Random Word Pairings Mark The Time On This Unusual Clock

Gosh, the fun we had when digital calculators became affordable enough that mere grade school students could bring one to class. The discovery that the numbers could be construed as the letters of various dirty words when viewed upside down was the source of endless mirth. They were simpler times.

This four-letter-word “clock” aims to recreate that whimsical time a bit, except with full control over the seven-segment displays and no need to look at it upside down. This descends from a word clock [WhiskeyTangoHotel] made previously and relies on a library of over 1000 four-letter words that can be reasonably displayed using seven-segment displays, most of them SFW but some mildly not. A PICAXE is used to select two of the four-letter words to display every second or so, making this a clock only by the loosest of definitions. Word selection is pseudorandom, seeded by noise from a floating ADC pin, but some of the word pairings in the video below seem to belie a non-random sense of humor. As is, there are over a million pairings possible; it might be fun to add in the full set of two- and three-letter words as well and see what sort of merriment ensues.

While we like the Back to the Future vibe here, we’ve seen some other really nice word clocks lately. There was the one that used PCBs as the mask for the characters, and then a rear-projection word clock that really looks great.

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Anti-Entropy Machine Satiates M&M OCD

College engineering projects are great, because they afford budding engineers the opportunity to build interesting things without the need for financial motivation. Usually, some basic requirements are established, but students are free to get creative and build something that appeals to them personally. For our readers, mechatronics courses are ripe for these kinds of projects, as the field combines electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and programming.

[Ethan Crane] is in just such a course, and had a final project due with only one real requirement: it had to use a PICAXE. Obviously, this gave [Ethan] quite a bit of freedom to build something unique, and what he came up with is an “Anti-Entropy Machine” designed to sort M&M candies by color. The electronics are as simple as [Ethan] could make them (a good philosophy for an engineering student to adhere to). There is an IR sensor to determine if a candy is in the hopper, an RGB sensor to determine its color, and servos to position the delivery chute based on color and operate the hopper.

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Soft and Squishy Silicone Robotics

This robot arm and gripper is made almost entirely out of silicone. Casting the parts by hand, [Mike] assembled this working, remote controlled robot arm gripper.

We’ll let that sink in for a minute. He turned an oversized tooth-paste tube of silicone caulking… into a pneumatic robotic arm. Holy cow. We’ve seen lots of soft robotics before, but this is some really cool stuff!

You see, [Mike] is actually planning on building an inexpensive prosthetic robot hand using this technology. This was merely a test to see how well he could make silicone based air muscles — we’d say it was pretty successful! Each silicone disk in this robotic appendage has four sealed pockets inside of it. When air flows in through them, they inflate, causing the entire appendage to stretch on one side. With four of these, and varying amounts of pressure, it’s possible to move the appendage in any direction!

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Turbot is a Beam/Picaxe Hybrid

[James] wanted to build a BEAM turbot. He ran into some problems with the BEAM circuitry though, and ended up with a BEAM/Picaxe hybrid.
Beam robotics
are the brainchild of Mark Tilden. The acronym stands for Biology, Electronics, Aesthetics, and Mechanics. BEAM based bots were very popular with hobbyists in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but popularity has since died down. BEAM robots tend not to use microcontrollers, instead attempting to simplify things down to the lowest number of elements.

[James’] turbot uses a miller solar engine. The original design used the engine to drive a Solar Turbot Latch. [James’] problem was that the photodiode “eyes” of the robot were not properly enabling the 74AC245 to pass current to the motor. Since the robot was built in a tiny space, debugging the circuit was extremely hard. After struggling with the ‘245 for some time, [James] decided to swich out the BEAM circuit for a Picaxe microcontroller.

The Picaxe can only sink or source about 20ma per pin, which is slightly less than the no load current of [James’] motors. To make up for this, he ganged up four pins per motor. There was some risk in the motors blowing up the Picaxe. However between the lightly loaded gearmotors and low current solar panels it seems to be working just fine.  Overall the bot is a very clean, compact build. Jump past the break to check out its really smooth crablike walking action.

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Award clock put to good use as a bench meter


The motivation industry turns out these type of award trinkets by the millions. Here’s a way to actually put the thing to use. Instead of displaying time, the clock dial serves as the readout of a voltage meter.

When we first saw this post we assumed that the hack used some type of coil injection to drive the hands. But it turns out that this is mechanically driven. The image above shows the stepper motor which is mounted behind the clock. Its drive shaft is coupled with the adjustment knob on the back of the clock. The precision of the motor lets the PICAXE set the clock dial based on the number of motor steps. The hour hand shows the tens value with the minutes serving as ones (base 10, not base 60). This means the top measurable voltage is 12V — when the hour hand is at 12 the measurement is 0 volts plus tenths of a volt from the minute hand. With the dial taken care of the rest of the project focuses on measuring the voltage using the ADC, which has an upper limit of just 5V. This is overcome with a simple voltage divider.

After the break you can see the accuracy of the rig as it performs measurements next to a digital voltmeter.

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Robot has rhythm; carries drum sticks

This little robot needs to go on the road with the Blue Man Group. The treaded rover carries its own drum sticks and uses random objects as its drum set.

We admit that this is not a fresh hack. It harkens from 2008 but this is the first time we can remember seeing the little guy. After viewing the video embedded after the jump we think you’ll agree the project deserves to be seen by as many aspiring hardware hackers as possible.

Perched atop the pile is a speaker, with a second hidden between the yellow treads. The lower unit lets the PICAX 28 microcontroller produce beeps and pops, while the upper unit provides a background track for the drumming. The two rods extending above the ultrasonic rangefinder are connected to a couple of motors and drum along with a third stick that looks like a tail. Even the servo that sweeps the rangefinder from side to side keeps the beat. The synchronized magic is all in the code, which you can get your hands on in step 11 of this longer build tutorial.

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AM Chiptunes played by a modified antenna analyzer

Believe it or not, this VK5JST aerial analyzer kit is going to rickroll you. [Erich] wanted to see if he could use the device in a different way. His adventure led him to use it to feed different tones to an AM radio, producing the all too familiar [Rick Astley] offering.

There’s a fair bit of math that goes into getting the correct signals to generate a given pitch. But it basically boils down to patching into the hardware early in the RF generation. This way an audio signal can be rolled into the carrier frequency. Since this kit uses a PicAXE microcontroller with available source code it is rather easy to add audio input to tweak what the chip is putting out. But there is also some hardware tinkering to be done. Read more about that at the article linked above, and don’t forget to check out the bottom of that page to hear the final results.