30 FPS Flip-Dot Display Uses Cool Capacitor Trick

Most people find two problems when it comes to flip-dot displays: where to buy them and how to drive them. If you’re [Pierre Muth] you level up and add the challenge of driving them fast enough to rival non-mechanical displays like LCDs. It was a success, resulting in a novel and fast way of controlling flip-dot displays.

Gorgeous stackup of the completed display. [Pierre] says soldering the 2500 components kept him sane during lockdown.
If you’re lucky, you can get a used flip-dot panel decommissioned from an old bus destination panel, or perhaps the arrivals/departures board at a train station. But it is possible to buy brand new 1×7 pixel strips which is what [Pierre] has done. These come without any kind of driving hardware; just the magnetized dots with coils that can be energized to change the state.

The problem comes in needing to reverse the polarity of the coil to achieve both set and unset states. Here [Pierre] has a very interesting idea: instead of working out a way to change the connections of the coils between source and sink, he’s using a capacitor on one side that can be driven high or low to flip the dot.

Using this technique, charging the capacitor will give enough kick to flip the dot on the display. The same will happen when discharged (flipping the dot back), with the added benefit of not using additional power since the capacitor is already charged from setting the pixel. A circuit board was designed with CMOS to control each capacitor. A PCB is mounted to the back of a 7-pixel strip, creating modules that are formed into a larger display using SPI to cascade data from one to the next. The result, as you can see after the break, does a fantastic job of playing Bad Apple on the 24×14 matrix. If you have visions of one of these on your own desk, the design files and source code are available. Buying the pixels for a display this size is surprisingly affordable at about 100 €.

We’re a bit jealous of all the fun displays [Pierre] has been working on. He previously built a 384 neon bulb display that he was showing off last Autumn.

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Towards DIY Flip Digit Clocks

Seven segment displays and Nixies are one thing, but the king of all antique display technologies must be electromechanical flip dots. These displays, usually found in train stations or rarely on old bus lines, are an array of physical disks, black on one side, light on the other, that ‘flip’ back and forth with the help of an electromagnet. They’re expensive and impressive, driving them is a pain, but oh man do they look awesome.

While flip dot displays can be bought new if you know where to look, [sjm4306] had the idea to build his own out of inexpensive materials. It might just be a prototype, but we’re saying he’s succeeded. He has the workings of a seven flip-segment display, and the techniques he’s using mean it shouldn’t be too expensive to build your own.

Instead of building a matrix of flip dots, [sjm] is building a mechanical seven-segment display. Each of the segments are 3D printed in black PLA, and mounted to a piece of cardboard via a thin wire ‘axel’ going through the length of the segment. Where normal flip dots use an electromagnet to change each dot from one state to another, [sjm] mounted a very small vibrating pager motor to one end of the segment. When one half of a tact switch h-bridge is activated, the segment flips to the front. When the other half of the h-bridge is activated, the segment flips back.

Right now, this hardware is in the ‘extreme prototype’ stage, but results so far are encouraging. [sjm] has already designed a single-segment ‘module’. Plans for the electronics include optocouplers for two microcontroller pins for each segment and reed relays for each individual digit. For a four-digit display, these flip digits will only require 18 I/O pins.

You can check out [sjm4306]’s video for this project below. It’s a little bit long, but watch those things flip!

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