PCB fluorescent 7-segment display

Unique Seven-Segment Display Relies On FR-4 Fluorescence

It’s interesting what you see when you train a black light on everyday objects. We strongly suggest not doing this in a hotel room, but if you shine UV light on, say, a printed circuit board, you might see what [Sam Ettinger] did, which led him to build these cool low-profile seven-segment fluorescent PCB displays.

UV light causing FR4 to fluoresceAs it turns out, at least some FR-4 PCBs fluoresce under UV light, giving off a ghostly blue-green glow. Seeing the possibilities, [Sam] designed a PCB with cutouts in the copper and solder mask in the shape of a traditional seven-segment display. The backside of the PCB has pads for UV LEDs and current-limiting resistors, which shine through the board and induce the segments to glow. Through-slots between the segments keep light from one segment from bleeding over into the next; while [Sam] left the slots unfilled, they could easily be filled with solder. The fluorescent property of FR-4, and therefore the brightness and tint of the segments, seems to vary by board thickness and PCB manufacturer, but it looks like most PCBs will show pretty good results.

We’d say the obvious first improvement might be to cover the back of the display with black epoxy, to keep stray light down, and to improve contrast. But they look pretty great just as they are. We can also see how displays with other shapes, like icons and simple symbols. Or maybe even alphanumeric characters — say, haven’t we seen something like that before?

Quadcopter Built From Recycled Motherboards

A quadcopter built from a motherboard

[Eric] has figured out a great way to build quadcopters out of recycled computer motherboards. Multicopters come in all shapes and sizes these days. As we mentioned in the last issue of Droning On, they can be bought or built-in a multitude of materials as well. Drones have been built using materials as varied as wood, PVC pipe, carbon fiber, and aluminum.

One of the more common commercial materials is G10 fiberglass sheet. It’s stiff, strong, and relatively light. Printed circuit boards are generally made of FR-4 fiberglass, G10’s flame resistant cousin. It’s no wonder [Eric] had quadcopters in his eyes when he saw a pile of motherboards being thrown out at his university.

[Eric] used a heat gun and a lot of patience to get all the components off the motherboard. With a bit of care, most of the components can be saved for future hardware hacks. This is one step that’s best performed outside. Hot melting plastics, metals, and resin fumes aren’t the greatest things to inhale.

Computer motherboards being cut on a shopbotClean PCBs in hand, [Eric] headed to his local TechShop. He drew his dead cat style frame in SolidWorks and cut it out on a ShopBot. While a high-end CNC cutter is nice, it’s not absolutely necessary. The fiberglass sheets could be cut with a rotary tool or a jigsaw. No matter how you cut it, be sure to wear a mask rated for fiberglass resins and some protective clothing. Fiberglass plate is nasty stuff to cut.

Once the upper and lower frame plates were cut, [Eric] completed his quad frame with some square wooden stock for arms. The final quad is a great flier, and spare parts are easy to source. Nice work on the recycling, [Eric]!

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