Mechanically Multiplexed Flip-Dot

Flip dots displays are timeless classics, but driving the large ones can quickly turn into a major challenge. The electromagnets require a lot of current to operate, and the driver circuits can get quite expensive. [James Bruton] wanted to build his own, but followed a bit of a different route, building a mechanically multiplexed flip dot (ball?) display.

Each of the dots on [James]’ 5×3 proof of concept is a bistable mechanical mechanism that can either show or hide a ping pong ball sized half sphere. Instead of using electromagnets, the dots are flipped by a row of micro servos mounted on a moving carriage behind the display. The mechanism is derived from one of [James]’ previous projects, a mechanical multiplexer. Each dot mechanism has a hook at the back of the mechanism for a servo to push or pull to flip the dot. A major disadvantage of this design is the fact that the servo horn must match the state of the dot before moving through the hook, otherwise it can crash and break something, which also reduces the speed at which the carriage can move.

This build was just to get a feel for the concept, and [James] already has several ideas for changes and improvements. The hook design can certainly change, and a belt drive would really speed things up. We think this mechanical display is a very interesting design challenge, and we are interested to hear how our readers would tackle it? Let us know in the comments below.

Recently we covered a 3D printed flip dot display for the first time. It’s still small and [Larry Builds] is working out the kinks, but we would love to see it eventually match the mesmerising effect of Breakfast’s large installations.

Image Sensor From Discrete Parts Delivers Glorious 1-Kilopixel Images

Chances are pretty good that you have at least one digital image sensor somewhere close to you at this moment, likely within arm’s reach. The ubiquity of digital cameras is due to how cheap these sensors have become, and how easy they are to integrate into all sorts of devices. So why in the world would someone want to build an image sensor from discrete parts that’s 12,000 times worse than the average smartphone camera? Because, why not?

[Sean Hodgins] originally started this project as a digital pinhole camera, which is why it was called “digiObscura.” The idea was to build a 32×32 array of photosensors and focus light on it using only a pinhole, but that proved optically difficult as the small aperture greatly reduced the amount of light striking the array. The sensor, though, is where the interesting stuff is. [Sean] soldered 1,024 ALS-PT19 surface-mount phototransistors to the custom PCB along with two 32-bit analog multiplexers. The multiplexers are driven by a microcontroller to select each pixel in turn, one row and one column at a time. It takes a full five seconds to scan the array, so taking a picture hearkens back to the long exposures common in the early days of photography. And sure, it’s only a 1-kilopixel image, but it works.

[Sean] has had this project cooking for a while – in fact, the multiplexers he used for the camera came up as a separate project back in 2018. We’re glad to see that he got the rest built, even with the recycled lens he used. One wonders how a 3D-printed lens would work in front of that sensor.

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3D Print Your Way To A Glass Cockpit Simulator

Today’s commercial aircraft are packed to the elevators with sensors, computers, and miles and miles of wiring. Inside the cockpit you’re more than likely to see banks of LCDs and push buttons than analog gauges. So what’s that mean for the intrepid home simulator builder? Modern problems require modern solutions, and this 3D printed simulator is about as modern as it gets.

Published to Thingiverse by the aptly named [FlightSimMaker], this project consists of a dizzying number of 3D-printed components that combine into a full-featured desktop simulator for the Garmin G1000 avionics system. Everything from the parking brake lever to the push buttons in the display bezels was designed and printed: over 200 individual parts in all. Everything in this X-Plane 11 compatible simulator is controlled by an Arduino Mega 2560 with the SimVim firmware.

To help with connecting dozens of buttons, toggle switches, and rotary encoders to the Arduino, [FlightSimMaker] uses five CD74HC4067 16-channel multiplexers. The display is a 12.1 inch 1024 x 768 LCD panel with integrated driver, and comes in at the second most expensive part of the build behind the rotary encoders. All told, the estimated cost per display is around $250 USD.

Even if you aren’t looking to build yourself a high-tech flight simulator, there’s plenty of ideas and tips here that could be useful for building front panels. We particularly like the technique used for doing 3D-printed lettering: the part is printed in white, spray painted a darker color, and then the paint is sanded off the faces of the letters to reveal the plastic. Even with a standard 0.4 mm nozzle, this results in clean high-contrast labels on the panel with minimal fuss.

Of course, while impressive, these panels are just the beginning. There’s still plenty more work to do if you want to build an immersive simulation experience. Including, in the most extreme cases, buying a Boeing 737 cockpit.

Turning OLEDs And Acrylic Into Faux Nixie Tubes

Love ’em or hate ’em, Nixies and the retro clocks they adorn are here to stay. At least until the world’s stock of surplus Soviet tubes is finally depleted, that is. The glow discharge tubes were last mass manufactured in the 1980s, and while they’re not too hard to get a hold of yet, they will be eventually. And what better way to get ready for that dreaded day than by rolling your own OLED faux Nixie tubes?

Granted, [Derek]’s faux Nixies, appropriately dubbed “Fixies,” require just a touch of willing suspension of disbelief. We’ve never see Nixies with tiny jam jars as envelopes, so that’s probably the first giveaway. But looking past that, the innards of these fake displays do a pretty convincing job of imitating the texture of the real thing.

The numbers themselves are displayed on a 128×64 white OLED display using a Nixie-like True Type font. An orange acrylic filter in front of the display gives it that warm amber Nixie glow, with laser etchings mimicking both the fine hexagonal anode grid and the ghostly cathodes of the non-illuminated numerals. The tubes looked convincing enough that a clock was in order, and after sorting through an I2C bottleneck with the help of a multiplexer, [Derek] had a pretty decent faux-Nixie clock, complete with a solenoid-actuated mechanical gong. The double-digit display for the seconds will no doubt cause some consternation among Nixie purists, but that’s probably part of the fun.

Of course, just because Nixies aren’t being mass-produced today doesn’t mean you can’t get new ones. You just have to be willing to pay for them, and [Dalibor Farný] will gladly set you up with his handmade artisanal Nixies, or even a clock kit using them.

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Flex PCBs Make Force-Mapping Pressure Sensor For Amputee

What prosthetic limbs can do these days is nothing short of miraculous, and can change the life of an amputee in so many ways. But no matter what advanced sensors and actuators are added to the prosthetic, it has to interface with the wearer’s body, and that can lead to problems.

Measuring and mapping the pressure on the residual limb is the business of this flexible force-sensing matrix. The idea for a two-dimensional force map came from one of [chris.coulson]’s classmates, an amputee who developed a single-channel pressure sensor to help him solve a painful fitting problem. [chris.coulson] was reminded of a piezoresistive yoga mat build from [Marco Reps], which we featured a while back, and figured a scaled-down version might be just the thing to map pressure points across the prosthetic interface. Rather than the expensive and tediously-applied web of copper tape [Marco] used, [chris] chose flexible PCBs to sandwich the Velostat piezoresistive material. An interface board multiplexes the 16 elements of the sensor array to a PIC which gathers and records testing data. [chris] even built a test stand with a solenoid to apply pressure to the sensor and test its frequency response to determine what sorts of measurements are possible.

We think the project is a great application for flex PCBs, and a perfect entry into our Flexible PCB Contest. You should enter too. Even though [chris] has a prototype, you don’t need one to enter: just an idea would do. Do something up on Fritzing, make a full EAGLE schematic, or just jot a block diagram down on a napkin. We want to see your ideas, and if it’s good enough you can win a flex PCB to get you started. What are you waiting for?

There Are 10 Kinds Of Computers In The World

There’s an old joke that there are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who know binary, those who don’t, and those who didn’t see a base three joke coming. Perhaps [Dmitry Sokolov] heard that joke because he’s built a ternary (base 3) computer. He claims it is the first one to be built in the last 50 years. You can see a video about the device below. There’s also a video of the device with a nixie tube output.

You may not think of it often, but bit is a contraction of binary digit, so a ternary computer doesn’t have those. It has trits. The CPU operates on 3 trit words and uses nothing but multiplexers as building blocks. Instructions use 5 trits, some of which are a two-trit opcode and a 3 trit address of one of the 13 registers. The allure of using ternary, by the way, is that you can represent more numbers in fewer bits — um, trits, rather.

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Why Only Use One Controller When You Can Use ALL Of Them?

After booting up his RetroPie system, [jfrmilner] had the distinct feeling that something was off. Realizing that the modern Xbox 360 controller didn’t fit right when reliving the games of his youth, he rounded up all his old controllers to make sure he always had the right gamepad for the game.

Wanting to keep the controllers unmodified — so they could still be used on the original systems — he had to do a bit of reverse-engineering and source some controller sockets before building his controller hub. Using shift-in registers, shift-out registers, and some multiplexers, he designed a large circuit selector — which acts as a shield for an Arduino Micro — so all the controllers remain connected. A potentiometer allows him to select the desired controller and a few arcade buttons which access RetroPie shortcuts really round out the hub. Check out the demo after the break!

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