an image of maketime showing the current time

Unique Clock Doubles As A Development Board

Most clocks these days have ditched the round face and instead prefer to tell time through the medium of 7-segment displays. [mihai.cuciuc] is bringing the round face to digital clocks with his time-keeping piece, MakeTime.

MakeTime's custom PCBMakeTime serves two purposes, the first and most obvious one is as a clock. Rather than displaying the time with digits, MakeTime harkens back to round dial clocks by illuminating RGB LEDs along its perimeter to show the position of the minute and hour “hands”. By using 24 LEDs, MakeTime achieves a timing granularity of 2.5 minutes.

The second purpose is as a development platform. [mihai.cuciuc] designed the clock with hacking in mind, opting to build it with components that many are already familiar with, such as a DS3231 RTC and WS2812 LEDs. To make the entire thing Arduino compatible, the microcontroller is an AtMega 328P, that can be connected to through the micro-USB port and CH340 USB-UART IC. If MakeTime outlives its time as a clock, all of the unused GPIO of the 328P are broken out to a single pin header, allowing it to be repurposed in other projects for years to come.

It seems like everyone is making their own unique timekeeping device these days. Check out the clock made out of ammeters we covered last week.

Taking A Deep Dive Into SPI

With the prevalence of libraries, it has never been easier to communicate with hundreds of different sensors, displays, and submodules. But what is really happening when you type SPI.begin() into the Arduino IDE? In his most recent video, [Ben Eater] explores the Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) and how it really works.

Most Hackaday readers probably know [Ben] from his breadboard-based computers, such as the 6502 build we featured in 2019. Since then he has been hard at work, adding new and interesting additions to his breadboard computer, as well as diving into different communication protocols to better understand and implement them. For this video, [Ben] set the goal of connecting the BME280, a common pressure, temperature, and humidity sensor with an SPI interface, to his breadboard 6502 computer. Along the way, [Ben] discusses how exactly SPI works, and why there is so much conflicting nomenclature and operations when looking at different SPI devices.

If breadboard computers aren’t your thing, there are tons of other uses for the BME280, such as helping to modernize a Casio F-91W.

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What’s Cooler Than A 7-Segment Display? A 7200-Segment Display!

If you look around your desk right now, odds are you’ll see a 7-segment display or two showing you some vital information like the time or today’s weather. But think of how much information you could see with over 1,100 digits, like with [Chris Combs’] 7200-segment display.

For [Chris], this project started the same way that many of our projects start; finding components that were too good of a deal to pass up on. For just “a song or two plus shipping”, he was the proud owner of two boxes of 18:88 7-segment displays, 500 modules in total. Rather than sitting and using up precious shelf space, [Chris] decided to turn them into something fancy he could hang on the wall.

the 7200 segment display grayscaling to show the time
The IS31FL3733 can produce 8 levels of dimming 8-bit PWM, allowing [Chris] to display in grayscale
The first challenge was trying to somehow get a signal to all of the individual segments. Solutions exist for running a handful of displays in one device, but there are certainly no off-the-shelf solutions for this many. Even the possible 16 addresses of the IS31FL3733 driver IC [Chris] chose for this project were not enough, so he had to get creative. Fearing potential capacitance issues with simply using an i2C multiplexer, he instead opted to run 3 different i2C busses off of a Raspberry Pi 4, to interface with all 48 controllers.

The second challenge was how to actually wire everything up. The finished display comes out to 26 inches across by 20.5 inches tall, much too large for a single PCB. Instead, [Chris] opted to design a series of self-contained panels, each with 6 of the display modules and an IS31FL3733 to drive them. While the multiplexing arrangement did leave space for more segments on each panel, he opted to go for this arrangement as it resulted in a nice, clean, 4:3 aspect ratio for the final display.

The end result was a unique and beautiful piece, which Chris titled “One-to-Many”. He uses it to display imagery and art related to the inevitability of automation, machines replacing humans, and other “nice heartwarming stuff like that”, as he puts it. There’a video after the break, but if you are interested in seeing the display for yourself, it will be on display at the VisArt’s Concourse Gallery in Rockville, MD from September 3 to October 17, 2021. More info on [Chris’s] website.

This isn’t [Chris’s] first adventure in using 7-segment displays in such a unique way, click here to read about the predecessor to this project that we covered last year.

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the 3 needle ammeters that make up the face of the clock

IC Clock Uses Ammeters For A Unique Time-Telling Display

It is a rite of passage for hackers to make a clock out of traditionally not-clock items. Whether it be blinking LEDs or servos to move the hands, we have all crafted our own ways of knowing when it currently is. [SIrawit] takes a new approach to this, by using ammeters to tell the time.

The clock is built using mostly CMOS ICs. A CD4060 generates the 1HZ clock signal, which is then passed to parallel counters to keep track of the hours, minutes, and seconds. [SIrawit] decided to keep the ammeters functioning as intended, rather than replacing the internals and just keeping the needle and face. To convert the digital signal to a varying current, he used a series of MOSFETs connected in parallel to the low side of the ammeters, with different sizes of current-limiting resistors. By sizing these resistors properly, precise movement of the needle could be achieved by turning on or off the MOSFETs. You can see the schematics and learn more about how this is achieved on the project’s GitHub page (at the time of writing, the most recent commits are in the ‘pcb’ branch).

In addition to the custom PCB that holds all the electronics, PCBs help make up the case as well. While the main body of the case is made out of a repurposed junction box, [SIrawit] had a PCB on an aluminum substrate manufactured for the front panel. While the board has no actual traces or electrical significance, this makes for a cheap and easy way to get a precisely cut piece of aluminum for your projects, with a sharp-looking white solder mask to boot.

We love to see cool and unique ways to tell the time, such as using Nixie Tubes to spell out the time in binary!

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the introduction page of "a summary of electronics"

This Electronics Overview Guides New Hackers In The Right Direction

Many of us don’t have a formal background to build off when taking on new hacks, we have had to teach ourselves complex concepts and learn by doing (or more commonly, by failing). To help new hackers get off the ground a bit easier, [PhilosopherFar3847] created a fantastic starter’s resource on electronics, The Electroagenda Summary of Electronics.

[PhilosipherFar3847] created Electroagenda with the goal of helping amateurs, students, and professionals alike better understand electronics. The Summary of Electronics, one of the more recent additions to the website, is split across 26 sections each breaking down a different electrical concept into easy-to-understand facts with no math or unfamiliar jargon. The summary covers a broad range of electronics, from simple passive components and their uses, up to the basic operating concepts of a microcontroller.

While this resource on its own will not be enough to get a fledgling hacker started making cool circuits, it does provide a very important skill; knowing how to ask the right questions. This base of knowledge provides enough context and keywords to better articulate a challenge and Google-fu a bit more effectively.

Are you the aforementioned fledgling hacker, looking to learn more? check out these nifty logic gates you can plug into each other to build a basic circuit.

[via r/diyelectronics]

an image of the mechanism used to move the curtains

Clever Mechanism Easily Automates Pulling The Blinds

There are few things that we all can agree we hate, and the shrill of your alarm clock waking you from a wonderful slumber is definitely high on that list. To wake up more naturally, [nutstobutts] created an automated curtain opener.

the automated curtain's driving motor

The curtain opener is very simple; a stepper motor in the control box pulls a string, which is run to an idler on the far side of the curtain rod and through two clips, attached to the back of each curtain. This design makes it so that both curtains will open smoothly at the same time, and will always come closed again directly in the center. This design is especially favorable for students in dorms or those that live in an apartment, as the installation requires no screws in the wall or permanent modification to the curtains.

The curtains can be opened and closed either by pressing a button on the control box or by sending HTTP requests to the ESP32 that controls everything. This allows for integration with many different IoT systems, for instance [nutstobutts] has been having Home Assistant open the curtains every morning at 6:30 a.m. in lieu of an alarm clock, and then closing them automatically at 9:00 a.m. to help save on cooling costs.

Automated curtains are a great first IoT project if you are looking to just get your feet wet, check out a different style we covered a few months back for more inspiration!

[via r/functionalprint]

Never Lose A Piece With 3D Printed Sliding Puzzles

Have you ever been about to finish a puzzle, when suddenly you realize there are more holes left than you have pieces? With [Nikolaos’s] 3D printed sliding puzzles, this will be a problem of the past!

An image showing the sliding dovetails of the puzzle
The dovetails, integrated into each piece, keep the puzzle together but still allows pieces to move.

The secret of the puzzle is in the tongue and groove system that captures the pieces while allowing them to slide past each other and along the puzzle’s bezel. The tongues are along the top and right sides of the pieces shown here, with the grooves along the left and bottom. There is only one empty spot on the board, so the player must be methodical in how they move pieces to their final destinations. See this in action in the video after the break.

[Nikolaos] designed the puzzle in Fusion 360, and used this as an opportunity to practice with parameters. He designed the model in such a way that any size puzzle could be generated by changing just 2 variables. Once the puzzle is the proper size, the image is added by importing and extruding an SVG.

Another cool aspect of these puzzles is that they are print-in-place, meaning that when the part is removed from the 3D printer, it is ready to use and fully assembled. No need to remove support material or bolt and glue together multiple components. Print-in-place is useful for more than just puzzles, you could also use this technique to 3D print wire connectors!

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