Digital Hourglass Counts Down The Seconds

If someone asked you to build a digital hourglass, what would your design look like? [BitBlt_Korry] took on that challenge, creating a functional art piece that hits it right on the nose: an hourglass with a digital display

Iron filings fall between two pieces of plexiglass while ghostly numbers appear, counting down 30 seconds. Just as quickly as they appear, the numbers disappear – dropping down to the bottom of the enclosure. Each second is punctuated by what might be the loudest clock tick we’ve ever heard.

Of course, it’s not all magic. The hourglass is controlled by a Raspberry Pi Pico running code in MicroPython. The pico drives a series of transistors, which in turn are used to control 14 solenoids.  The solenoids serve double duty — first, they move pieces of flat “fridge magnet” material close enough to attract iron filings. Their second duty is of course provide a clock tick that will definitely get your attention.

Tilt sensors are the user input to the hourglass, letting the Pi Pico know which end is up when it’s time to start a new 30-second countdown.

[BitBlt_Korry] mentions that the hardest part of the project was setting the screws at the top and bottom of the hourglass to get the perfect uniform flow of iron filings. 

[BitBlt_Korry] calls his creation “「時場(じば)」”.  Google translates this to “Jiba”, which means “magnetic field”.  We’re not native speakers, but we’re guessing there is a double meaning there.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen humble iron filings stand up and dance at our command. If iron dust is too dry a topic, we’ve got plenty of ferrofluid projects as well!

20 thoughts on “Digital Hourglass Counts Down The Seconds

  1. Japan loves its puns.

    “jiba” meaning magnetic field is “磁場”, with kanji that literally mean “magnet place”.
    時 means time and 時計 means clock (neither pronounced “ji” in that context!), and 時間 (jikan) also means time. 時場 (jiba) is not a valid word, but it’s a pun on 磁場.
    If I had to make up an equivalent English word, maybe “timenetic”, but that doesn’t reach the sort of punning that you can get from substituting a single kanji.

    Also you should try for single words (jisho means dictionary). Google is infamous for dodgy translations to and from Japanese, or rather I should say Japanese is infamous for being hard to translate.

  2. I’d hardly call that loud just normal level. Sounds like a ping pong game in a small room. No tone to signal end of time. Top segments grow hair faster than the bottoms. Could this be done with electromagnets? Too much current to handle? Curvy segments like that Japanese Sharp calculator form early 70’s (which I passed up in a flea market once) would be possible perhaps even here with the PM segments.

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