The build started when [Victor] wished to create an old-school arcade-style game. Aiming to work with limited hardware, just like the pioneers, he settled on using the PIC18F86K22, with less than 4KB of RAM and just 64KB of program space to play with. Hooked up to a 256 x 64 OLED screen with a pleasant green glow, he set about recreating Arkanoid in assembly language.
With this done, [Victor] noted that the retro-looking display was rather pleasant. At this point, the device was repurposed into a clock, with the program generating an Arkanoid level in the shape of the current time. The AI would then play the game, destroying the bricks each minute before the level changed.
When training neural networks to recognise things, what you need is a big pile of training data. You then need a subsequent pile of testing data to verify that the network is working as you’d expect. In the field of handwriting recognition, the MNIST database is commonly used to train networks on handwritten numerals. After [Evan Pu] mentioned it would be fun to use this data to create a clock, [Dheera Venkatraman] got down to work.
The MNIST database contains 60,000 training images, and 10,000 test images. [Dheera] selected an ESP32 to run the project, which packs 4MB of flash storage – more than enough to store the testing database at 196 bytes per numeral. This also gives the project network connectivity, allowing the clock to use Network Time Protocol to stay synchronised – thus eliminating the need for an external RTC. Digits are displayed on four separate e-ink displays, which fits well with the hand-drawn aesthetic. It also means the clock doesn’t unduly light up the room at night.
It’s a fun project that will likely draw a knowing chuckle from those working in the field of handwriting recognition. We’d love to have one on our desk, too. If you’re thinking of attempting a build yourself, check out our recent contest for more inspiration!
Nixie tubes are a hacker favorite for their warm glow and elegant, mid-century numerals. They’re also a pain to drive, demand high voltages, and aren’t exactly cheap and easy to come by. Never mind, for there are other ways to go – as [Alex Fox] demonstrates with the Foxie Clock.
The Foxie clock gets its name from its creator, in a portmanteau with the famous Nixie tubes. Rather than going with gas-filled extravagances, instead, acrylic pieces are engraved with similar numerals to the old technology. These are edge-lit by what appear to be WS2812 addressable LEDs, or similar. This led [Alex] to realise that the clock could also be configured to display in an alternate mode, instead creating numerals using the individual RGB LEDs as segments behind a frosted acrylic panel.
It’s a versatile project that ended up working as a clock in two unique yet appealing ways. We’re a sucker for a quality retro typeface, so are firmly on Team Edge-Lit, but sound off in the comments which you think is best. Others have attempted similar builds, too. And remember, if you can’t get your hands on one part, it always pays to experiment!
The results are in and the Tell Time Contest was a spectacular showing of creativity. Five winners and a number of runners-up have have been chosen based on craftsmanship, functionality, and creativity.
The one that’s going to steal your heart is Fetch: A Ferrofluid Display. Pitting the force of gravity against electromagnetism, this project manages to wrangle a liquid into the segments of a display and the animations used to change between numbers are fascinating. It’s a wickedly complicated system and the gang over at Applied Procrastination did a great job of documenting the research and development that went into building this open source marvel. Has anyone tried to replicate it? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!
UV Glow-In-The-Dark Plot Clock
Mechanical movements date back to the transition away from sundials and hourglasses, but these two modern takes on “clockwork” prove there’s still plenty of room for creativity. The first is a plotter that uses two servo motors and a UV LED to draw hours and minutes on a phosphorescent material.
Congratulations to all of our runners-up in the Tell Time contest. It was a tight field with 160 total entries, each of them a fascinating take on the simple, yet very complex practice of watching the seconds tick away. Add this to your weekend bucket list as you’ll certainly get lost in the details of many of these projects.
There’s a Raspberry Pi to fetch the time, the weather, and the Spotify. Old flip clocks invariably tuned in FM radio, so [iz2k] used an RTL-SDR dongle and a software decoder for the deed. This clock even has a big snooze bar, which functions like a night light when there is no alarm actively going off. The three groups of painstakingly-printed flaps are controlled with stepper motors and an IR transmitter/receiver pair to do the counting.
For the interface, [iz2k] kept things nice and simple. The big-knobbed rotary encoder handles volume up/down/mute, and the little one on the front switches between FM radio, Spotify, and silence. Moving either knob generates feedback by flashing LEDs that sit underneath the display. Take a few seconds to flip past the break and check out the short demo.
A staple of consumer devices for decades, seven segment displays are arguably one of the most recognizable electronic components out there. So it’s probably no surprise they’re cheap and easy to source for our own projects. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for personal interpretation.
[MacCraiger] wanted to build a wall clock with the classic seven segment LED look, only his idea was to make it slightly larger than average. With RGB LED strips standing in for individual LEDs, scaling up the concept isn’t really a problem on a technical level; the tricky part is diffusing that many LEDs and achieving the orderly look of a real seven segment display.
All those segments perfectly cut out of a sheet of plywood come courtesy of a CNC router. Once the rectangles had been cut out, [MacCraiger] had to fill them with something that could soften up the light coming from the LEDs mounted behind them. He decided to break up a bunch of glass bottles into small chunks, lay them inside the segments, and then seal them in with a layer of clear epoxy. The final look is unique, almost as though the segments are blocks of ice.
At first glance the use of a Raspberry Pi Zero to control the LED strips might seem overkill, but as it turns out, [MacCraiger] has actually added in quite a bit of extra functionality. The purists might say it still could have been done with an ESP8266, but being able to toss some Python scripts on the Linux computer inside your clock certainly has its appeal.
The big feature is interoperability with Amazon’s Alexa. Once he tells the digital home assistant to set an alarm, the clock will switch over to a countdown display complete with digits that change color as the timer nears zero. He’s also written some code that slowly shifts the colors of the digits towards red as the month progresses, a great way to visualize at a glance how close you are to blowing past that end of the month deadline.
Why would anyone want to be confronted by a count of the number of seconds left until you’ve made 80 trips around the sun? We can think of plenty of reasons not to, but creator [Jia Xun Chai] thought it would be somehow motivating to see the seconds tick irretrievably by while going about his life. Thus the idea for “Lifeclocc” came to be, with its ten seven-segment displays and Teensy to tally up and display the number of seconds left in a nominal 80-year life. A DS3231 RTC module keeps it on track between power-offs. It’s not clear what happens when you hit your 80th birthday; we assume it rolls over and starts counting up as you start playing in the bonus round. No word either on what happens should you croak with time left on the clock. Answer these questions and many more by building one yourself, or you can just wait for the Kickstarter.
It took [Jia Xun] three years to develop Lifeclocc, during which time his personal life clock decreased by 94,608,000 seconds. We will say that the finished product, with its matte-finish PCB, makes a handsome timepiece. Circuit sculptor [Mohit Bhoite] took a less-angsty stab at a similar clock, the cute appearance of which is no doubt intended to blunt the pain of impending doom.