Palm-Sized Sixteen Segments Light The Way To Our Hearts

It’s no secret that we here at the Hackaday are suckers for cool display. LEDs, OLEDs, incandescent, nixie or neon, you name it and we want to see it flash. So it fills us with joy to discover a new way to build large, daisy-chainable 16-segment digits, and even more excited to learn how easy they are to fab and assemble.

A cousin of the familiar 7 segment display, the 16 segment gives so many more possibilities (128% more possibilities to be exact) for digit display. To be specific, those extra segments unlock the ability to display upper and lowercase latin characters as well as scads of punctuation.

But where the character set is complex, the assembly is anything but thanks to a great design from [Kolibri] called klais-16. They’re available fully assembled if you want to jump straight to code, but thanks to thorough documentation (seriously, check this out) assembly is a snap.

Each module is composed a very boring PCBA base layer which should be inexpensive from the usual sources, even when ordering one fully assembled. A stackup of three more PCBs are used for spacing and diffusion with plans for die-cut or injection mold layers if a larger production run ends up happening. Board dimensions for each character are 100 mm x 66.66 mm (about 4″ x 2.5″). Put together, each module can stand on its own or be easily daisy-chained together to make a longer single display.

Addressing all those bits with an elaborate, ugly control scheme would be a drag but fortunately the firmware for the onboard STM8 microcontroller exposes a nice boring serial interface which can be used without configuration to display strings. There’s even an example Windows Batch script!

Mechanical Seven-Segment Display Really Sticks Out From The Pack

We’ve been displaying numbers using segmented displays for almost 120 years now, an invention that predates the LEDs that usually power the ubiquitous devices by a half-dozen decades or so. But LEDs are far from the only way to run a seven-segment display — check out this mechanical seven-segment display for proof of that.

We’ve been seeing a lot of mechanical seven-segment displays lately, and when we first spotted [indoorgeek]’s build, we thought it would be a variation on the common “flip-dot” mechanism. But this one is different; to form each numeral, the necessary segments protrude from the face of the display slightly. Everything is 3D-printed from white filament, yielding a clean look when the retracted but casting a sharp shadow when extended. Each segment carries a small magnet on the back which snuggles up against the steel core of a custom-wound electromagnet, which repels the magnet when energized and extends the segment. We thought for sure it would be loud, but the video below shows that it’s really quiet.

While we like the subtle contrast of the display, it might not be enough for some users, especially where side-lighting is impractical. In that case, they might want to look at this earlier similar display and try contrasting colors on the sides of each segment.

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Ultra-Cheap Microcontroller Powers Addressable 7-segment Display

Since their being revealed to our community over a year ago, the various ultra-cheap microcontrollers in the sub-ten-cent price range have attracted a lot of interest but not so many projects. Their slightly annoying programming and PIC12-derived architectures present a barrier not mitigated by their price, when picking up an Atmel or other processor represents a much easier choice. That’s not to say that they aren’t slowly making an appearance though, and a cracking example comes from [Tim], who’s used a Padauk microcontroller to make an addressable 7-segment display. If you’re used to addressable multi-colour LEDs, this extends the idea into the world of numerical information.

The result is a PCB little bigger than the 7-segment display it serves, with interlocking 0.1″ pin connectors allowing daisy-chaining of modules. The extreme low cost of the parts makes it an attractive solution. Software wise it’s driven in a similar manner to addressable LEDs, and he goes into significant detail on its protocol. The firmware can be found in a GitHub repository. He directs readers to the Easy PDK programmer and the Small Device C compiler, which should be of interest to anyone tempted by these processors.

Edge-Lit 7-Segments Clock The New Normal

People keep saying that time has lost all meaning now, but we’re still over here divvying up the days with hacks. Most of the hacks you see here are open source. But if you want something even more transparent to meter out the meaninglessness, we invite you to make one of these clearly awesome see-through clocks, which happens to be both.

A word of warning though — according to [GeekMomProjects], this is an incredibly fiddly build with tight tolerances everywhere that acrylic meets acrylic or an LED strip. We can see how it might be like forcing fragile puzzle pieces together. Since the whole thing is crystal clear acrylic, light is going to go everywhere.

[GeekMomProjects] cleverly blocked the escaping light by painstakingly applying non-conductive adhesive foil to the edges of all the smaller pieces. In spite of all that work, we think it would be worth it to have such a fantastic timepiece glowing away the hours somewhere in the house.

Electronically speaking, this beauty is pretty simple. The lights run off of an ItsyBitsy M4 Express, and the time is separately fetched with an ESP8266. [GeekMomProjects] had so much fun that she made one with seconds and one without. Check out their RGB dance routine after the break.

If you prefer your blinky 7-segment clocks a bit more utilitarian, here’s a clock made of shelves.

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Little Hex Tricks Make Little Displays A Little Easier

Depending on the device in hand and one’s temperament, bringing up a new part can be a frolic through the verdant fields of discovery or an endless slog through the grey marshes of defeat. One of the reasons we find ourselves sticking with tried and true parts we know well is that interminable process of configuration. Once a new display controller is mostly working, writing convenience functions to make it easier to use can be very satisfying, but the very first thing is figuring out how to make it do anything at all. Friend of Hackaday [Dan Hienzsch] put together a post describing how to use a particular LED controller which serves as a nice walkthrough of figuring out the right bitmath to make things work, and includes a neat trick or two.

The bulk of the post is dedicated to describing the way [Dan] went about putting together his libraries for a 7-segment display demo board he makes. At its heart the board uses the IS31FL3728 matrix driver from ISSI. We love these ISSI LED controllers because they give you many channels of control for relatively low cost, but even with their relative simplicity you still need to do some bit twiddling to light the diodes you need. [Dan]’s post talks about some strategies for making this easier like preconfigured lookup tables with convenient offsets and masking bits to control RGB LEDs.

There’s one more trick which we think is the hidden star of the show; a spreadsheet which calculates register values based on “GUI” input! Computing the bit math required to control a display can be an exercise in frustration, especially if the logical display doesn’t fit conveniently in the physical register map of the controller. A spreadsheet like this may not be particularly sexy but it gets the job done; exactly the kind of hack we’re huge fans of here. We’ve mirrored the spreadsheet┬áso you can peek at the formulas inside, and the original Excel document is available on his blog.

Photochromic Screen Makes For An Interesting Clock

The clock project will always be a hacker staple, giving the builder a great way to build something useful and express their individual flair. [Mosivers] was undertaking a build of their own and decided to go for a twist, creating a timepiece with a photochromic display.

The clock uses an Arduino Nano to run the show, hooked up to a 4-digit, 7-segment display that is custom built on protoboard. By using ultraviolet LEDs and placing them behind a reactive screen, it’s possible to create a unique display. The clock can be used with two different screens: a photochromic display created with UV-reactive PLA filament that turns purple when excited by UV light, and a glow-in-the-dark screen for night use.

It’s a fun twist on a simple clock design, and the purple-on-white digits are sure to raise some eyebrows among curious onlookers. Photochromic materials are fun to play with, and can make eggs and glass much more visually interesting. Video after the break.

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New PCB Revives Ancient Bubble LED Displays

For those of us who remember LED calculators, the HP 5082-7400 series red “bubble” displays hold a special charm. Available in 3, 4, or 5-digit varieties, these multiplexed 7-segment displays provided countless hours of entertainment to those who would spell upside-down words on their pocket calculators. In case you happen to be lucky enough to have access to a few of these beautiful vintage display sticks, [Gigawipf] has designed a small driver PCB that lets you easily interface them to a modern microcontroller.

At the heart of the board, aimed at either the 5082-7405 or 5082-7415 5-digit modules, are a pair of 74HC595 shift registers in tiny QFN packages. Five lines from one register drive one of the common cathodes for the selected digit, while the other register drives the eight anode lines through 330-Ohm resistors. The boards are slightly smaller than the width of the displays allowing you to stack them seamlessly for more digits, and eight header pins on each allow you to plug them into solderless breadboards for prototyping. The result is easy to drive with some simple code, and [Gigawipf] provides an example for Arduino as part of the project. The Eagle design files are supplied, as well as Gerbers for those who just want to have some boards made. This sounds like a great way to get some of these vintage displays going again.

If you can’t find any of these displays to play, with, you can try making some larger digits from individual surface-mount LEDs.