Mini-VFD Clock Floats The Display Above It All

As [sjm4306] says, “You can never have too many clocks based on obsolete display technologies.” We couldn’t agree more, and this single-tube VFD clock is one we haven’t seen before.

The vacuum-fluorescent display that [sjm4306] chose to base this clock on is the IV-21, an eight-digit seven-segment display on the smallish side. The tube is Russian surplus from the ’80s, as all such displays seem to be. The main PCB sports an ATMega328, a boost converter to provide the high voltage needed to run the VFD, a real-time clock, and the driver chip for the tube segments. The tube itself lives on a clever riser card that elevates the display above the main PCB and puts it at the proper angle for reading. [sjm4306] designed it to be modular; should you want to user a bigger VFD you need only make a new riser PCB. Figuring out the proper way to space the through-holes in Eagle proved elusive, but he hacked a solution using a spreadsheet to handle the trigonometry and spit out Cartesian coordinates for each hole. Pretty neat. The video below shows the clock assembly and a test.

We really like the look of this clock for some reason – perhaps it’s the quirky nature of the VFD, or the soft teal glow of the digits. We’ve featured plenty of clocks with odd displays before: VFDs large and small, faux-NIMO, de-encapsulated LED “filaments”, and lots and lots of Nixies.

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This Wristwatch Is A Free Form Work Of Art

Free-form circuitry built as open wire sculpture can produce beautiful pieces of electronics, but it does not always lend itself to situations in which it might be placed under physical stress. Thus the sight of [Mile]’s free-form wristwatch is something of a surprise, as a wristwatch cam be exposed to significant mechanical stress in its everyday use.

A wire Wrencher graces thewe underside.
A wire Wrencher graces the underside.

The electronic side of this watch is hardly unusual, the familiar ATmega328-AU low-power microcontroller drives a tiny OLED display. Mechanically though it is a different story, as the outline of a wristwatch shell is traced in copper wire with a very neat rendition of a Wrencher in its base, and a glass lens is installed over the screen to take the place of a watch glass. A strap completes the wristwatch, which can then be worn like any other. Power comes from a small 110 mAh lithium-polymer cell, which it is claimed gives between 6 and 7 hours of on time and over a month of standby with moderate use.

Unfortunately there does not seem to be much detail about the software in this project, but since ATmega328 clocks and watches are ten a penny we don’t think that’s a problem. The key feature is that free-form construction, and for that we like it a lot.

Handheld Game Console Puts Processing Power In The Cartridge

With the proliferation of cheap screens for use with microcontrollers, we’ve seen a matching proliferation in small handheld gaming projects. Pick your favourite chip, grab a screen off the usual suspects, add some buttons and you’re ready to go. [bobricius] has put a unique spin on this, with an unconventional cartridge-based build.

The main body of the handheld is constructed from attractive black and gold PCBs, and features a screen, some controls and an on/off switch. There’s also a microSD socket is on the board, which interfaces with cartridges which carry the microcontroller. Change the cart, and you can change the game.

[bobricius] has developed carts for a variety of common microcontroller platforms, from the Attiny85 to the venerable ATmega328. As the microSD slot is doing little more then sharing pins for the screen and controls, it’s possible to hook up almost any platform to the handheld. There’s even a design for a Raspberry Pi cart, just for fun.

It’s an entertaining take on the microcontroller handheld concept, and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. It reminds us of the Arduboy, which can even do 3D graphics if you really push it. Video after the break.

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Insert Coin (Cell) To Play LedCade

In this era of 4K UHD game console graphics and controllers packed full of buttons, triggers, and joysticks, it’s good to occasionally take a step back from the leading edge. Take a breath and remind ourselves that we don’t always need all those pixels and buttons to have some fun. The LedCade is a μ (micro) arcade game cabinet built by [bobricius] for just this kind of minimalist gaming.

Using just three buttons for input and an 8×8 LED matrix for output, the LedCade can nevertheless play ten different games representing classic genres of retro arcade gaming. And in a brilliant implementation of classic hardware hacking humor, a player starts their game by inserting not a monetary coin but a CR2032 coin cell battery.

Behind the screen is a piezo speaker for appropriately vintage game sounds, and an ATmega328 with Arduino code orchestrating the fun. [bobricius] is well practiced at integrating all of these components as a result of developing an earlier project, the single board game console. This time around, the printed circuit board goes beyond being the backbone, the PCB sheet is broken apart and reformed as the enclosure. With classic arcade cabinet proportions, at a far smaller scale.

If single player minimalist gaming isn’t your thing, check out this head-to-head gaming action on 8×8 LED arrays. Or if you prefer your minimalist gaming hardware to be paper-thin, put all the parts on a flexible circuit as the Arduflexboy does.

A Smartwatch You Can Easily Build Yourself

The concept of a smartwatch was thrown around for a long time before the technology truly came to fruition. Through the pursuit of miniaturisation, modern smartwatches are sleek, compact, and remarkably capable for their size. Companies such as Apple and Samsung throw serious money into research and development, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create something of your own. [Electronoobs] has done just that, with this Arduino-based smartwatch build.

The brain of the watch is that hacker staple, the venerable ATmega328, most well known for its use in the Arduino Uno and Nano platforms. An FTDI module is used for USB communication, making programming the board a snap. Bluetooth communication is handled by another pre-built module, and a smartphone app called Notiduino handles passing notifications over to the watch.

This is a build that doesn’t do anything crazy or difficult to understand, but simply combines useful parts in a very neat and tidy way. The watch is impressively thin and compact for a DIY build, and has a host of useful functions without going overboard.

We’ve seen other DIY builds in this space, too – such as this ESP8266-based smartwatch. Video after the break.

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A Perfectly Orderly Way To Manage Your Time

[Paul Gallagher] has spent years separating his tasks into carefully measured out blocks, a method of time management known as the Pomodoro Technique. If that’s not enough proof that he’s considerably more organized and structured than the average hacker, you only need to take a look at this gorgeous Pomodoro Timer he’s entered into the Circuit Sculpture Contest. Just don’t be surprised if you suddenly feel like your own time management skills aren’t cutting it.

While [Paul] has traditionally just kept mental note of the hour-long blocks of time he breaks his work into, he thought it was about time he put together a dedicated timer to make sure he’s running on schedule. Of course he could have used a commercially available timer or an application on his phone, but he wanted to make something that was simple and didn’t cause any distractions. A timer that was easy to start, reliable, and didn’t do anything extraneous. We’re not sure if looking like the product of a more advanced civilization was part of his official list of goals, but he managed to achieve it in any event.

The timer is broken up into two principle parts: the lower section which has the controls, USB port, a handful of passive components, and an ATmega328 microcontroller, and the top section which makes up the three digit LED display. The two sections are connected by a header on the rear side which makes it easy for [Paul] to take the timer apart if he needs to get back into it for any reason. Notably absent in the design is a RTC; the relatively short duration of the timer (up to a maximum of 95 minutes) means the ATmega328 can be trusted to keep track of the elapsed time itself with an acceptable amount of drift.

The display side of the timer is really a sight to behold, with the legs of each LED soldered to a pair of carefully bent copper wires so they match the angle of the front panel. The associated resistors have been artfully snipped so that their bodies sit flat on the PCB while their leads reach out to the perfect length. It looks like a maintenance nightmare in there, but we love it anyway.

As we near the half-way mark of the Circuit Sculpture Contest, there’s still plenty of time to submit your own piece of functional art. If you’ve got a project that eschews the printed circuit board for a chance to bare it all, write it up on and be sure to send it in before the January 8th, 2019 deadline.

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Want To Learn Ethernet? Write Your Own Darn AVR Bootloader!

There’s a school of thought that says that to fully understand something, you need to build it yourself. OK, we’re not sure it’s really a school of thought, but that describes a heck of a lot of projects around these parts.

[Tim] aka [mitxela] wrote kiloboot partly because he wanted an Ethernet-capable Trivial File Transfer Protocol (TFTP) bootloader for an ATMega-powered project, and partly because he wanted to understand the Internet. See, if you’re writing a bootloader, you’ve got a limited amount of space and no device drivers or libraries of any kind to fall back on, so you’re going to learn your topic of choice the hard way.

[Tim]’s writeup of the odyssey of cramming so much into 1,000 bytes of code is fantastic. While explaining the Internet takes significantly more space than the Ethernet-capable bootloader itself, we’d wager that you’ll enjoy the compressed overview of UDP, IP, TFTP, and AVR bootloader wizardry as much as we did. And yes, at the end of the day, you’ve also got an Internet-flashable Arduino, which is just what the doctor ordered if you’re building a simple wired IoT device and you get tired of running down to the basement to upload new firmware.

Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, cramming an Ethernet bootloader into 1 kB is amazing.

Speaking of bootloaders, if you’re building an I2C slave device out of an ATtiny85¸ you’ll want to check out this bootloader that runs on the tiny chip.