GPS Self-Adjusting Clock With An E-Ink Display

If you mention a clock that receives its time via radio, most people will think of one taking a long wave signal from a station such as WWVB, MSF, or DCF77. A more recent trend however has been for clocks that set themselves from orbiting navigation satellites, and an example comes to us from [KK99].  It’s a relatively simple hardware build in that it is simply an Arduino Nano, GPS module, and e-ink display module wired together, but it provides an interesting exercise in running through the code required for a GPS clock.

It does however give us a chance to remember the story from last year surrounding WWVB, as a budget proposal last year mooted the prospect of the closure of the Fort-Collins-based time signal transmitter. Were that to happen an estimated 50 million American clocks would lose their reference, and while their owners could always update them manually, there will always be time-based systems to which that won’t be applied for whatever reason.  Europeans meanwhile are safe in their time transmissions for now , but in case they think they have their mains grid to fall back on it’s worth remembering the time they lost six seconds.

GPS satellite image: USAF [Public domain].

Vintage Camera Flash Turned OLED Desk Clock

After covering a few of his builds at this point, we think it’s abundantly clear that [Igor Afanasyev] has a keen eye for turning random pieces of antiquated hardware into something that’s equal parts functional and gorgeous. He retains the aspects of the original which give it that unmistakable vintage look, while very slickly integrating modern components and features. His work is getting awfully close to becoming some kind of new art form, but we’re certainly not complaining.

His latest creation takes an old-school “Monopak” electronic flash module and turns it into a desk clock that somehow also manages to look like a vintage television set. The OLED displays glowing behind the original flash diffuser create an awesome visual effect which really sells the whole look; as if the display is some hitherto undiscovered nixie variant.

On the technical side of things, there’s really not much to this particular build. Utilizing two extremely common SSD1306 OLED displays in a 3D printed holder along with an Arduino to drive them, the electronics are quite simple. There’s a rotary encoder on the side to set the time, though it would have been nice to see an RTC module added into the mix for better accuracy. Or perhaps even switch over to the ESP8266 so the clock could update itself from the Internet. But on this build we get the impression [Igor] was more interested in playing with the aesthetics of the final piece than fiddling with the internals, which is hard to argue with when it looks this cool.

Noticing the flash had a sort of classic TV set feel to it, [Igor] took the time to 3D print some detail pieces which really complete the look. The feet on the bottom not only hold the clock at a comfortable viewing angle, but perfectly echo the retro-futuristic look of 50s and 60s consumer electronics. He even went through the trouble of printing a little antenna to fit into the top hot shoe, complete with a metal ring salvaged from a key-chain.

Late last year we were impressed with the effort [Igor] put into creating a retro Raspberry Pi terminal from a legitimate piece of 1970’s laboratory equipment, and more recently his modern take on the lowly cassette player got plenty of debate going. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

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Random Word Pairings Mark The Time On This Unusual Clock

Gosh, the fun we had when digital calculators became affordable enough that mere grade school students could bring one to class. The discovery that the numbers could be construed as the letters of various dirty words when viewed upside down was the source of endless mirth. They were simpler times.

This four-letter-word “clock” aims to recreate that whimsical time a bit, except with full control over the seven-segment displays and no need to look at it upside down. This descends from a word clock [WhiskeyTangoHotel] made previously and relies on a library of over 1000 four-letter words that can be reasonably displayed using seven-segment displays, most of them SFW but some mildly not. A PICAXE is used to select two of the four-letter words to display every second or so, making this a clock only by the loosest of definitions. Word selection is pseudorandom, seeded by noise from a floating ADC pin, but some of the word pairings in the video below seem to belie a non-random sense of humor. As is, there are over a million pairings possible; it might be fun to add in the full set of two- and three-letter words as well and see what sort of merriment ensues.

While we like the Back to the Future vibe here, we’ve seen some other really nice word clocks lately. There was the one that used PCBs as the mask for the characters, and then a rear-projection word clock that really looks great.

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ESP32 Alarm Clock Doesn’t Skimp On The Features

The ESP family of microcontrollers is absolutely on fire right now, with a decent chunk of the projects that come our way now based on one of the impossibly cheap WiFi-enabled boards. In fact, they are so cheap and popular that we’ve started to see a somewhat unexpected trend; people have a tendency to use them as drop-in replacements, despite the more modern boards being considerably more powerful than required. The end result is a bunch of projects in which the ESP is simply underutilized. It’s not a big deal, but somewhat disappointing to see.

But we can assure you this ESP32 alarm clock created by [Pangodream] is absolutely not one of them. He’s packed an impressive number of features into this unassuming little timepiece, and it’s really an excellent example of how much these boards are capable of without breaking a sweat. From DIY touch sensors to the Android application used to configure the clock over the network, this project is overflowing with neat hardware and software tricks worth taking a closer look at.

Inside the 3D printed case, the clock features a BH150 light sensor, the very popular DHT-11 for detecting temperature and humidity, as well as a ILI9341 2.8 inch LCD for the display. In a particularly clever touch (get it?), [Pangodream] used three coins connected to the digital pins of the ESP32 as capacitive sensors. These allow him to interact with the click just by tapping the top of the case, and saved him the trouble of adding traditional switches or buttons. We might have put some indentations in the top case to make identifying which of the three “buttons” you’re pushing, but we suppose the invisible interface does make things look a little more futuristic.

But if even that is too much physical touching for you, then [Pangodream] has come up with a fairly robust system for controlling and interacting with the clock over the network. It’s not just a convenient way of setting the time, a good number of the clock’s functions can be polled and configured in this manner; everything from the sensitivity of the touch sensors to how many times it will beep when the alarm goes off. To make things easier, he’s even wrapped it all up in a handy Android application for on the go configuration.

If this clock doesn’t offer you the level of over-engineering you require, check out this build that uses no less than five ESP32s to get the job done. Or maybe this one that hooks into NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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A Word Clock, The Hard Way

We’ve all seen word clocks, and they’re great, but there are only so many ways to show the time in words. This word clock with 114 servos is the hard way to do it.

We’re not sure what [Moritz v. Sivers] was aiming for with this projection clock, but he certainly got it right. The basic idea is to project the characters needed to compose the time messages onto a translucent PVC screen, which could certainly have been accomplished with just a simple character mask and some LEDs. But for extra effect, [Moritz] mounted each character to a letterbox mounted over a Neopixel. The letterboxes are attached to a rack and pinion driven by a micro servo. The closer they get to the screen, the sharper the focus and the smaller the size of the character. Add in a little color changing and the time appears to float out from a jumbled, unfocused background. It’s quite eye-catching, and worth the 200+ hours of printing time it took to make all the parts. Complete build instructions are available, and a demo video is after the break.

We like pretty much any word clock – big, small, or even widescreen. This one really pushes all our buttons, though.

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Let A Dinosaur Show You The Future

Our lives in the 21st century are in part governed by a series of systems which we rarely encounter directly but which can have a great impact upon our lives. The oil futures market, for example, for which [Igor Nikolic] has created a real-time visualisation in the form of a clock in which the “hand” is a plastic dinosaur (As ever, XKCD reminds us that oil contains homeopathic quantities of real dinosaur, but it makes a good talking point).

The clock is part of a series continuing from his previous grid balance lamp project which monitored supply and demand in the electricity grid, and takes a feed of oil futures pricing to an MQTT server which is then picked up by an ESP8266 in the clock. The dinosaur hand is attached to a stepper motor, the position of which is set according to the market movements. There are also three LEDs whose colours change according to price. The whole is mounted on a plaque made from the top of an oil drum, and placed for effect over a map of the Port of Rotterdam, one of Europe’s busiest trading hubs.

Monitoring of these invisible socio-technical systems is a fascinating subject, and in the past we have brought you news of the very real impact they can have on entire continents when international politics intrude.

A Scratch Built VFD Clock with Inner Beauty

Vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs) are one of those beautiful pieces of bygone technology that you just don’t see much of anymore. At one time they were a mainstay of consumer electronics, but today they’ve largely been replaced with cheaper and more energy efficient displays such as LEDs and LCDs. While they might be objectively better displays, we can’t help but feel a pang of regret seeing a modern kitchen bereft of that unmistakable pale green glow.

If his impressive VFD clock is any indication [Simón Berraud] feels the same way. Not only does the clock’s display instantly trigger waves of nostalgia, but the custom PCB has that mistakable look of consumer electronics circa 1985. If we didn’t know better, we’d think this thing fell through a time warp.

Well, if it wasn’t for the SMD ATmega328 on the flip side of the board, anyway. In addition to the MCU, the clock features four ULN2003AN Darlington transistor arrays to drive the VFD, and a M48T08 Real Time Clock to keep the whole thing ticking.

The careful observer might notice a distinct lack of buttons or switches on the clock, and wonder how this retro wonder is set. In a particularly radical hack, [Simón] sets the time with a hard coded variable in the source code; you just need to set it far enough into the future so that you have enough time to power it up at the appropriate moment.

[Simón] has put the Arduino-flavored source code for the ATmega328 as well as the schematics and board files in his GitHub repository for anyone else who might want to take a walk down memory lane. While you’re at it, you may want to look at these tips for getting unknown VFDs up and running, as well as this interesting explanation of how they can be used as amplifiers if you’re really looking for style points.