Flip-Dots Enter The Realm Of Fine Art

Flip-dot displays look and sound awesome. At least to all of us electronics geeks who dumpster dive for second-hand panels to add to our collections of esoteric display technology. But there are people thinking beyond the yellow/white dots on a black background. [BreakfastNY] have produced a new take on what a flip-dot display can be with color and a bit of theatrics.

Mechanically these are standard pixels that use an electromagnetic coil to pivot a disc between two states. But immediately you’ll see the inert display has a mosaic printed right on the dots. It gets even more fun to realize the same image is present on the rear of the dots but in a different color palette. In the case of this piece, entitled Empire State, it looks like a sunny day on one side and an overcast day on the reverse.

We wondered what this art collective was up to when they began selling flip-dot modules they had designed back in 2016. Having those kinds of connections meant they were able to sweet-talk their manufacturing partners into custom printing colors on the discs during manufacture. The group continues to use their camera-based interactivity that represents silhouettes on the display. The innovative color palette still lets that work quite well, but one really interesting animation choice here is an indeterminate flutter of the pixels. It builds a Matrix-style waterfall animating into the image, beckoning the viewer to walk over with the ulterior motive that this brings them within camera range.

If you want to give the flutter effect a try for yourself, you might want to peek at the 30 FPS flip-dot driver we saw a few weeks back as a responsive option.

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Flipdots, Without The Electronics

We are used to flipdots, single mechanical pixels that are brightly colored on one side and black on the other, flipped over by a magnetic field. Driving the little electromagnets that make them work is a regular challenge in our community. [Johan] however has a new take on the flipdot, and it’s one we’ve never seen before. Instead of making a magnetic field to flip his dots he’s doing without the electronics entirely, and just using a magnet.

The project is a level indicator for a water tank, which contains a magnet floating in a plastic bottle. This has previously been used to trigger a reed switch that controls the refill pump. To those reed switches he adds a row of flipdots, but these aren’t the commercial dots you might once have seen adorning the front of your local bus. Instead, they’re custom dots made from washers, suspended in pivots by means of a spot weld and mounted in a frame inside a clear tube to keep dirt at bay. As you can see in the video below the break, when the magnet floats past inside the tank it flips them over one way, and on its return journey if flips them back the other. The result is a fully serviceable flipdot display, completely lacking the normal electronics, and we rather like it.

(It may be the first electronic-free flipdot we’ve shown you, but it’s not the first homemade one.)

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Not All 7-Segment Displays Are Electronic

There are a variety of means by which numbers can be displayed from an electronic circuit, and probably the most ubiquitous remains the seven-segment display. Take seven LEDs, lamps, LCDs, VFD segments or mechanical flip-dot style units in the familiar rectangular figure eight, and your microcontroller or similar can display numbers. There are a variety of different interfaces, but at most all that is needed is a level shifter and a driver.

Sometimes though we encounter a completely novel 7-segment display, and such is the case with [Fhuable]’s all mechanical single digit display. It bears a superficial resemblance to a flipdot display, but instead of a magnetic actuator, it instead uses a complex system of gears and cams to flip the segments sequentially from the turning of a small crank. It appears to be the same mechanism he’s used in his subscription counter project whose video we’ve placed below the break, and it is truly a thing of beauty. We’re not entirely certain how useful it would be as a general-purpose display in its current form, however, we can see it being adapted with relative ease. A clock might, for example, be an eye-catching project.

Most displays that make it here have some electrical components, so it’s unusual to see an entirely mechanical one. But that’s not necessarily always the case.

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Knitting ALUs (and Flipdots)

[Irene Posch] is big into knitted¬†fabric circuits. And while most of the textile circuits that we’ve seen are content with simply conducting enough juice to light an LED, [Irene]’s sights are set on knittable crafted arithmetic logic units (ALUs). While we usually think of transistors as the fundamental building-blocks of logic circuits, [Irene] has developed what is essentially a knit crochet relay. Be sure to watch the video after the break to see it in construction and in action.

The basic construction is a coil of conductive thread that forms an electromagnet, and a magnetic bead suspended on an axle so that it can turn in response to the field. To create a relay, a flap of knit conductive thread is attached to the bead, which serves as the pole for what’s essentially a fabric-based SPDT switch. If you’ve been following any of our relay-logic posts, you’ll know that once you’ve got a relay, the next step to a functioning computer is a lot of repetition.

How does [Irene] plan to display the results of a computation? On knit-and-bead flipdot displays, naturally. Combining the same electromagnet and bead arrangement with beads that are painted white on one side and black on the other yields a human-readable one-bit display. We have an unnatural affinity for flipdot displays, and making the whole thing out of fabric-store components definitely flips our bits.

Anyway, [Irene Posch] is a textile-tech artist who you should definitely be following if you have any interest in knittable computers. Have you seen anything else like this? Thanks [Melissa] for the awesome tip!

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