Arduino Tachometer Clock Fires on All Cylinders

We’re certainly no strangers to unique timepieces around these parts. For whatever reason, hackers are obsessed with finding new and interesting ways of displaying the time. Not that we’re complaining, of course. We’re just as excited to see the things as they are to build them. With the assumption that you’re just as enamored with these oddball chronometers as we are, we present to you this fantastic digital tachometer clock created by [mrbigbusiness].

The multi-function digital gauge itself is an aftermarket unit which [mrbigbusiness] says you can get online for as little as $20 from some sites. All he needed to do was figure out how to get his Arduino to talk to it, and come up with some interesting way to hold it at an appropriate viewing angle. The mass of wires coming out of the back of the gauge might look intimidating, but thanks to his well documented code it shouldn’t be too hard to follow in his footsteps if you were so inclined.

Hours are represented by the analog portion of the gauge, and the minutes shown digitally were the speed would normally be displayed. This allows for a very cool blending of the classic look of an analog clock with the accuracy of digital. He’s even got it set up so the fuel indicator will fill up as the current minute progresses. The code also explains how to use things like the gear and high beam indicators, so there’s a lot of room for customization and interesting data visualizations. For instance, it would be easy to scrap the whole clock idea and use this gauge as a system monitor with some modifications to the code [mrbigbusiness] has provided.

The gauge is mounted to a small project box with some 3D printed brackets and bits of metal rod, complete with a small section of flexible loom to cover up all the wires. Overall it looks very slick and futuristic without abandoning its obvious automotive roots. Inside the base [mrbigbusiness] has an Arduino Nano, a DS1307 RTC connected via I2C, a voltage regulator, and a push button to set the time. It’s a perfectly reasonable layout, though we wonder if it couldn’t be simplified by using an ESP8266 and pulling the time down with NTP.

We’ve seen gauges turned into a timepiece before, but we have to admit that this is probably the most practical realization we’ve seen of the idea yet. Of course if you want to outfit the garage with something a bit more authentic, you can always repurpose a Porsche brake rotor.

UV Glow Clock Tells The Time Glowingly

Reddit user [TuckerPi] wanted to make something to thank his father for helping him get through his engineering degrees. He hit it out of the park with this awesome glowing clock. The clock uses a strip of UV glow tape, which is rotated by a small stepper motor. On one side a UV LED is moved up and down by a second motor to make the tape glow underneath it. A Raspberry Pi drives the whole system, writing the time on the tape and rotating it to face outwards. Once a minute the clock rewrites the time on the rubber.

This is a lovely build that shows what [TuckerPI] learned in college, as he built most of the mechanism himself, cutting his own metal gears and parts and making a nice, simple case from African mahogany. He also shows his mistakes, such as his first attempt to build the glowing mechanism from silicon rubber mixed with UV powder. Although it worked initially, he found that the UV powder fell out of the rubber after a short while, so he replaced it with UV glow tape.

[TuckerPi] hasn’t published the full schematics of the device, but there is a lot of detail in the Imgur photos of the build and in the Reddit thread where he discussed the build. Kudos to him for finding an interesting and unique way to thank his father for his help.

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Green Hacking: Overclocking Photosynthesis

We think of hacking as bending technology to our will. But some systems are biological,  and we’re also starting to see more hacking in that area. This should excite science fiction fans used to with reading about cultures that work with biological tech, so maybe we’ll get there in the real world too.  Hacking farm crops and animals goes back centuries, although we are definitely getting better at it. A case in point: scientists have found a way to make photosynthesis better and this should lead to more productive crops.

We learned in school that plants use carbon dioxide and sunlight to create energy and produce oxygen. But no one explained to us exactly how that happened. It seems a protein called rubisco is what causes this to happen, but unfortunately it isn’t very picky. In addition to converting carbon (from carbon dioxide) into sugar, it also converts oxygen into toxic compounds called ROS (reactive oxygen species) that most plants then have to spend energy eliminating. Scientists estimate that if you could recover the calories lost in this process, you could feed an additional 200 million people worldwide at current production levels.

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Underclocking the ESP8266 Leads To WiFi Weirdness

Sometimes the best hacks come from the most basic of questions. In this case, [CNLohr] was wondering what would happen if he started to reduce the clock speed of the ESP8266’s Baseband PLL (BBPLL) while still trying to communicate with it. You know, as one does. The results ended up being fairly surprising, and while it’s not immediately clear if there’s a practical application for this particular trick, it’s certainly worth some additional research.

Code for stepping through clock speeds

The idea here is that the BBPLL is the reference clock for the entire system, including all of the peripherals. So underclocking it doesn’t just slow down code execution as you might expect, but it also slows down the chip’s interactions with the outside world. [CNLohr] demonstrates this concept in the video below, showing how the baud rate used to view the serial output from the ESP8266 needs to be adjusted to match the chip’s frequency or else you’ll only get garbage on the line.

But what happens to the WiFi? As [CNLohr] discovered, while the center frequency itself doesn’t change, the channel width gets narrower as the clock rate is lowered. When viewed on the waterfall display of a software defined radio (SDR), the transmission can be seen “compressing” in a step pattern as the clock rate is reduced. As one might expect, the 802.11 packets become indecipherable to a normal WiFi device running in monitor mode. The signal is still at the correct frequency, but the devices can no longer understand each other.

Now it was time for another of those basic questions. What would happen if you did the same thing to a second ESP8266? Much to his surprise, [CNLohr] discovered that the two devices could still communicate successfully as long as their BBPLL clock speed was the same. From an outsider’s perspective it looked like gibberish, but to the two ESPs which had been slowed by the same amount, everything worked as expected even though the 802.11 standards say it shouldn’t.

So what can you do with this? The most obvious application is a “stealth” WiFi connection between ESP8266s which wouldn’t show up to normal devices, a communications channel invisible to all but the most astute eavesdropper. [CNLohr] has made all the source code to pull this trick off public on GitHub, and it should be interesting to see what kind of applications (if any) hackers find for this standards-breaking behavior.

If your thing is devices being forced into operations they were never intended to by particularly twisted hackers, check out our recent coverage of the USB serial adapter turned SDR by [Ted Yapo].

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Wooden Clock To FPGA Conversion

[John] wanted a project to help him learn more about FPGAs. So he started with his wooden clock — made with an Arduino — and ported it over to a Lattice FPGA using Icestorm. What’s nice is that he takes you through the steps he used to simulate the design using the Falsted simulator and then realizing it in the FPGA. Since he’s just starting out, it is a good bet he ran into the same rough edges you will (or did) and sometimes that can really help get you over the hump. You can see a video below, and the code for the project is on GitHub.

For example, after mocking up a circuit design in Falstad he realized he could make one large counter instead of several modules, and he contrasts that to a more modular approach. He also ran into a feature that was simple for the Arduino but difficult for the FPGA. He got it working, but it took some optimization effort to make everything fit in the relatively small FPGA he was using.

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Word Clock Don’t Need No Stencil Font

Word clocks use natural language to display the time. They’ve been in vogue in the last 20 years or so, as low-cost digital technology makes them particularly cost effective and easy to build for the average maker. The hardware and software is a solved problem, so presentation is everything. Luckily, [watsaig]’s effort does not disappoint.

The build began with a timeframe of just seven days — a narrow window given [watsaig]’s lack of experience with lasercutting and woodworking. Not content to let that get in the way, it was time to get to work. Wood was sourced from Amazon and designs laid out, before lasercutting began in earnest.

[watsaig] decided to fill all of the letters with epoxy to achieve a flat finished surface that also served as diffuser for the LEDs. To avoid using an unsightly stencil font, the centers (the cut out portion) of letters like O, A, and R had to be placed by hand. Unfortunately his turned out quite badly. When using a squeegee method to work epoxy into the letters, the inserts tended to shift, ruining the face plate.

Undeterred, the clock face was recreated from scratch, and it was determined that a pipette was a far more suitable tool, allowing the letters to be filled with epoxy without unduly disturbing the letter inserts. The final result is visually attractive, finished with a wonderful stain and giving a pleasing glow thanks the careful attention to diffusion and masking. The hidden Happy Birthday message may have been lost in the rush, but it’s the thought that counts, after all.

For a Continental take, check out this word clock in Catalan.

Weather Forecasting Clock Makes An Almighty Racket

The old-fashioned alarm clock was a staple of cartoons in years past, with loud clanging bells and slap-to-shutoff functionality. Despite being an excellent dramatic device, these classic timepieces began to lose favor to the digital clock radio, and, in more recent times, the smartphone alarm. However, [LenkaDesign] has come up with this excellent build that combines the best of the old and the new.

The build starts with an old alarm clock. The clockwork internals are removed, but the bells remain, powered instead by a brushed DC motor. An Arduino Nano is the brains of the operation, interfacing with the now-ubiquitous temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors. Time is displayed on a Nokia 5110 LCD screen of the type popular a decade ago when options for small hobby project displays were significantly more limited then they are today.

As a nice touch, an old circuit board lends a new face to this clock, with a trio of big chunky buttons to act as controls. The LCD uses attractive icons to help convey information, making the most of the graphical capabilities available. There’s even a rudimentary weather forecasting algorithm that uses barometric pressure changes to predict the likelihood of rain.

Overall, it’s a tidy build that promises to serve as a great alarm clock, given the high volume of the original bells. Alarm clocks have always been a hacker staple, but if you’re still struggling to get out of bed this fire bell build should rattle your fillings loose on a daily basis. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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