An Easy Transparent Edge Lit Display

Displays are crucial to modern life; they are literally everywhere. But modern flat-panel LCDs and cheap 7-segment LED displays are, well, a bit boring. When we hackers want to display the progress of time, we want something more interesting, hence the plethora of projects using Nixie tubes and various incantations of edge-lit segmented units. Here is [upir] with their take on the simple edge-lit acrylic 7-segment design, with a great video explanation of all the steps involved.

Engraving the acrylic sheets by hand using 3D printed stencils

The idea behind this concept is not new. Older displays of this type used tiny tungsten filament bulbs and complex light paths to direct light to the front of the display. The modern version, however, uses edge-lit panels with a grid of small LEDs beneath each segment, which are concealed within a casing. This design relies on the principle of total internal reflection, created by the contrast in refractive indices of acrylic and air. Light entering the panel from below at an angle greater than 42 degrees from normal is entirely reflected inside the panel. Fortunately, tiny LEDs have a wide dispersion angle, so if they are positioned close enough to the edge, they can guide sufficient light into the panel. Once this setup is in place, the surface can be etched or engraved using a CNC machine or a laser cutter. A rough surface texture is vital for this process, as it disrupts some of the light paths, scattering and directing some of it sideways to the viewer. Finally, to create your display, design enough parallel-stacked sheets for each segment of the display—seven in this case, but you could add more, such as an eighth for a decimal point.

How you arrange your lighting is up to you, but [upir] uses an off-the-shelf ESP32-S3 addressable LED array. This design has a few shortcomings, but it is a great start—if a little overkill for a single digit! Using some straightforward Arduino code, one display row is set to white to guide light into a single-segment sheet. To form a complete digital, you illuminate the appropriate combination of sheets. To engrave the sheets, [upir] wanted to use a laser cutter but was put off by the cost. A CNC 3018 was considered, but the choice was bewildering, so they just went with a hand-engraving pick, using a couple of 3D printed stencils as a guide. A sheet holder and light masking arrangement were created in Fusion 360, which was extended into a box to enclose the LED array, which could then be 3D printed.

If you fancy an edge-lit clock (you know you do) check out this one. If wearables are more your thing, there’s also this one. Finally, etched acrylic isn’t anywhere near as good as glass, so if you’ve got a vinyl cutter to hand, this simple method is an option.

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Mechanical 7-Segment Display Looks Clean

[Jens] wanted a subscriber counter for his YouTube channel. He could have gone with a simple OLED, LCD, or LED display, but he wanted something more tactile and interesting. So he built a mechanical 7-segment display instead!

Currently, [Jens]’s channel is in the four-digit subscriber range, so he planned to build a four-digit display. He started by searching for existing projects in this space, and came across the designs of [shiura] on Thingiverse. [shiura] had a 3D printed cam-driven 7-segment digit that runs on a single servo motor. Once armed with four of the digits, he hooked them up to a Pi Pico W to drive them all with four servo outputs. The Pico W is responsible for querying the channel subscriber count online, and updating the display in turn.

It’s a neat build, and [Jens] learned some things along the way—like how Super Lube seemed to ruin filament for him. Ultimately, the build came good, and it looks great. We’ve seen some other mechanical 7-segment builds before, too!

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Saving A Clock Radio With An LM8562

Smart phones have taken the place of a lot of different devices especially as they get more and more powerful. GPS, music and video player, email, and of course a phone are all functions tied up in these general-purpose devices. Another casualty of the smart phone revolution is the humble bedside alarm clock as its radio, alarm, and timekeeping functionalities are also provided by modern devices. [zst123] has a sentimental attachment to the one he used in the 00s, though, and set about restoring it to its former glory.

Most of the issue with the clock involved drift with the timekeeping circuitry. Since it wasn’t accurately keeping the time anymore, losing around 10 minutes a day, the goal to save it was to use NTP to get the current time and a microcontroller to make the correction automatically. Rather than replace everything in the clock except the display, [zst123] is using the existing circuit board and adding an ESP8266 to grab the time from the Internet. A custom driver board reads the current time displayed on the clock directly from the display itself and then the ESP8266 can adjust it by using the existing buttons through a relay wired in parallel.

Using the existing circuitry was certainly a challenge especially since the display was multiplexed, but the LM8562 that came with these clock radios is a common and well-documented chip for driving displays like this, giving [zst123] a leg up over something unlabeled or proprietary. Using NTP is certainly a reliable and straightforward way of getting the current time too but there are a few other options for projects like these like using GPS or even a radio signal.

Kitchen timer project in a angled green 3d printed case with a 7 segment display and knob.

Printing A Brutalist Kitchen Timer

A kitchen timer is one of those projects that’s well defined enough to have a clear goal, but allows plenty of room for experimentation with functionality and aesthetics. [Hggh]’s exploration of the idea is a clean, Brutalist kitchen timer.

The case for [Hggh]’s kitchen timer is 3D printed with openings for a TM1637 four digit, seven segment display and for a KY-040 rotary encoder with knob attached. The internals are driven by an ATmega328P powered from a 18650 cell with a DW01-P battery protection chip and a TP4056 chip for charging. On the back of the case is a power switch and USB-C connector for power. It looks like the 3D printed case was sanded down to give it a smooth matte surface finish.

All the project files, including the STLs, OpenSCAD code, and KiCAD design, are available on GitHub. This Brutalist kitchen timer project is a nice addition to some of the kitchen timers we’ve featured in the past, including a minimalist LED matrix timer and a Nixie timer with keypad.

Triple Zone Clock Tells Time In Style

Although the cutoff for saying ‘Happy New Year’ is somewhere around today, there’s still plenty of time to reminisce about 2022 and all that we accomplished. Hackaday alum [Jeremy Cook] spent much of last year designing and building a triple-zone PCB clock, dubbed the 742 clock. It is called so because of all the 7-segments, and then 42 from the height in millimeters of each PCB. Also because it’s 24 backwards, and if we may be so bold, because 42.

If this looks familiar, it’s because we covered the single-panel version a few months ago. Much like that one, the triple time zone clock is controlled by a single Wemos D1 mini, and the other two panels are chained to the primary board. This version has a frame made of 20/20 extrusion with nice 3D printed caps on the ends to finish off the look.

As with the single-panel clock, this one uses bared-FR4 PCBs to diffuse the LEDs, and the effect looks really nice. We particularly like the capacitive corners that control the clock and the colors, which change throughout the day when left to their own devices. Be sure to check out the build video after the break.

Are you really into LEDs? Consider building a Berlin clock.

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Simple Stopwatch with two buttons, an eight digit 7-segment display and ICSP programming cable going into the board

Add An OSHW Certified Stopwatch To Your Toolkit

[MakingDevices] has created a simple stopwatch that makes for a nice introduction to surface mount electronic design and assembly. The project is open source hardware (OSHW) certified, with Gerbers, KiCAD files, and software all available.

Conceptually the stopwatch is straight forward, with a row of two four digit seven-segment displays being driven by a PIC18LF14k50 microcontroller through multiple NPN transistors. The PIC doesn’t quite have enough data lines to drive the two displays at once so an inverter is used to toggle between the two seven-segment blocks.

The circuit is continuously powered from a CR2032 coin cell battery. For normal usage with display, [MakingDevices] estimates 30+ hours of operation and 140+ hours without display, but still counting time. When idle, the “Extreme Low-Power (XLP)” capabilities of the PIC put the operating window estimates well beyond the self discharge of the coin cell battery. There’s an in circuit serial programming (ICSP) footprint that accepts a pogo pin TC2030-MCP-NL adapter for flashing the PIC.

Don’t let the simplicity fool you, this is a well documented project with detailed posts about the design, simulation and battery consumption. Various videos and glamour shots give a whole picture of the process, from design, assembly, testing to final validation.

It’d be wonderful to see the project extended or hacked on further, perhaps with a cute enclosure or case.

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You Can Build A Giant 7-Segment Display Of Your Very Own

Sometimes you need to display a number nice and large, making it easily readable at a good distance. [Lewis] has just the thing for that: a big expandable 7-segment display.

The build is modular, allowing it to be extended from 2 to 10 digits and beyond. The digits themselves are made of 3D-printed parts assembled onto acrylic. These can then be ganged up in a wooden frame for displaying larger numbers with more digits. Individual elements are lit by addressable LEDs, and the project can be built using an Arduino Nano or an ESP8266 for control. The latter opens up possibilities for controlling the screen over WiFi, which could prove useful.

[Lewis] has built his own version for a local swim club, where it will be used as a laptimer. Other applications could be as a scoreboard in various sports, or to confuse your neighbours by displaying random numbers in your front yard.

We’ve seen a similar build from [Ivan Miranda] that served well as a workshop clock, too. Video after the break.

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