This Big, Bright Seven-Segment Display is 3D-Printable

Seven-segment LED displays have been around forever, it seems, and the design is pretty optimized by now. Off-the-shelf units are readily available in all sorts of sizes and colors, but if you want a really big display, you might have to roll your own. Scaling up the size doesn’t necessarily mean you have to scale up the complexity, though, if this light-pipeless jumbo seven-segment LED display is any indication.

It’s clear that [Fran Blanche] has a thing for collecting and building oddball numeric displays, like this cathode ray tube Nixie knockoff or her Apollo DSKY electroluminescent display. Her plus-size seven-segment display is far less complicated than either of those, and that’s by design; [Fran] wanted something that was 3D-printable as a single part, rather than an assembly with light pipes and diffusers. To that end, the display is just a pair of X-shaped dividers stacked on top of each other behind the display’s face. They dividers form six triangular compartments and a diamond shaped one, with each compartment opening into a segment-shaped window. One LED goes in each triangular compartment, while the double-sized diamond space gets two. That’s it — the LEDs light up the inside of each compartment to turn on the appropriate segments. Watch it in action below.

The display still needs some tweaking, but it’s big and bright and has a large acceptance angle. What’s more, it’s scalable — imagine a display the size of a sheet of plywood using LED light bulbs. We’re looking forward to [Fran]’s improvements and her next display project, which appears to use hot glue as a light pipe.

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A Relay Calculator With DIY Neon Displays, Just Because

This looks like one of those projects that started out as a glimmer of an idea and led down a rabbit hole. But it’s a pretty cool rabbit hole that leads to homebrew neon seven-segment displays on a calculator with relay logic.

It’s a little thin on documentation so far, but that’s because [Mark Miller]’s build is one of those just-for-the-fun-of-it things. He started with a bag full of NE-2 tubes and the realization that a 3D-printed frame would let him create his own seven-segment displays. The frames have a slot for each segment, with a lamp and current limiting resistor tucked behind it; with leads brought out to pins and some epoxy potting, these displays would be hard to tell from a large LED seven-segment. Rolling your own displays has the benefit of being able to extend the character set, which [Mark] did with plus-minus and equal sign modules. All of these went together into a two-banger calculator — addition and subtraction only so far — executed in relays and vacuum tubes. Version 2.0 of the calculator regressed to all-relay logic, which must sound great.

We heartily regret the lack of a satisfyingly clicky video, but we’ll give it a pass since this is so cool. We’ll be watching for more on this project, but in the meantime, if you still need to get your click on, this electromechanical BCD counter should help.

Count Your Fans with this Stylish ESP8266 Display

Continuous self-affirmation is a vital component to the modern lifestyle. Of course you know the world loves you, but exactly how much do they love you? Checking your phone every few minutes to see if you’ve gained any followers is gauche, and perhaps more to the point, doesn’t let you show off when you’ve got visitors over. In the modern era, the up-and-coming social media star needs a stylish way to display just how popular they are for the world to see.

That’s the idea behind this very slick social media counter created by [Becky Stern]. Built into a standard shadow box frame and using LED displays glowing through a printed piece of paper, the finished product looks more like modern art than the usual hacker fare.

The counter is powered by a NodeMCU, but you could drop in your favorite variant of the ESP8266 and things would work more or less the same. For the displays, [Becky] is using four Adafruit 7-Segment LED modules, which are easily controlled via I2C which keeps the wiring to a minimum.

It’s interesting to note that since her follower count on Twitter has already hit five digits, two of the display modules are used next to each other for that particular service. Her Instructables and Instagram counters only have one display each however, limiting her counts on those services to 9,999 each. There’s probably something to be learned here in terms of the relative follower counts you can expect on the different social networks if you’re targeting your content to the hacker and maker crowd, but we’ll leave the analysis to those with a better handle on such matters.

Hardware aside, [Becky] spends a lot of time in the video talking about the code she’s come up with to pull her stats from the various services and push them out to the LED displays at a regular interval. It’s nice to see so much attention and explanation given to the software side of a project like this, as more often than not you’re left to your own to figure out what the source code is doing.

This project is quite similar to the YouTube Play Button hack we covered a few months back, but the addition of multiple social networks in one device is a nice improvement over the basic concept.

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The Noisiest Seven-Segment Display Ever

Few mechanical clocks are silent, and many find the sounds they make pleasant. But the stately ticking of an old grandfather clock or the soothing sound of a wind-up alarm clock on the nightstand are nothing compared to the clattering cacophony that awaits [ProtoG] when he finishes the clock that this electromechanical decimal to binary to hex converter and display will be part of.

Undertaken as proof of concept before committing to a full six digit clock build, we’d say [ProtoG] is hitting the mark. Yes, it’s loud, but the sound is glorious. The video below shows the display being put through its paces, and when the clock rate ramps up, the rhythmic pulsations of the relays driving the seven-segment flip displays is hypnotizing. The relays, one per segment of the Alfa Zeta flip displays, have DPDT contacts wired to flip a segment by reversing polarity. As a work in progress, [ProtoG] hasn’t shared many more details yet, but he promises to keep us up to date on the converter aspect of the circuit. Right now it just seems like a simple but noisy driver. We’ll be following this one with interest.

If you prefer your clocks quieter but still like funky displays, check out this mixed media circus-themed clock.

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Retro Rear-Projection Numeric Display Gets A Teardown

We recently featured an entertaining project here, a digital clock with a variety of different retro display technologies forming its numerals. Among those was an extremely unusual device, a rear-projection display with an array of bulbs each able to shine through a different letter or numeral slide. There was such interest in this device that its owner [Suedbunker] subjected one to a teardown for all to see.

The displays came from an organ which he suggests may have been manufactured around 1900. We suspect that may be a rather early estimate due to its use of a printed circuit board, but it is no less a fascinating device for it. A rectangular enclosure secured by twist-tabs opens to reveal a matrix of small filament bulbs on a PCB and supported by a stack of resin boards, in front of which was placed a slide with a letter or number for each one. Before that lies a sheet of glass, and then a molded plastic lens assembly which provides an individual lens for each of the 12 bulbs. When a bulb is illuminated with these in place, the letter or number is projected on the screen at the front of the unit.

It has the advantage of simplicity, no need for a high voltage, and high-quality characters and flexibility in displaying alternatives through different slides, though at the expense of quite a bulky package. The bulbs are quite energy-sapping, so for his clock he replaced them with LEDs. We like it as one of the more practical retro numeric displays, but its size means we probably won’t see a comeback.

You can see our write-up of the clock using the projection display here.

A Gloriously Impractical Electromechanical Display

For this year’s office holiday party, [Gavan Fantom] wanted to do something really special. Coworkers were messing with LEDs to come up with displays and decorations, but they lack that old-school feel of mechanical displays. He wanted to create something that had retro look of moving elements, but didn’t want to just recreate the traditional flip mechanism we’ve all seen over and over.

The mechanism to drive a single “pixel”.

What [Gavan] came up with is breathtakingly impractical 8×8 display that sounds as cool as it looks. Each “pixel” in the display is a 3D printed screw mechanism rotated by a hobby servo. As the pixel is rotated in its case, it becomes progressively more visible to the observer. The opacity of the pixel can even be adjusted by varying the degree of rotation, allowing for rudimentary display of grayscale images.

Each element in the display is made up of seven 3D printed parts and two nails, which the mechanism slides on to move forward and backward. An 8×8 display needs 64 elements, which means the entire display needs 64 servos, 128 nails, and a whopping 448 3D-printed parts. Even with two printers attacking the production in parallel, the printing alone took over two weeks to complete.

The display is powered by a Raspberry Pi and three “Mini Maestro” controllers which can each handle 24 servos. [Gavan] found some sample code in Python to pass commands to the Maestro servo controllers, which he used as a template when writing his own software. The Python script opens image files, converts them to grayscale, and then maps the value of each pixel to rotation of the corresponding servo. He says the software is a little rough and that there’s still some calibration to be done, but we think the results are phenomenal so far.

Mechanical displays are a favorite of hackers, due in no small part to the awesome noises they make while in operation. While we’ve seen some very creative approaches to this type of display before, what [Gavan] has created here is certainly in a league of its own.

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Stromberg Carlson Charactron Tube

Flat panel TVs have spoiled us. It used to be that a big display took up a lot of room on your desk or living room because of the depth of the CRT’s electron gun. We wonder what the designers of the charactron would think if they could see our big flat screens today. Never heard of a charactron? Check out [uniservo’s] video of one of these old character display tubes.

You might think the device is just a simple small CRT. However, it is much stranger than that. Inside the tube was a stencil that contained all the characters the device could display. A deflection coil would move an electron beam to light up a particular character. Then another coil would deflect the patterned electron beam to the desired space on the screen. In some cases, the entire set of stencils would get the beam and the first deflection coil would pick which character made it through an aperture. Either way, the tube was not just a display, but a character generator.

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