Gyrotourbillion Blesses The Eyes, Hard to Say

Clock movements are beautifully complex things. Made up of gears and springs, they’re designed to tick away and keep accurate time. Unfortunately, due to the vagaries of the universe, various sources of error tend to creep in – things like temperature changes, mechanical shocks, and so on. In the quest for ever better timekeeping, watchmakers decided to try and rotate the entire escapement and balance wheel to counteract the changing effect of gravity as the watch changed position in regular use.

They’re mechanical works of art, to be sure, and until recently, reserved for only the finest and most luxurious timepieces. As always, times change, and tourbillions are coming down in price thanks to efforts by Chinese manufacturers entering the market with lower-cost devices. But hey – you can always just make one at home.

That’s right – it’s a 3D printed gyrotourbillion! Complete with a 3D printed watch spring, it’s an amazing piece of engineering that would look truly impressive astride any desk. All that’s required to produce it is a capable 3D printer and some off-the-shelf bearings and you’ve got a horological work of art.

It’s not the first 3D-printed tourbillion we’ve seen, but we always find such intricate builds to be highly impressive. We can’t wait to see what comes next – if you’re building one on Stone Henge scale for Burning Man, be sure to let us know. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Keith for the tip!]

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PIC Powered PicoBat Picks Up Pulsed Power

In 2012, [Bruno] wanted to detect some bats. Detect bats? Some varieties of bat (primarily the descriptively named “microbats”) locate themselves and their prey in space using echolocation, the same way your first robot probably did. The bat emits chirps from their adorably tiny larynx the same way a human uses its vocal cords to produce sound. The bat then listens for an echo of that sound and can make inferences about the location of its presumed prey in the volume around it. Bat detectors are devices which can detect these ultrasonic sounds and shift them into a range that humans can hear. So how would you build such a device? [Bruno]’s PicoBat probably sets the record for component count and code simplicity.

With no domain expertise the most conspicuous way to build a bat detector is probably to combine the glut of high performance microcontrollers with a similarly high performing analog to digital converter. With a little signal processing knowledge you sample the sounds at their native frequency, run them through a Fast Fourier transform, and look for energy in the ultrasonic frequency range, maybe about 20 kHz to 100 kHz, according to Wikipedia. With more knowledge about signal interference it turns out there are a surprisingly large number of ways to build such a device, including some which are purely analog. (Seriously, check out the Wikipedia page for the myriad ways this can be done.)

[Bruno] did use a microcontroller to build his bat detector, but not in the way we’d have expected. Instead of using a beastly high performance A/D and a similarly burly microcontroller, the PicoBat has a relatively tame PIC12 and a standard ultrasonic transducer, as well as a piezo buzzer for output. Along with a power rail, that’s the entire circuit. The code he’s running is similarly spartan. It configures a pair of GPIOs and toggles them, with no other logic. That’s it.

So how does this work? The ultrasonic transducer is designed mechanically to only receive sounds in the desired frequency range. Being piezoelectric, when enough sound pressure is applied the stress causes a small voltage. That voltage is fed into the PIC not as a GPIO but as a clock input. So the CPU only executes an instruction when ultrasonic sound with enough intensity hits the transducer. And the GPIO toggling routine takes four clock cycles to execute, yielding a 1:4 clock divider. And when the GPIOs toggle they flip the potential across the buzzer, causing it to make human-audible sound. Brilliant!

Check out [Bruno]’s video demo after the break to get a sense for how the device works. You might be able to do this same trick with other components, but we’re willing to be that you won’t beat the parts count.

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Analog Meters Become a Clock for Father’s Day

Around Father’s Day each year, we usually see a small spate of dad-oriented projects. Some are projects by dads or granddads for the kids, while others are gifts for the big guy. This analog meter clock fits the latter category, with the extra bonus of recognizing and honoring the influence [Micheal Teeuw]’s father had on him with all things technological.

[Michael] had been mulling over a voltmeter clock, where hours, minutes and seconds are displayed on moving coil meters, for a while.  A trio of analog meters from Ali Express would lend just the right look to the project, but being 200-volt AC meters, they required a little modification. [Michael] removed the rectifying diode and filtering capacitor inside the movement, and replaced the current-limiting resistor with a smaller value to get 5 volts full-range deflection on the meters. Adobe Illustrator helped with replacing the original scales with time scales, and LEDs were added to the meters for backlighting. A TinyRTC keeps time and generates the three PWM signals to drive the meters. Each meter is mounted in its own 3D-printed case, the three of which are linked together into one sleek console. We love the look, which reminds us of an instrument cluster in an airplane cockpit.

Bravo to [Michael’s Dad] for getting his son into the tinkering arts, and cheers to [Michael] on the nice build. We like seeing new uses for old meters, like these server performance monitoring meters.

[via r/DIY]

Clock This! A 3D-Printed Escapement Mechanism

Traditional mechanical clockmaking is an art that despite being almost the archetype of precision engineering skill, appears rarely in our world of hardware hackers. That’s because making a clock mechanism is hard, and it is for good reason that professional clockmakers serve a long apprenticeship to learn their craft.

Though crafting one by hand is no easy task, a clock escapement is a surprisingly simple mechanism. Simple enough in fact that one can be 3D-printed, and that is just what [j0z] has done with a model posted on Thingiverse.

The model is simply the escapement mechanism, so to make a full clock there would have to be added a geartrain and clock face drive mechanism. But given a pair of 608 skateboard wheel bearings and a suitable weight and string to provide a power source, its pendulum will happily swing and provide that all-important tick. We’ve posted his short video below the break, so if Nixie clocks aren’t enough for you then perhaps you’d like to take it as inspiration to go mechanical.

A pendulum escapement of this type is only one of many varieties that have been produced over the long history of clockmaking. Our colleague [Manuel Rodriguez-Achach] took a look at some of them back in 2016.

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Watch The World Spin With The Earth Clock

With the June solstice right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to witness first hand the effects of Earth’s axial tilt on the day’s length above and beyond 60 degrees latitude. But if you can’t make it there, or otherwise prefer a more regular, less deprived sleep pattern, you can always resort to simulations to demonstrate the phenomenon. [SimonRob] for example built a clock with a real time rotating model of Earth to visualize its exposure to the sun over the year.

The daily rotating cycle, as well as Earth’s rotation within one year, are simulated with a hand painted plastic ball attached to a rotating axis and mounted on a rotating plate. The hand painting was done with a neat trick; placing printed slivers of an atlas inside the transparent orb to serve as guides. Movement for both axes are driven by a pair of stepper motors and a ring of LEDs in the same diameter as the Earth model is used to represent the Sun. You can of course wait a whole year to observe it all in real time, or then make use of a set of buttons that lets you fast forward and reverse time.

Earth’s rotation, and especially countering it, is a regular concept in astrophotography, so it’s a nice change of perspective to use it to look onto Earth itself from the outside. And who knows, if [SimonRob] ever feels like extending his clock with an aurora borealis simulation, he might find inspiration in this northern lights tracking light show.

This is a spectacular showpiece and a great project you can do with common tools already in your workshop. Once you’ve mastered earth, put on your machinists hat and give the solar system a try.

A Crash Course In Reliable Communication

It’s probably fair to say that anyone reading these words understands conceptually how physically connected devices communicate with each other. In the most basic configuration, one wire establishes a common ground as a shared reference point and then the “signal” is sent over a second wire. But what actually is a signal, how do the devices stay synchronized, and what happens when a dodgy link causes some data to go missing?

All of these questions, and more, are addressed by [Ben Eater] in his fascinating series on data transmission. He takes a very low-level approach to explaining the basics of communication, starting with the concept of non-return-to-zero encoding and working his way to a shared clock signal to make sure all of the devices in the network are in step. Most of us are familiar with the data and clock wires used in serial communications protocols like I2C, but rarely do you get to see such a clear and detailed explanation of how it all works.

He demonstrates the challenge of getting two independent devices to communicate, trying in vain to adjust the delays on the receiving and transmitting Arduinos to try to establish a reliable link at a leisurely five bits per second. But even at this digital snail’s pace, errors pop up within a few seconds. [Ben] goes on to show that the oscillators used in consumer electronics simply aren’t consistent enough between devices to stay synchronized for more than a few hundred bits. Until atomic clocks come standard on the Arduino, it’s just not an option.

[Ben] then explains the concept of a dedicated clock signal, and how it can be used to make sure the devices are in sync even if their local clocks drift around. As he shows, as long as the data signal and the clock signal are hitting at the same time, the actual timing doesn’t matter much. Even within the confines of this basic demo, some drift in the clock signal is observed, but it has no detrimental effect on communication.

In the next part of the series, [Ben] will tackle error correction techniques. Until then, you might want to check out the fantastic piece [Elliot Williams] put together on I2C.

[Thanks to George Graves for the tip.]

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Tricking A Vintage Clock Chip Into Working On 50-Hz Power

Thanks to microcontrollers, RTC modules, and a plethora of cheap and interesting display options, digital clock projects have become pretty easy. Choose to base a clock build around a chip sporting a date code from the late 70s, though, and your build is bound to be more than run-of-the-mill.

This is the boat that [Fran Blanche] finds herself in with one of her ongoing projects. The chip in question is a Mostek MK50250 digital alarm clock chip, and her first hurdle was find a way to run the clock on 50 Hertz with North American 60-Hertz power. The reason for this is a lesson in the compromises engineers sometimes have to make during the design process, and how that sometimes leads to false assumptions. It seems that the Mostek designers assumed that a 24-hour display would only ever be needed in locales where the line frequency is 50 Hz. [Fran], however, wants military time at 60 Hz, so she came up with a circuit to fool the chip. It uses a 4017 decade counter to divide the 60-Hz signal by 10, and uses the 6-Hz output to turn on a transistor that pulls the 60-Hz output low for one pulse. The result is one dropped pulse out of every six, which gives the Mostek the 50-Hz signal it needs. Sure, the pulse chain is asymmetric, but the chip won’t care, and [Fran] gets the clock she wants. Pretty clever.

[Fran] has been teasing this clock build for a while, and we’re keen to see what it looks like. We hope she’ll be using these outsized not-quite-a-light-pipe LED displays or something similar.

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