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.
Mechanically these are standard pixels that use an electromagnetic coil to pivot a disc between two states. But immediately you’ll see the inert display has a mosaic printed right on the dots. It gets even more fun to realize the same image is present on the rear of the dots but in a different color palette. In the case of this piece, entitled Empire State, it looks like a sunny day on one side and an overcast day on the reverse.
We wondered what this art collective was up to when they began selling flip-dot modules they had designed back in 2016. Having those kinds of connections meant they were able to sweet-talk their manufacturing partners into custom printing colors on the discs during manufacture. The group continues to use their camera-based interactivity that represents silhouettes on the display. The innovative color palette still lets that work quite well, but one really interesting animation choice here is an indeterminate flutter of the pixels. It builds a Matrix-style waterfall animating into the image, beckoning the viewer to walk over with the ulterior motive that this brings them within camera range.
Most people find two problems when it comes to flip-dot displays: where to buy them and how to drive them. If you’re [Pierre Muth] you level up and add the challenge of driving them fast enough to rival non-mechanical displays like LCDs. It was a success, resulting in a novel and fast way of controlling flip-dot displays.
If you’re lucky, you can get a used flip-dot panel decommissioned from an old bus destination panel, or perhaps the arrivals/departures board at a train station. But it is possible to buy brand new 1×7 pixel strips which is what [Pierre] has done. These come without any kind of driving hardware; just the magnetized dots with coils that can be energized to change the state.
The problem comes in needing to reverse the polarity of the coil to achieve both set and unset states. Here [Pierre] has a very interesting idea: instead of working out a way to change the connections of the coils between source and sink, he’s using a capacitor on one side that can be driven high or low to flip the dot.
Using this technique, charging the capacitor will give enough kick to flip the dot on the display. The same will happen when discharged (flipping the dot back), with the added benefit of not using additional power since the capacitor is already charged from setting the pixel. A circuit board was designed with CMOS to control each capacitor. A PCB is mounted to the back of a 7-pixel strip, creating modules that are formed into a larger display using SPI to cascade data from one to the next. The result, as you can see after the break, does a fantastic job of playing Bad Apple on the 24×14 matrix. If you have visions of one of these on your own desk, the design files and source code are available. Buying the pixels for a display this size is surprisingly affordable at about 100 €.
We’re a bit jealous of all the fun displays [Pierre] has been working on. He previously built a 384 neon bulb display that he was showing off last Autumn.
I was buying a new laptop the other day and had to make a choice between 4GB of memory and 8. I can remember how big a deal it was when a TRS-80 went from 4K (that’s .000004 GB, if you are counting) to 48K. Today just about all RAM (at least in PCs) is dynamic–it relies on tiny capacitors to hold a charge. The downside to that is that the RAM is unavailable sometimes while the capacitors get refreshed. The upside is you can inexpensively pack lots of bits into a small area. All of the common memory you plug into a PC motherboard–DDR, DDR2, SDRAM, RDRAM, and so on–are types of dynamic memory.
The other kind of common RAM you see is static. This is more or less an array of flip flops. They don’t require refreshing, but a static RAM cell is much larger than an equivalent bit of dynamic memory, so static memory is much less dense than dynamic. Static RAM lives in your PC, too, as cache memory where speed is important.
For now, at least, these two types of RAM technology dominate the market for fast random access read/write memory. Sure, there are a few new technologies that could gain wider usage. There’s also things like flash memory that are useful, but can’t displace regular RAM because of speed, durability, or complex write cycles. However, computers didn’t always use static and dynamic RAM. In fact, they are relatively newcomers to the scene. What did early computers use for fast read/write storage?