The seven-segment display may be a bit prosaic after all these years, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to spice it up. Coming up with a mechanical version of the typical photon-based display is a popular project, of which we’ve seen plenty of examples over the years. But this seven-segment display is quite a mechanical treat, and a unique way to flip through the digits.
With most mechanical displays, we’re used to seeing the state of each segment changed with some kind of actuator, like a solenoid or servo. [Shinsaku Hiura] decided on a sleeker design using a 3D-printed barrel carrying one cam for each segment. Each hinged segment is attached to an arm that acts as a follower, riding on its cam and flipping on or off in a set pattern. Which digit is displayed depends on the position of the barrel, which is controlled with a single servo and a pair of gears. It trades mechanical complexity for electrical simplicity and overall elegance, and as you can see from the video below, it’s pretty snappy.
We think the best part of this build is figuring out the shape of the cams. We wonder how they compare to the cam profiles in [Greg Zumwalt]’s mechanical display; it uses two separate discs with grooves, but the principle is pretty much the same.
[Erik Knutsson] is stuck inside with a bunch of robot parts, and we know what lies down that path. His Open Personal Assistant Robotic Platform aims to help out around the house with things like filling pet food bowls, but for now, he is taking one step at a time and working out the bugs before adding new features. Wise.
The build started with a narrow base, an underpowered RasPi, and a quiet speaker, but those were upgraded in turn. Right now, it is a personal assistant on wheels. Alexa was the first contender, but Mycroft is in the spotlight because it has more versatility. At first, the mobility was a humble web server with a D-pad, but now it leverages a distance sensor and vision, and can even follow you with a voice command.
The screen up top gives it a personable look, but it is slated to become a display for everything you’d want to see on your robot assistant, like weather, recipes, or a video chat that can walk around with you. [Erik] would like to make something that assists the elderly who might need help with chores and help connect people who are stuck inside like him.
We’re not sure what to call this one. Is it a circuit sculpture? Sort of, but it moves, so perhaps it’s a kinetic circuit sculpture. Creator [Tomohiro Tsuchita] calls it “something beautiful but totally useless,” which we find a tad harsh. But whatever you call it, we think this mechanical seven-segment display is really, really cool.
Before anyone gets to thinking that this is something like the other mechanical seven-segment displays we’ve seen lately, think again. This one is not addressable; it simply goes through the ten digits in order. So you won’t be building a clock from it, although we suppose the mechanism could be modified to allow that. Then again, looking at that drive train of laser-cut acrylic cams, maybe not. Each segment has its own cam with lobes or valleys for each segment. A cam follower lowers and raises the segments as the cams rotate on a common shaft. A full-rotation servo powers the display under the control of a Micro:bit; the microcontroller is overkill for now but will be used in version two, which will allow the speed to change in response to sensors.
Long cables are only neat once – before they’re first unwrapped. Once that little cable tie is taken off, a cable is more likely to end up rats-nested than neatly coiled.
Preventing that is the idea behind this 3D-printed cable reel. The cable that [Kevin Balke] wants to make easier to deal with is a 50 foot (15 meters) long Vive lighthouse sync cable. That seems a bit much to us, but it makes sense to separate the lighthouses as much as possible and mount them up high enough for the VR system to work properly.
[Kevin] put a good deal of effort into making this cable reel, which looks a little like an oversize baitcasting-style fishing reel. The cable spool turns on a crank that also runs a 5:1 reduction geartrain powering a shaft with a deep, shallow-pitch crossback thread. An idler runs in the thread and works back and forth across the spool, laying up the incoming cable neatly. [Kevin] reports that the reciprocating mechanism was the hardest bit to print, as surface finish affected the mechanism’s operation as much as the geometry of the mating parts. The video below shows it working smoothly; we wonder how much this could be scaled up for tidying up larger cables and hoses.
Just as the common emitter amplifier and common base amplifier each tied those respective transistor terminals to a fixed potential and used the other two terminals as amplifier input and output, so does the common collector circuit. The base forms the input and its bias circuit is identical to that of the common emitter amplifier, but the rest of the circuit differs in that the collector is tied to the positive rail, the emitter forms the output, and there is a load resistor to ground in the emitter circuit.
As with both of the other configurations, the bias is set such that the transistor is turned on and passing a constant current that keeps it in its region of an almost linear relationship between small base current changes and larger collector current changes. With variation of the incoming signal and thus the base current there is a corresponding change in the collector current dictated by the transistor’s gain, and thus an output voltage is generated across the emitter resistor. Unlike the common emitter amplifier this voltage increases or decreases in step with the input voltage, so the emitter follower is not an inverting amplifier.
The design has changed a lot since we first covered [Tom Stanton]’s attempts at reviving the powerplant from the glory days of the Air Hogs line of toys, which he subsequently built a plane around. The engine was simple, with a ball valve that admitted air into the cylinder when a spring mounted to the top of the piston popped it out of the way. That spring has always bothered [Tom], though, compelling him to go back to the drawing board. He wanted to replace the ball valve with one actuated by a cam and pushrod. This would increase the complexity of the engine quite a bit, but with the benefit of eliminating the fail point of the spring. With a few iterations in the design, he was able to relocate the ball valve, add a cam to the crankshaft, and use a pushrod to open the valve. The new design works much better than the previous version, sounding more like a lawnmower than a 3D-printed engine should. Check out the design process and some tests in the video below.
The first 10 seconds of the video below completely explains how [Evan] accomplished this build. A pair of custom cams wiggles the laser pointer through the correct sequences of coordinates to trace the desired pattern out when cranked by hand through a 1:5 ratio gear train. But what’s simple in concept is a bit more complicated to reduce to practice, as [Evan] amply demonstrates by walking us through the math he used to transfer display shapes to cam profiles. If you can’t follow the math, no worries — [Evan] has included all the profiles in his Thingiverse collection, and being a hand model software guy by nature, he’s thoughtfully developed a program to automate the creation of cam profiles for new shapes. It’s all pretty slick.
Looking for more laser POV goodness? Perhaps a nice game of laser Asteroids would suit you.