LED Bubbles From The 1970s Tell The Time

[CuriousMarc] is nothing if not curious. Finding some old TI timekeeping chips to reverse engineer, he set out to make a clock using old-fashioned “bubble LEDs.” You can see the result of his tinkering in the video below. For the uninitiated, bubble LEDs are 7-segment LEDs with magnifying bubbles over each digit. These were popular in calculators, watches, and other places that used LEDs before LCDs largely displaced them.

The history of these has to do with the power required to light an LED. You don’t technically need a magnifying lens, but larger LEDs take more power. These displays were relatively low power and used tiny LEDs with light pipes to make each dot a full segment. The lens made the segments larger and easier to see.

Beyond the TI chip and HP displays, there isn’t too much else needed. [Marc] just wired the whole thing using the IC as a substrate. Sort of dead bug construction using enameled wire. At first, it didn’t work but it turned out to be a battery issue. The device really wanted 2.5 V and not the 3 V provided by the battery. The solution required a little detective work.

We know this isn’t a very practical project, but we love seeing this old tech again and while the dead bug construction isn’t beautiful, there is something appealing about the look of it. Maybe one day people will build steampunk things and discopunk will be for the 1970s?

We’ve seen bubble LED projects before. If you want something more in a watch form factor, that exists, too.

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Commodore 1530 Datasette Gets A Digital Counter

Ah, the humble Commodore 1530 Datasette drive. It never enjoyed much popularity in the USA, but it was the standard for quite some time in Europe. [DerSchatten13] still uses and loves his 1530. When a co-worker showed him some 7-segment bubble LEDs, he knew what he had to do. Thus the 1530 digital counter (translated) was born.

[DerSchatten13] started out by building his design on a breadboard. He used every I/O pin on an ATtiny2313 to implement his circuit. Tape motion is detected by a home-made rotary encoder connected to the original mechanical counter’s belt drive. To keep the pin count down, [DerSchatten13] multiplexed the LEDs on the display.

Now came the hard part, tearing into the 1530 and removing the mechanical counter. [DerSchatten13] glued in some standoffs to hold the new PCB. After rebuilding the circuit on a piece of perfboard, he installed the new parts. The final result looks great on the inside. From the outside, one would be hard pressed to tell the digital counter wasn’t original equipment.

Operation of the digital counter is identical to the analog unit – with one exception. The clear button now serves double duty. Pressing and holding it saves the current count. Save mode is indicated by turning on the decimal point. If the user rewinds the tape, the counter will stop the motor when the saved count is reached. Cueing up that saved program just got a heck of a lot easier!

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