Fail Of The Week: Bright Idea For LED Signs Goes Bad

Typically when we select a project for “Fail to the Week” honors, it’s because something went wrong with the technology of the project. But the tech of [Leo Fernekes]’ innovative LED sign system was never the problem; it was the realities of scaling up to production as well as the broken patent process that put a nail in this promising project’s coffin, which [Leo] sums up succinctly as “The Inventor’s Paradox” in the video below.

The idea [Leo] had a few years back was pretty smart. He noticed that there was no middle ground between cheap, pre-made LED signs and expensive programmable signboards, so he sought to fill the gap. The result was an ingenious “LED pin”, a tiny module with an RGB LED and a microcontroller along with a small number of support components. The big idea is that each pin would store its own part of a display-wide animation in flash memory. Each pin has two terminals that connect to metal cladding on either side of the board they attach to. These two conductors supply not only power but synchronization for all the pins with a low-frequency square wave. [Leo]’s method for programming the animations — using a light sensor on each pin to receive signals from a video projector — is perhaps even more ingenious than the pins themselves.

[Leo]’s idea seemed destined for greatness, but alas, the cruel realities of scaling up struck hard. Each prototype pin had a low part count, but to be manufactured economically, the entire BOM would have to be reduced to almost nothing. That means an ASIC, but the time and expense involved in tooling up for that were too much to bear. [Leo] has nothing good to say about the patent game, either, which his business partners in this venture insisted on playing. There’s plenty of detail in the video, but he sums it up with a pithy proclamation: “Patents suck.”

Watching this video, it’s hard not to feel sorry for [Leo] for all the time he spent getting the tech right only to have no feasible way to get a return on that investment. It’s a sobering tale for those of us who fancy ourselves to be inventors, and a cautionary tale about the perils of participating in a patent system that clearly operates for the benefit of the corporations rather than the solo inventor. It’s not impossible to win at this game, as our own [Bob Baddeley] shows us, but it is easy to fail.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: Bright Idea For LED Signs Goes Bad”

Wire Wrapping Skills Put To Use For Sign Making

We don’t see many wire wrapped circuits these days, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was nearly a lost art at this point. But that doesn’t mean the technique can’t be applied elsewhere. [MiHu-Works] recently wrote in to share a sign they recently made for a client’s restaurant that looks an awful lot like the back panel of a homebrew computer to us.

Before you get a chance to scroll down and complain about it in the comments, we admit this one is fairly deep into the crafts side of the spectrum. But it’s also a gorgeous piece that we’d be happy to hang up in the hackerspace, so we don’t care. There might not be any angry pixies zipping around through all that lovingly wrapped copper wire, but it certainly feels like you’re looking at the internals of some complex machine.

To make it, [MiHu-Works] first printed out the lettering on paper and put it on the wood to serve as a guide. Roofing nails were then driven into the wood to create the outline of the text. A simple tool made from a forked piece of wood was placed under the head of each nail as it was hammered in to make sure the depth was consistent. It also made sure there was adequate room underneath to wrap the copper wires through them. Then it was time for the wrapping…so much wrapping. (Who is going to come through with the robot to do this?)

A few years back we asked the Hackaday readers if they thought the days of wire wrapped circuits were over. It generated a lot of discussion and interesting ideas, but looking at projects like this, perhaps we were asking the wrong question.

Continue reading “Wire Wrapping Skills Put To Use For Sign Making”

EL Wire Makes For A Great Faux-Neon Sign

Neon signs are attractive, but require specialised tools and skills for their manufacture. If you don’t have time to learn glass blowing and source the right gasses, you’re pretty much out of luck. However, EL wire can give a similar aesthetic, and with an off-the-shelf power supply it is easy to hook up and get working. [sjm4306] combined this with 3D printing for a quick and easy build.

The project starts by selecting a Nintendo 64 neon sign as a basis for the design. An image of the sign was traced in Inkscape, and an outline imported into CAD software. From there, a frame was designed with posts for the EL wire to wrap around, and holes for it to pass through to the back of the sign. The frame was then 3D printed, and laced with EL wires in the requisite colors.

The final result is impressive, with the EL wire serving as a great small-scale simulacrum of neon tubes. It’s a construction method that should scale as large as your 3D printed assemblies can go, too. If you need to get to grips with how it works, there’s a tutorial available for working with EL wire. Video after the break.

Continue reading “EL Wire Makes For A Great Faux-Neon Sign”

Clicky Signspinner Works Just Like A Retractable Pen

[u407]’s 3D printed Signspinner was created as a clean/dirty indicator for a dishwasher, and at its heart is a mechanism that works a lot like that of a retractable ballpoint pen. Every click of the plunger spins the circular label inside by one-quarter of a rotation. In [u407]’s case it only needs to alternate between showing “clean” and “dirty”, but there are in fact four total label positions.

The entire mechanism including the spring is 3D printed, but the spring is PETG and the rest is PLA. [u407] doubts PLA would work for the spring because of how much it gets compressed, but suggests that ABS might work as an alternative.

If you’re having trouble visualizing how this mechanism works, we covered [Bill Hammack] explaining exactly how retractable ballpoint pens work which should make it perfectly clear. It’s fundamentally the same principle.

[via Reddit]

Building A Googie-Style Sign With The Help Of CNC

The Googie style was a major architectural trend of the post-war period in the United States. It remains popular to throwback to this style, and [Wesley Treat] got the job to create a sign in this vein for a local trailer motel (Youtube link, embedded below).

CNC tools make just about any job easier, and this one is no exception. The smooth curves of the sign were carved out of several sections of PVC sheet, and stacked up to form the body of the sign. These were then sanded, coated in putty, and given a lick of  paint. Steps like these could likely be skipped in the interest of saving time, especially given that few will see those parts once the sign is installed. However, [Wesley] takes pride in his work, and the final piece is all the better for it. It’s also important for the piece to impress the client, not just the public.

The front of the sign is also produced in PVC sheet, and given a coat of paint with brush techniques used to create a faux-wood finish. Vinyl is then applied to the textual and graphical elements in order to create a colored backlit effect. The sign is lit with off-the-shelf LED strips, and the whole assembly is weather sealed to protect it from the elements.

The final product is a beautiful piece, harking back to the classic Googie aesthetic and serving as a testament to [Wesley]’s skills. It’s a great example of how easy it is to create great work with the right tools and the proper attention to detail. It also goes to show how great LEDs are for signage, whether you’re at the beach or the lab. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Building A Googie-Style Sign With The Help Of CNC”

Flip-Dot Display Brought Out Of Retirement By New Drivers

LED matrix displays and flat-screen monitors have largely supplanted old-school electromechanical models for public signage. We think that’s a shame, but it’s also a boon for the tinkerer, as old displays can be had for a song these days in the online markets.

Such was the case for [John Whittington] and his flip-dot display salvaged from an old bus. He wanted to put the old sign back to work, but without a decent driver, he did what one does in these situations — he tore it down and reverse engineered the thing. Like most such displays, his Hannover Display 7 x 56-pixel flip-dot sign is electromechanically interesting; each pixel is a card straddling the poles of a small electromagnet. Pulse the magnet and the card flips over, changing the pixel from black to fluorescent green. [John] used an existing driver for the sign and a logic analyzer to determine the protocol used by the internal electronics to drive the pixels, and came up with a much-improved method of sending characters and graphics. With a Raspberry Pi and power supply now resident inside the case, a web-based GUI lets him display messages easily. The video below has lots of details, and the code is freely available.

You may recall [John] from a recent edge-lit Nixie-like display. Looks like he’s got a thing for eye-catching displays, and we’re fine with that.

Continue reading “Flip-Dot Display Brought Out Of Retirement By New Drivers”

We Are Now At DEFCON 2

If you had a working DEFCON meter that reported on real data, would it be cool or distressing?

Before we get ahead of ourselves: no, not that DEF CON. Instructables user [ArthurGuy] is a fan of the 1983 movie  War Games, and following a recent viewing –hacker senses a-tingling — he set to work building his own real-time display.

Making use of some spare wood, [ArthurGuy] glued and nailed together a 10x10x50cm box for the sign. Having been painted white already at some point, the paint brilliantly acted as a reflector for the lights inside each section. The five DEF CON level panels were cut from 3mm pieces of coloured acrylic with the numbers slapped on after a bit of work from a vinyl cutter.

Deviating from a proper, screen-accurate replica, [ArthurGuy] cheated a little and used WS2812 NeoPixel LED strips — 12 per level — and used a Particle Photon to control them. A quick bit of code polls the MI5 terrorism RSS feed and displays its current level — sadly, it’s currently at DEFCON 2.

Continue reading “We Are Now At DEFCON 2”