Iron Man Arc Reactor Clock Is A Stylish Piece

Iron Man was the film that kicked off the Marvel craze, and is widely regarded to be better than a lot of the movies that followed. If you’re a big fan of the OG, you’re probably already drowning in Iron Man helmets and arc reactor doo-dads, but here’s one more for you. After all, you probably don’t have an arc reactor clock yet.

The build comes to us from [jerome95]. It starts with an off-the-shelf ring of addressable LEDs, which serves as the basic defining dimension for the project. The ring gets a 3D printed support structure and some non-functional copper coils to complete the basic “arc reactor” look. Inside the center sits a small 7-segment display which displays the time under the command of an ESP32. It uses a network time server so it’s always on the dot.  Meanwhile, if you’re not a fan of the 7-segment version, you can always try the OLED variant of the build instead.

It’s not a complicated build; that could have been easily achieved, though. The builder could have displayed the time by making the LEDs flash different colors, instead of using a 7-segment display. However, that would have made a far more confounding clock. As it is, this design would make an excellent gift for any Marvel fan. Particularly those that acknowledge the supremacy of the film that started it all.

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Newly Completed Overly-Complex Clock Synchronizes Multiple Mechanisms

Some time ago [Kelton] was working on a clock inspired by Rube Goldberg contraptions. It uses only a single motor, and he’s proud to now show off the finished product (video, embedded below.)

The clock shows hours on the left, and minutes on the right. Every sixty minutes the clock drops a marble. That marble kicks off a series of visually-satisfying operations that culminate in advancing the hour. Then everything resets, and it continues for as long as it has power.

The hour oscillates in a very satisfying manner as it locks in.

At the top of each hour, the minute hand tips a marble with a gravity cam. That marble runs down a track gaining enough momentum to flip a kicker, and a short series of falling dominoes builds enough force to tip and trigger the spring-loaded ratchet that locks in a new hour. You can skip directly to 2:09 if you just want to listen to [Kelton] explain the whole operation from beginning to end.

We think it’s very interesting to note that this clock’s complexity is, if anything, understated. Each of the mechanisms involved must individually reset by their own separate mechanisms, each of which are as intriguing as their showier counterparts, and we’re sure they were every bit as difficult to get just right. And of course, it’s all driven by a single motor.

You may recall the promising start this clock project was off to and we’re delighted to see it come to completion, especially considering its complexity. Not every project sees completion, and fewer still get a version two, but that’s okay. What really floats our boat is seeing the process and details as well as hearing about what worked and what didn’t. We’re glad this clock reached the finish line, but even if something doesn’t work out, there’s always something to learn.

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Plight Of The Lowly Numitron Tube

In the 60’s and 70’s there were many ways to display numeric data. Nixie tubes, Vacuum Florescent Displays (VFD), micro projection systems, you name it. All of them had advantages and drawbacks. One of the simplest ways to display data was the RCA Numitron. [Alec] at Technology Connections has a bit of a love/hate relationship with these displays.

The Numitron is simply a seven-segment display built from light bulb filaments. The filaments run at 5 V, and by their nature are current limited.  Seven elements versus the usual ten seen in Nixie tubes reduced the number of switching elements (transistors, relays, or tubes) needed to drive them, and the single low-voltage supply was also much simpler than Nixie or even VFD systems.

Sounds perfect, right? Well, [Alec] has a bone to pick with this technology. The displays were quite dim, poorly assembled, and not very pleasing to look at. RCA didn’t bother tilting the “8” to fit the decimal point in! Even the display background was gray, causing the numbers to wash out in ambient light. Black would have been much better. In [Alec]’s words, the best way to describe the display would be “Janky,” yet he still enjoys them. In fact, he built a fancy retro-industrial-themed clock with them.

The Numitron was not a failure, though — we know variants of this display ended up in everything from gas pumps to aircraft cockpit gauges. You can even build an LED-based replica clock — no glowing filaments necessary.

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Intentionally Overly-Complex Clock Is Off To A Good Start

[Kelton] from Build Some Stuff decided to create a clock that not only had kinetic elements, but a healthy dose of Rube Goldberg inspiration. The result is a work in progress, but one that looks awfully promising.

The main elements of the design are rotating pieces that indicate the hours and minutes, but each hour is advanced solely by the satisfying physical culmination of multiple interacting systems. Those systems also completely reset themselves every hour.

Each hour, a marble run kicks off a short chain reaction that culminates in advancing the hour.

At the top of the hour, a marble starts down a track and eventually tips over a series of hinged “dominoes”, which culminate in triggering a spring-loaded ratchet that advances the hour. The marble then gets carried back to the top of the device, ready for next time. Meanwhile, the domino slats and spring-loaded ratchets all get reset by a pulley system.

There’s still some work to do in mounting the motor, pulley system, and marble run. Also, a few bugs have surfaced, like a slight overshoot in the hour display. All par for the course for a device with such a large number of moving parts, we suppose.

[Kelton] has a pretty good sense how it will all work in the end, and it looks promising. We can’t wait to see it in its final form, but the tour of clock so far is pretty neat. Check it out in the video, embedded just under the page break.

As for the clock’s inspiration, Rube Goldberg’s cultural impact is hard to overstate and our own Kristina Panos has an excellent article about the man that might just teach you something you didn’t know.

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Using The Moiré Effect For Unique Clock Face

If you’ve ever seen artifacts on a digital picture of a computer monitor, or noticed an unsettling shifting pattern on a TV displaying someone’s clothes which have stripes, you’ve seen what’s called a Moiré pattern where slight differences in striping of two layers create an emergent pattern. They’re not always minor annoyances though; in fact they can be put to use in all kinds of areas from art to anti-counterfeiting measures. [Moritz] decided to put a few together to build one of the more unique clock displays we’ve seen.

The clock itself is made of four separate Moiré patterns. The first displays the hours with a stretching pattern, the second and third display the minutes with a circular pattern, and the seconds are displayed with a a spiral type. The “hands” for the clock are 3D printed with being driven by separate stepper motors with hall effect sensors for calibration so that the precise orientation of the patterns can be made. A pair of Arduinos control the clock with the high-accuracy DS3231 module keeping track of time, and [Moritz] built a light box to house the electronics and provide diffuse illumination to the display.

Moiré patterns can be used for a number of other interesting use cases we’ve seen throughout the years as well. A while back we saw one that helps ships navigate without active animations or moving parts and on a much smaller scale they can also be used for extremely precise calipers.

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A Look Inside The Geochron Clock

There are plenty of cool clocks out there, and maps by their very essence are cool, too. But a map that’s also a clock — or is it a clock that’s also a map? — has to be the coolest thing ever.

Of course we’re talking about the Geochron, a world clock that makes the relationship between the Earth and the Sun clear and has graced the offices of executives who want to impress visitors with the global nature of their importance for decades. [Attoparsec] has long coveted one of these electromechanical beauties, and when a used one popped up online for a pittance, at least compared to what they cost new, he jumped at the chance.

The Geochron he ended up with was in need of some TLC, but surprisingly little considering its mid-1980s vintage. The real treat in the video below is getting to see how these wonderful devices work. They’re basically simple slide projectors. While we here in the future would simply do everything in software on a nice flat-screen display, the base map, night-day terminators, and calendar are all contained on transparent elements that move under the power of a synchronous motor across a lighted platen. The analemma display is particularly cool; an indicator tracks the Sun’s position over the Earth with a cam that encodes the equation of time in its shape, moving through its familiar bi-lobed loop as the seasons progress.

Any clock that comes with a set of blueprints for installation purposes is alright in our book, and kudos to [Attoparsec] for landing this prize and getting it back in shape. His description of it as “the greatest clock of all time” is apt, but perhaps with a little competition. Or maybe a lot.

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Tell Time And Predict The Heavens With This Astronomical Timepiece

Looking for a new project, or just want to admire some serious mechanical intricacy? Check out [illusionmanager]’s Astronomical Clock which not only tells time, but shows the the positions of the planets in our solar system, the times of sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, and more — including solar and lunar eclipses.

One might assume that the inside of the Astronomical Clock is stuffed with a considerable number of custom gears, but this is not so. The clock’s workings rely on a series of tabs on movable rings that interact with each other to allow careful positioning of each element. After all, intricate results don’t necessarily require complex gearing. The astrolabe, for example, did its work with only a few moving parts.

The Astronomical Clock’s mechanical elements are driven by a single stepper motor, and the only gear is the one that interfaces the motor shaft to the rest of the device. An ESP32-C3 microcontroller takes care of everything else, and every day it updates the position of each element as well as displaying the correct time on the large dial on the base.

The video below shows the clock in operation. Curious its inner workings? You can see the entire construction process from beginning to end, too.

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