Giving Flip Dots The Oil Treatment To Shut Them Up

Flip dot display submerged in oil

Flip dot displays are awesome — too bad it’s so hard to find large panels to play around with, but that’s for another article. [Pierre Muth] has been working to find different and interesting things to do with these flip dots, and he recently explored how you can flip them very very gently.

Now you likely remember [Pierre’s] work from earlier this year where he was pushing the speed of the displays as high as possible. Using a capacitor discharge trick he made it to 30 fps, which absolutely stunning work. This time around he attempted to do something equally impressive by micro-stepping the dots. It’s a bonkers idea and unfortunately didn’t work. It seems the dots are engineered for two steady states and you just can’t get very good performance with the in-between states.

However, along the way he had an a-ha moment. Part of what he wanted to do with the microstepping was to slow down the change of the state and for that, he just grabbed a viscous fluid that’s thicker than air: Vaseline oil. (We’d imagine it’s not the cocoa-scented variety, but who knows?) He’s taken a page out of the mineral-oil-cooled PC sub-genre and applied it to flipdots. But watch the video after the break and you’ll see that the slower animations are super pleasing to watch, and the clickity-clackity that was driving you nuts while trying to works is now whisper quiet. It’s a new dawn for displays.

20 thoughts on “Giving Flip Dots The Oil Treatment To Shut Them Up

    1. I can’t imagine a better way to ruin something mechanical. I’ve cleaned too much of that time bomb gunk off things. Keep it in the bathroom for enemas, it’s a literal PITA.

      1. I always expected vaseline (paraffin hydrocarbon chains) as quite stable. How is it supposed to be a “time bomb”? Of course it can accumulate dirt and dust if it has the possibility to do so, but in an enclosed clean space this should be avoidable.

    2. I think “Vaseline oil” is French vernacular for “mineral oil”. The entire unit is submerged in mineral oil (hence the reference to “mineral-oil-cooled PC” builds) to slot the dot movement. “Vaseline”-brand petroleum jelly or damping grease is much too thick for that.

  1. “Vaseline Oil”? Really? That stuff is expensive here in the U.S. and even in the odorless variant there may be some unwanted add-ins. Here, Vaseline is a consumer product brand-name owned by the London-based multinational Unilever PLC.[1]

    Instead use generic food-grade white mineral oil (not to be confused with mineral spirits, white spirit, etc.) Pure mineral oil is water-clear, odorless, non-toxic, and essentially non-conductive. Here [2] on Amazon is one gallon (3.8 liters) of the good stuff for $20.89 USD before tax; and if you can bump the order up to at least $25.00 or if you have Amazon Prime, the U.S. shipping is “Free”. CONUS delivery is usually 2-days. Free shipping is important, the ship weight per gallon is listed as 7.4 pounds (3.36 kg). For comparison purposes one gallon of pure mineral oil weighs 6.97 pounds (3.16 kg), 16.5% less than water.

    One common use for mineral oil is to cool and/or electrically isolate electronics and transformers. Just for fun if you over-clock your Raspberry Pi and you don’t want to listen to whirring fans, ditch the fans and drop the Pi in a tank of mineral oil. And yes, the WiFi still works in mineral oil, but the SD card may be an issue over time.[3]

    * References:

    1. Vaseline

    Vaseline is an American brand of petroleum jelly-based products owned by transnational [3] company Unilever. Products include plain petroleum jelly and a selection of skin creams, soaps, lotions, cleansers, and deodorants. In many languages, the word “Vaseline” is used as generic for petroleum jelly; in Portugal, the Unilever products are called Vaselina, and in Brazil and some Spanish-speaking countries, the Unilever products are called Vasenol.

    2. UltraPro Food Grade Mineral Oil, 1 Gallon (128oz), for Lubricating and Protecting Cutting Board, Butcher Block, Stainless Steel, Knife, Tool, Machine and Equipment, NSF Approved 4.8 out of 5 stars 7,056 ratings $20.89 ($0.16 / Fl Oz)

    3. Raspberry Pi in Mineral Oil

    1. Thanks for pointing this, I made a translation error.
      You said it, ‘Vaseline’ is a Unilever brand.
      “vaseline oil” however is a different stuff, especially in French language [1]. It is, as the paraffin, a derivative of petroleum. It is a pure mineral oil, notably used to lubricate tiny mechanism. It is used as well as a surface treatment for wood. I got it at 7 euros/liter [2], which is cheaper than isolation oil I could find. And most importantly is it perfectly clear transparent and not harmful. It seems to be the exact same thing you mention on Amazon.
      My bad, I should clarify this and use ‘mineral oil’ instead of ‘vaseline oil’.

      [1] –
      [2] –

    2. I made a translation mistake, my bad. I used the very same thing you pointed on amazon. The thing is, the highly refine mineral oil from petroleum is called “vaseline oil” in French. I got it for 7 euros per liter.
      Thanks for pointing this! I’ll correct my blog post.

      (I’ve put the links of the shop where I got the oil, but I think it was eaten by the spam filter).

    1. “Ice cap” like a frozen electrolytic cap or a baseball cap filled with ice to cool your head in hot weather? Anyway, how should the display come in contact with an ice cap of any type?

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