An Atomic Pendulum Clock Accurate Enough For CERN

That big grandfather clock in the library might be an impressive piece of mechanical ingenuity, and an even better example of fine cabinetry, but we’d expect that the accuracy of a pendulum timepiece would be limited to a sizable fraction of a minute per day. Unless, of course, you work at CERN and built  “the most accurate pendulum clock on the planet.”

While we’re in no position to judge [Daniel Valuch]’s claim, we’re certainly inclined to believe him, mainly because the 1950s-era Czechoslovakian pendulum clock his project was based on, the Elektročas HH3, was built specifically as a master clock for labs, power plants, and broadcast use. The pendulum of this mid-century beauty is made of the alloy invar, selected for its exceptionally low coefficient of thermal expansion. This ensures the pendulum doesn’t change length with temperature, but it still only brings the clock into the 0.1 second/day range.

Clearly that’s not good enough for a clock at CERN, the European Laboratory for Nuclear Research, where [Daniel] works as an RF engineer. With access to a 10-MHz timebase from a cesium fountain atomic clock — no less a clock than the one that’s used to define the SI second, by the way — [Daniel] looked for ways to sync the clock up to it. Now, we know what you’re thinking — he must have used some kind of PLL to give an electromagnetic “kick” to the bob to trim the pendulum’s period. Good guess on the PLL, but the trimming method is a little cruder — [Daniel] uses a stepper motor attached to the clock’s frame to pay out or retract a length of fine chain into a cardboard dish attached to the pendulum’s rod. The change in mass changes the pendulum’s center of gravity, which changes its effective length, and allows the clock to be tuned a couple of seconds per day.

It seems like [Daniel] is claiming that his chain-corrected clock won’t drift more than a second from the cesium clock for 158 million years. Again, we’ll take his word for it, but it’s a wonderfully ad hoc approach to tuning the clock, and we appreciate its simplicity.

3D-Printable Sculpture Shows Off Unpredictable Order Of Chains

[davemoneysign] designed this fascinating roller chain kinetic sculpture, which creates tumbling and unpredictable patterns and shapes as long as the handle is turned; a surprisingly organic behavior considering the simplicity and rigidity of the parts.

3D-printed, with a satisfying assembly process.

The inspiration for this came from [Arthur Ganson]’s Machine With Roller Chain sculpture (video, embeded below). The original uses a metal chain and is motor-driven, but [davemoneysign] was inspired to create a desktop and hand-cranked manual version. This new version is entirely 3D-printed, and each of the pieces prints without supports.

According to [davemoneysign], the model works well with a chain of 36 links, but one could easily experiment with more or fewer and see how that changes the results. Perhaps with the addition of a motor this design could be adapted into something like this chains-and-sprockets clock?

You can see [Arthur Ganson]’s original in action in the video embedded below. It demonstrates very well the piece’s chaotic and unpredictable — yet oddly orderly — movement and shapes. Small wonder [davemoneysign] found inspiration in it.

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Quirky Complicated Clock Piques Constructor’s Curiosity

The Clock that served as inspiration for the garberPark Clock

Have you ever observed the project of another hacker and thought to yourself “I have got to have one of those!”? If so, you’re in good company with hacker [garberPark], the maker of the unusual chain clock seen in the video below the break.

While on a stroll past the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center in Minneapolis, MN, [garberPark] was transfixed by the clock seen to the right here. In the clock, two motors each drive a chain that has numbers attached to it, and the number at the top displays the current time. It wasn’t long before [garberPark] observed his own lack of such a clock. So they did what any hacker will do: they made their own version!

Using an ESP8266, and Arduino, and some other basic electronics, they put together a horizontal interpretation of the clock they saw. Rather than being continuous rotation, limit switches keep things in line while the ESP8266’s NTP keep things in time. Salvaged scanner stepper motors provide locomotion, and what appear to be bicycle cranks and chains work in harmony with cutoff license plates to display the current time- but only if there’s somebody around to observe it; A very nice touch and great attention to detail!

If you enjoyed this, you’ll love the Sprocket and Chain clock we featured a few months back.

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chain and sprocket clock

Sprockets And Chains Drive This Unique Mechanical Digital Clock

When it comes to mechanical timepieces, we’re used to seeing mechanisms stuffed with tiny gears and wheel, often of marvelous complexity and precision. What we’re perhaps less used to seeing is a clock that uses chains and sprockets, and that looks more like what you’d find on a bicycle on your typical bicycle.

We can’t recall seeing anything quite like [SPE]’s “Time Machine” before. It’s one of those builds that explains itself by watching it work, so check out the video below and you’ll see where this one is going. The clock has three loops of roller link chain, each of which has a series of numbers welded to the links. The loops of chain are advanced around sprockets by a trio of geared-down motors, with the numbers standing up straight at the top of each loop. A microcontroller keeps track of the time and starts the clock advancing every minute, but a series of microswitches that are activated by the passing chain do all the rest of the control — sounds like a perfect time to say, “Could have used a 555,” but we still think it’s great the way it is.

Surprisingly, [SPE]’s clock seems like it wouldn’t be that hard to live with. Many unique electromechanical clocks that we feature, like a clock that’s nothing but hands or The Time Twister, are a little on the noisy side. While “Time Machine” isn’t exactly silent, its whirring isn’t terrible, and even though its clicks are a little loud, they’ve got a satisfying mechanical sound to them.

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RC Snowmobile Makes Tracks On Ice

With all the futuristic technology currently at our disposal, it seems a little bizarre that most passenger vehicles are essentially the same thing that they were a century ago. Four wheels, a motor, and some seats would appear to be a difficult formula to beat. But in the 3D printing world where rapid prototyping is the name of the game, some unique vehicle designs have been pushed out especially in the RC world. One of the latest comes to us from [RCLifeOn] in the form of a single-wheeled RC snowmobile.

While not a traditional snowmobile with tracks, this one does share some similarities. It has one drive wheel in the back printed with TPR for flexibility and it also includes studs all along its entire circumference to give it better traction on ice. There are runners in the front made from old ice skates which the vehicle uses for steering, and it’s all tied together with an RC controller and some lithium batteries to handle steering and driving the electric motor.

There were some design flaws in the first iteration of this vehicle, including a very large turning radius, a gearing setup with an unnecessarily high torque, and a frame that was too flexible for the chain drive. [RCLifeOn] was also testing this on a lake which looked like it was just about to revert to a liquid state which made for some interesting video segments of him retrieving the stuck vehicle with a tree branch and string. All in all, we are hopeful for a second revision in the future when some of these issues are hammered out and this one-of-a-kind vehicle can really rip across the frozen wastes not unlike this other interesting snowmobile from a decade ago.

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Putting 3D Printed Chain Through Its Paces

One of the more frustrating things facing makers in decades past was the problem of power transmission. Finding things like belts, pulleys, sprockets, and chain for your projects could be difficult, particularly if you lived far from the shipping radius of suppliers like McMaster-Carr. These days, there’s no need to fuss, because you can simply 3D print whatever you need,  as [Let’s Print] demonstrates by whipping up some chains.

The chains are a mixed design, combining plastic inner and outer links with bolts and nuts to fasten them together. [Let’s Print] tries out several combinations of ABS, PLA, and PETG, running them on 3D printed sprockets and determining that they are all functional, albeit at minimum load. The chains are also put through tensile testing by attaching a heavy brake disc to a length of chain and dropping the weight to see at which point the chains snap.

We’d love to see more 3D-printed chains; all-plastic snap-together designs, or even those that print pre-assembled are particularly tantalizing ideas. We’d also enjoy more testing done with the chain under some proper torque loads, rather than just spinning freely.

We’ve seen work from [Let’s Print] before, too – in the case of this awesome water pump. Video after the break.

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Chain Link Clock Drags Time Along

When it comes to building quirky clocks that also double up as beautiful animated sculptures, [Ekaggrat Singh Kalsi] is a master par excellence. His latest offering is the Getula, a time piece inspired by an old, discarded bicycle chain, while the name seems inspired by the chain kingsnake — Lampropeltis getula – due to its snake like movements. Getula shows time by manipulating eight short pieces of chain to show four digits representing hours and minutes. But wrangling a flexible piece of chain to morph in to numerals turned out to be a far more complex endeavour than he bargained for, and he had to settle for a few compromises along the way.

He could not use real bicycle chains because they are too flexible and heavy, which made it impossible for them to hold the shapes he desired. Instead, he designed custom 3D printed chains similar to drag link chains used for cable management. For rigidity, he added O-rings in the chain joints to increase friction. But even this was not sufficient to completely form each digit using a single piece of chain.

The compromise was to use two pieces of chain per digit, which results in a more artistic expression of time keeping. Each piece of chain is pushed or pulled using stepper motors, and bent in to shape using servos. The end result is a mesmerising dance of chain links, steppers and servos every minute, around the clock.

Designing the clock was no trivial exercise, so [Ekaggrat] improved it over a couple of iterations. There are four modular blocks working in synchronism — each consisting of an Arduino Nano, two stepper motor drives with motors and two servos. Each chain has an embedded magnet at its start, which is sensed by a hall sensor to initialise the chain to a known position. A DS1307 RTC module provides timekeeping. The project is still work in progress, and [Ekaggrat] has managed to finish off just one module out of four — giving us a tantalizing glimpse of Getula welcoming 2021.

If you’d prefer something more shiny, check out his Unique Clock that finally unites Hackers and Sequins, while some of his other creations, such as the Edgytokei Clock and the Torlo Clock feature beautiful and intricate 3D printed mechanisms.

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