Air Bubble Characters Float Along This Unique Scrolling Display

We’ve seen a lot of unique large-format scrolling message boards on these pages, but most of them use some sort of established technology – LEDs, electromechanical flip-dots, and the like – in new and unusual ways. We’re pretty sure this air-bubble dot matrix display is a first, though.

While it may not be destined for the front of a bus or a train station arrivals and departures board, [jellmeister]’s bubble display shows some pretty creative thinking. It started with a scrap of multiwall polycarbonate roofing – Corotherm is the brand name – of the type to glaze greenhouses and other structures. The parallel tubes are perfect for the display, although individual tubes could certainly be substituted. A plastic end cap was fabricated; air nozzles in each channel were plumbed to an air supply through solenoid valves. An Arduino with a couple of motor driver hats allows pulses of air into each channel to create reasonably legible characters that float up the tube. The video below shows it in use at a Maker Faire, where visitors could bubble up their own messages.

It took some tweaking to get it looking as good as it does, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. We wonder whether colored liquid might help, or perhaps adding a Neopixel or even a laser to each channel to add some contrast. Maybe something to cloud the water slightly would help; increasing the surface tension with a salt solution might make the bubbles more distinct. We doubt it’ll ever have the contrast ratio of a flip-dot display, but it certainly has a charm all its own.

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Marquee Display Uses Six Dozen Surplus VFD Tubes to Great Effect

The quest to repurpose surplus parts into new and interesting displays never ends, it seems. And the bigger the display, the better, with extra points for using some really obscure part, like these surplus Russian vacuum-fluorescent tubes turned into a marquee display.

As [tonyp7] freely admits, this is a pet project that’s just for the fun of it, made possible by the flood of surplus parts on the market these days. The VFD tubes are IV-25s, Russian tubes that can be had by the fistful for a song from the usual sources. The seven small elements in the tube were intended to make bar graph displays like VU meters, but [tonyp7] ganged up twelve side by side to make 84-pixel displays. The custom driver board for each matrix needs three of the old SN75518 driver chips, in 40-pin DIPs no less. A 3D-printed bracket holds the tubes and the board for each module; it looks like a clock is the goal, with six modules ganged together. But the marquee display shown below is great too, and we look forward to seeing the finished project.

From faux-Nixies made with LEDs to flip-segment displays driven by relay logic to giant seven-segment LEDs that can be 3D-printed, we really like the trend to unique displays. What are you dreaming up?

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Scrolling a Message on a Building in a Time Lapse Video

[Saulius Lukse] has a really interesting way of turning a couple of buildings into his own addressable display. The effect is not seen in real life, but is a clever video rendering with stock he pulled from time-lapse cameras. Now if you want to play Tetris using the windows of a building you add wireless lightbulbs to every window. But that’s a lot of work. You can fake playing Tetris (or scrolling messages in this case) if you just show a video of the buildings and swap in your own image manipulation.

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[Saulius] starts with a time lapse sequence of a city scape. It needs to be one with a large building or two to provide a good scrolling surface. The building is extracted from the scene with the background transparent. The really time consuming part is creating a distinct image with one window lit for each window that is going to be used. This set of windows are the ‘pixels’ used to create the scrolling images. This is accomplished by masking out one image of the building with every office light turned off, then masking out each window individually with the office illuminated. This masking means everything going on around the building (traffic, weather, people) will be preserved, while the windows can be individually manipulated.

Next the program jinx is used to create the building animation. This program is designed to create scrolling messages on LED panels. [Saulius] provides a Python script that takes the images, the output of jinx, and combines them to create the final set of moving images.

The result is a city wishing you a “Happy New Year!”

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Serializing Dickens to LEDs

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[ch00f] managed to capture some holiday spirit this year by translating all of A Christmas Carol to scrolling text. Dickens’s work has long since entered public domain, which led [ch00f] to wire up a GeekCatch programmable display from Amazon. It has a low refresh rate, which means videos look a bit goofy, but it’s perfectly acceptable for text. [ch00f] ditched the remote control and instead used the display’s serial connection to program in the novella. Unfortunately, he could not find any documentation for the serial protocol, but he was able to reverse engineer it with some freeware applications found online.

It takes over six hours for the sign to spit out the entirety of A Christmas Carol, which easily surpassed the display’s limited text buffer. [ch00f] instead had to send text to the display one paragraph at a time via a custom Python script. This solution takes advantage of the sign’s fixed-width font to estimate the time it takes for each character to scroll by, then immediately feeds the sign a new line.

Check out the blog post for a quick teardown of the display itself and for a detailed description of the protocol in case you decide to use this display for a project. Stick around for a video below!

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What kind of LED matrix does your vodka come with?

Medea Vodka comes with a bottle that includes a blue scrolling LED Marquee. OK, great? It’s an interesting marketing ploy but kind of a waste don’t you think? Friends, it’s up to us to repurpose this  hardware. It can’t be that difficult to hack into the programmable display and make it do your bidding. Our friend Google tells us that you can get your hands on this 750 milliliter bottle for about $40. That’s around $25 more than a passable grade of Vodka sells for, a mere pittance for the challenge of cracking open the hardware for fun and profit. Don’t forget to document your work and tip us off once you’ve accomplished something. See Medea’s programming instructional video after the break. Oh yeah, remember to hack first and drink later… cheap soldering irons get hot!

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