulse the light for added effect.

Since the whole thing is run by a Python script, it would be trivial to modify it to display other kinds of information. What would you do if you had a motion sensitive automatic ticker?

 

[Fran]‘s LEDs, Nixies, and VFDs.

FRAN LED

With a love of blinky and glowey things, [Fran] has collected a lot of electronic display devices over the years. Now she’s doing a few teardowns and tutorials on some of her (and our) favorite parts: LEDs and VFD and Nixie tubes

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that someone with hardware from a Saturn V flight computer also has a whole lot of vintage components, but we’re just surprised at how complete [Fran]‘s collection is. She has one of the very first commercial LEDs ever made. It’s a very tiny red LED made by Monsanto (yes, that company) packaged in a very odd lead-and-cup package.

Also in her LED collection is a strange Western Electric part that’s green, but not the green you expect from an LED. This LED is more of an emerald color – not this color, but more like the green you get with a CMYK process. It would be really cool to see one of these put in a package with red, green, and blue LED, and could have some interesting applications considering the color space of an RGB LED.

Apart from her LEDs, [Fran] also has a huge collection of VFD and Nixie tubes. Despite the beliefs of eBay sellers, these two technologies are not the same: VFDs are true vacuum tubes with a phosphorescent coating and work something like a CRT turned inside out. Nixies, on the other hand, are filled with a gas (usually neon) that turns to plasma when current flows through one of the digits. [Fran] has a ton of VFDs and Nixies – mostly military surplus – and sent a few over to [Dave Jones] for him to fool around with.

It’s all very cool stuff and a great lead-in to what we hear [Fran] will be looking at next: electroluminescent displays found in the Apollo Guidance Computer.

Videos below.

[Read more...]

VFD And Nixie Clock Twofer

Clocks

Sometimes the stars align and we get two somewhat similar builds hitting the Hackaday tip line at the same time. Recently, the build of note was clocks using some sort of display tube, so here we go.

First up is [Pyrofer]‘s VFD network time clock (pic, above). The build started as a vacuum flourescent display tube he salvaged from an old fruit machine – whatever that is. The VFD was a 16 character, 14 segment display, all controlled via serial input.

The main control board is, of course, an Arduino with a WizNet 5100 Ethernet board. The clock connects to the Internet via DHCP so there’s no need to set an IP address. Once connected, the clock sets itself via network time and displays the current date, time, and temperature provided by a Dallas 1-wire temperature probe.

Next up is [Andrew]‘s beautiful Nixie clock with enough LEDs to satiate the desires of even the most discerning technophile. The board is based on a PIC microcontroller with two switching power supplies – one for the 170VDC for the Nixies, and 5V for the rest of the board.

A battery backed DS1307 is the real-time clock for this board, and two MCP23017 I/O expanders are used to run the old-school Nixie drivers

All this is pretty standard for a Nixie clock build, if a little excessive. It wasn’t enough for [Andrew], though: he used the USB support on his PIC to throw a USB port on his board and wrote an awesome bit of software for his PC to set the time, upload new firmware, and set the color fade and speed. With this many LEDs, it’s not something you want in your bedroom with all the lights on full blast, so he implemented a ‘sleep’ mode to turn off most of the lights and all the Nixie tubes. It’s a great piece of work that could easily be successfully funded on Kickstarter.

VFD Display Becomes an Amplifier

radio

Born well into the transistor era of the late 80s, [Fernando] missed out on all the fun you can have with high voltage and vacuum tubes. He wanted to experience this very cool tech, but since you won’t find a tube checker down at the five and dime anymore, where exactly do you get a vacuum tube to play around with? [Fernando]‘s solution was to rip apart the vacuum fluorescent display from an old radio (Google Translate) and use that as a triode.

Inside every VFD is a filament, grid, and cathode – three simple elements also found in the triodes of just about every tube amp ever made. By applying a small voltage to the filament, a larger voltage to the cathode, and sending an audio signal to the grid, this triode amplifies the electrical signal coming from a stereo or guitar.

[Fernando] built his circuit on a breadboard, and with a little tweaking managed to get a fairly respectable amount of gain from parts salvaged from a radio. While using VFDs as amplifiers is nothing new – we’ve seen it a few times before, tube builds are always great to see, and bodged up electronics even more so.

VFD tube clock built using protoboard and free-formed PSU

vfd-tube-clock

[James Glanville] wrote in to show of his latest tube project. It’s a clock using six IV-3 VFD tubes. In addition to the tube displays the project prominently features a blue 3D printed case which hides away all the guts of the build including the Stellaris Launchpad which drives the clock.

Speaking of guts, you’ll want to look through a few of [James'] other posts on the project. His first write-up on this clock shows off the protoboard and point-to-point soldering that makes the tubes work. To help simplify things he went with a MAX6921 VFD driver chip. He mounted it dead-bug style on its own piece of protoboard and then soldered all of the necessary connections to the larger hunk hosting the tubes. There’s also an interesting post that details the switch mode power supply which ramps the USB 5V power all the way up to the 50V used to drive the displays.

If you like this you should check out the first VFD clock he built. We featured it a while back in a links post.

Hackaday Links: January 17th, 2013

Free-formed VFD clock

links-free-formed-vfd-clock [James] doesn’t need a circuit board or even some protoboard to get the job done. He free-formed all the circuits for his VFD clock. Right now this is the only project hosted on his blog so click around to see how he got to this point.

DIY LED traffic light

links-diy-traffic-light

Here’s a scratch-build traffic light which [Jarle] uses to display information about his server. If you’re unable to find your own storm damaged original this is a pretty easy way to build one.

FPGA space attack game

links-classic-shooter-running-on-fpga

This game is running on an FPGA, but it’s not written in HDL. Instead, [Johan] wrote the game in C to run on a soft processor loaded on the gate array.

Hourglass entropy

links-hour-glass-entropy

This is a fascinating idea for generating random numbers. [Gijs] is shining a laser onto a light dependent transistor. The beam of the laser is broken by the falling sand of an hourglass. This technique could be use as an entropy source for random number generation.

GPS clock source for a digital timepiece

links-gps-clock

It seems like massive overkill, but you can’t beat the time accuracy of using a GPS module as a clock source. We don’t expect that [Jay] kept the clock in one piece after finishing the project. It’s just a good way to practice decoding the GPS data.

Scrapped DVD player turns into a full featured clock

[Dmitry] really went the distance with this project. It started as a broken DVD player scrapped for parts, and turned into this clock with way too many features. That link is a pretty a dry technical collection of the work. You’ll definitely want to have a look at it, but we’d suggest first watching the demo video after the break which is initially much more exciting.

The donor DVD hardware included a Vacuum Fluorescent display which is the nugget which [Dmitry] was after. But that board came along with some other nice things, like an integrated IR receiver. He also chose to use the PSU from the device. An Arduino is used to drive the clock. We’re not sure where he found it, but the video shows the service manual for the DVD player which must have a been a real help in interfacing with the display. The white dome on the right is a PIR motion sensor. It brings the device out of sleep mode when someone is in the room.

The case is laser-cut and started as cardboard to ensure everything fit as designed. The enclosure makes it a showpiece, but the features of displaying day, date, time, and temperature make it functional as well. Since the VFD is alpha-numeric we think this could even see future upgrades to be used as a new-mail/tweet/IM alert as well.

[Read more...]

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