Custom Multi-Segment E-Ink Displays From Design To Driving

With multi-segment displays, what you see available online is pretty much what you get. LEDs, LCDs, VFDs; if you want to keep your BOM at a reasonable price, you’ve pretty much got to settle for whatever some designer thinks looks good. And if the manufacturer’s aesthetic doesn’t match yours, it’s tough luck for you.

Maybe not though. [upir] has a thing for custom displays, leading him to explore custom-made e-ink displays. The displays are made by a company called Ynvisible, and while they’re not exactly giving away the unique-looking flexible displays, they seem pretty reasonably priced. Since the displays are made with a screen printing process, most of the video below concerns getting [upir]’s preferred design into files suitable for printing. He uses Adobe Illustrator for that job, turning multi-segment design ideas by YouTuber [Posy] into chunky displays. There are some design restrictions, of course, chief of which is spacing between segments. [upir] shows off some Illustrator-fu that helps automate that process, as well as a host of general vector graphics design tips and tricks.

After sending off the design files to Ynvisible and getting the flexible displays back, [upir] walks us through the details of driving them. It’s not as simple as you’d think, at least in the Arduino world; the segments need +1.5 volts with reference to the common connection to turn on, and -1.5 volts to turn off. His clever solution is to use an Arduino Uno R4 and take advantage of the onboard DAC. To turn on a segment, he connects a segment to a GPIO pin set high while sending 3.5 volts out of the DAC output into the display’s common connection. The difference between the two pins is 1.5 volts, turning the segment on. To turn it off, he drops the DAC output to 1.5 volts and drives the common GPIO pin low. Pretty clever, and no extra circuitry is required.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [upir] trying to jazz things up in the display department. He’s played with masking LED matrix displays with SMD stencils before, and figured out how to send custom fonts to 16×2 displays too.

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A wooden box sits on a darker wooden table. The box has a red, glowing number 8 on it.

Ambient Display Tells You If Borealis Is Coming To Town

For those times when you’d rather not get sucked down another internet rabbit hole when you really just wanted the weather, an ambient display can be great. [AlexanderK106] built a simple ambient display to know the probability the Northern Lights would visit his town.

Starting with a NodeMCU featuring the ESP8266, [AlexanderK106] walks us through a beginner-friendly tutorial on how to do everything from configure the Arduino IDE, the basics of using a breadboard. finding a data source and parsing it, and finally sticking everything into an enclosure.

The 7-segment display is taped and set into the back of the 1/4″ pine with enough brightness to shine through the additional layer of veneer on top. The display is set to show one digit and then the next before a three second repeat. A second display would probably make this easier to use day-to-day, but we appreciate him keeping it simple for this tutorial.

Looking for more ambient displays? Checkout the Tempescope or this clock that lets you feel the temperature outside!

Scramblepad Teardown Reveals Complicated, Expensive Innards

What’s a Scramblepad? It’s a type of number pad in which the numbers aren’t in fixed locations, and can only be seen from a narrow viewing angle. Every time the pad is activated, the buttons have different numbers. That way, a constant numerical code isn’t telegraphed by either button wear, or finger positions when punching it in. [Glen Akins] got his hands on one last year and figured out how to interface to it, and shared loads of nice photos and details about just how complicated this device was on the inside.

Just one of the many layers inside the Scramblepad.

Patented in 1982 and used for access control, a Scramblepad aimed to avoid the risk of someone inferring a code by watching a user punch it in, while also preventing information leakage via wear and tear on the keys themselves. They were designed to solve some specific issues, but as [Glen] points out, there are many good reasons they aren’t used today. Not only is their accessibility poor (they only worked at a certain height and viewing angle, and aren’t accessible to sight-impaired folks) but on top of that they are complex, expensive, and not vandal-proof.

[Glen]’s Scramblepad might be obsolete, but with its black build, sharp lines, and red LED 7-segment displays it has an undeniable style. It also includes an RFID reader, allowing it to act as a kind of two-factor access control.

On the inside, the reader is a hefty piece of hardware with multiple layers of PCBs and antennas. Despite all the electronics crammed into the Scramblepad, all by itself it doesn’t do much. A central controller is what actually controls door access, and the pad communicates to this board via an unencrypted, proprietary protocol. [Glen] went through the work of decoding this, and designed a simplified board that he plans to use for his own door access controller.

In the meantime, it’s a great peek inside a neat piece of hardware. You can see [Glen]’s Scramblepad in action in the short video embedded below.

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The Seven-Segment Display That’s Also An Input Device

We’re used to seeing all manner of seven-segment displays, be they mechanical, electronic, or something in between. But what all these displays have in common is that they’re, you know, displays. Using them as inputs would just be crazy talk, right?

Perhaps, but we like where [Dave Ehnebuske] is going with “InSlide,” the seven-segment input device. The idea for this comes from the “DigiTag” display, which we covered back in October, and divides a standard seven-segment character into three vertical strips — two skinny ones for the outside vertical segments, and one wide strip holding the horizontal elements. By sliding these strips up and down relative to each other, the standard nine digits, plus a few other characters, can be composed.

[Dave]’s take on this theme started by building his display from laser-cut plywood pieces, which is a nice choice because of the good contrast between the white wood and the engraver segments. Next, he embedded rare earth magnets in the slides and installed seven Hall effect sensors in the frame. The sensors are connected to an Arduino Nano via a 74HC165 parallel-load shift register, which lets multiple modules be daisy-chained together. He also built an Arduino library to read the current state of the segments; it supports the full hexadecimal character set, or even duodecimal if you like.

[Dave] has shared the library, and it looks like you can get the build files for the mechanism from the original project. That’s good, because this looks ripe for hacking. It looks like it would be pretty easy to motorize a display like this by adding rack-and-pinion gearing and steppers — something like that could make an interesting clock.

Seven Segments, But Not As We Know Them

We’ve seen a lot of clever re-imagining of the classic 7-segment display, and proving there is still room for something new is [Jack]’s 7-segment “DigiTag” display.

This 3D printable device has a frame into which is slotted three sliders. These sliders can be adjusted individually, mixing and matching the visibility of colored and uncolored areas, to create digits 0-9. We’ve seen some unusual 7-segment-inspired displays before, using from one motor for the whole digit to ones that need one motor per segment, but nothing quite like this approach.

While this particular design relies on the user to manually “dial in” each digit, the resulting key-like assembly (and unique shape for each digit) seems like it could have some interesting applications — a puzzle box design comes to mind.

If you have any ideas of your own on how this could be used, don’t keep them to yourself! Let us know in the comments, below.

Digital Light Pipes Clock various view of seven-segment display using illuminated light-pipes

LED Clock Has Its Pipes On Display

For most hackers and makers, building a clock is a rite of passage. Few, though, will be as unusual and engaging as this design by [TerraG2].

By combining addressable LEDs, light pipes and 7-segment displays, [TerraG2] has built a timepiece that looks great and will surely be a great conversation starter as well. It’s packed full of features such as automatic brightness control, an accelerometer controlled user interface, and WiFi to make sure it’s always accurate.

partial rear view of the clock showing illuminated light pipes
Partial rear view of the clock showing illuminated light pipes

The decision to leave the light pipes visible behind the main display really makes the project stand out from other clock builds, and the methods [TerraG2] has used to achieve this look will no doubt be transferable to a host of other projects.

The LEDs are courtesy of a standard 8×8 RGB matrix, with a custom 3D-printed shroud to hold the light pipes in place and a clever connector at the other end to illuminate the segments. With two LEDs per segment, seven segments per digit, and four digits, there’s even room for some extra features down the line if you can think of a use for those eight spare LEDs.

The brain of the project is an ESP8266 D1 with an MPU6050 inertial measurement unit (IMU) to detect when it’s flipped over to change the color scheme.

Full documentation is on Github, and a video of the clock in use is after the break.

Light pipes have been used to great effect in some other clock projects we’ve seen, such as this modern Nixie clock and this “clock of clocks”, as well as in this light organ that we showed recently.

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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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