Split Flap Display Tells Us The Word

LED and LCD displays are a technological marvel. They’ve brought the price of televisions and monitors down to unheard-of levels since the days of CRTs, but this upside arguably comes with an aesthetic cost. When everything is covered in bland computer screens, the world tends to look a lot more monotonous. Not so several decades ago when there were many sharply contrasting ways of displaying information. One example of this different time comes to us by way of this split-flap display that [Erich] has been recreating.

Split-flap displays work by printing letters or numbers on a series of flaps that are attached to a spindle with a stepper motor. Each step of the motor turns the display by one character. They can be noisy and do require a large amount of maintenance compared to modern displays, but have some advantages as well. [Erich]’s version is built out of new acrylic and MDF, and uses an Arduino as the control board. A 3D printer and CNC machine keep the tolerances tight enough for the display to work smoothly and also enable him to expand the display as needed since each character display is fairly modular.

Right now, [Erich]’s display has 20 characters on two different rows and definitely brings us back to the bygone era where displays of this style would have been prominent in airports and train stations. This display uses a lot of the basics from another split flap display that we featured a few years ago but has some improvements. And, if you’d prefer restorations of old displays rather than modern incarnations, we have you covered there as well.

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Flip-up clock

A Flip Clock That Flips Up, Not Down

The venerable flip clock has become an outsized part of timekeeping culture that belies the simplicity of its mechanism. People collect and restore the electromechanical timepieces with devotion, and even seek to build new kinds of clocks based on split-flap displays. Designs differ, but they all have something in common in their use of gravity to open the leaves and display their numbers.

But what if you turned the flip clock on its head? That’s pretty much what [Shinsaku Hiura] accomplished with a flip clock that stands up the digits rather than flipping them down. The clock consists of three 3D-printed drums that are mounted on a common axle and linked together with gears and a Geneva drive. Each numeral is attached to a drum through a clever cam that makes sure it stands upright when it rotates to the top of the drum, and flops down cleanly as the drum advances. The video below makes the mechanism’s operation clear.

The build instructions helpfully note that “This clock is relatively difficult to make,” and given the extensive troubleshooting instructions offered, we can see how that would be so. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a mechanically challenging design from [Shinsaku Hiura]; this recent one-servo seven-segment display comes to mind.

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This DIY Split-Flap Display Does Both Time And Weather

With little more than four economical stepper motors, a Raspberry Pi Zero, and a 3D printer, [Thomas Barlow] made himself an awfully slick Smart Flip Clock that can display not only the time, but also weather data as well. This is done by adding a few extra graphics to some of the split-flaps, so numbers can also be used to indicate temperature and weather conditions succinctly. Displaying the time has to do without a colon (so 5:18 displays as 518), but being able to show temperature and weather conditions more than makes up for it.

32 degrees and a mix of sun and cloud

According to the project’s GitHub repository, it looks as though each split-flap has thirteen unique positions. The first ten are for numerals 0 through 9, and the rest are either blank, or used to make up a few different weather icons with different combinations. A Python script runs on the Raspberry Pi and retrieves weather data from OpenWeather, and the GPIO header drives the display via four geared stepper motors and driver boards. The rest of the hardware is 3D printed, and [Thomas] helpfully provides CAD models in STEP format alongside the STL files.

The basic design of a split-flap display is really quite versatile, and enterprising hackers have been putting delightful new twists on them for years. There has been a split-flap display used as a kind of flip-book animation, and we’ve also had the pleasure of seeing an entire Tarot deck used for esoteric, automated readings.

Tetris On Split-Flap Go Brrr

It hardly seems possible, but engineer collective and split-flap display purveyors [Oat Foundry] were able to build a working implementation of Tetris on a 10 x 40 split-flap display in the span of a single day. Check it out in the video after the break.

This project is a bit understaffed in the details department, but we do know that [Oat Foundry] started with [Timur Bakibayev]’s open-source implementation of Tetris in Python and modified the draw function to work on a split-flap display. As you may have guessed, the biggest obstacle is the refresh rate and how it affects playability — particularly during those tense moments when a player rotates a piece before dropping it. Split-flaps flip quickly from on to off, but flipping back to on requires a full trip around through all the other characters.

We think this is nice work for a one-day build. Should they go further, we’d like to see the same things implemented as [Oat Foundry] does: a high score tracker and a preview of the next piece.

Don’t have a split-flap display? Yeah, us either, but we do have televisions. Turn on the tube and check out this Nano-scale Tetris.

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Tarot Machine Flips Through Fate’s Rolodex

Were tarot card readers deemed non-essential in your part of the world (and do you think they saw it coming?) More than ever, we all need diversions that are for entertainment purposes only. And what better basis for entertainment than a mystical fortune-telling robot that can read your tarot cards?

This fantastic-looking ‘bot stands on the shoulders of [Scott Bezak]’s trailblazing method for easy DIY split-flap displays. Push the rather inviting-looking button on the top, and the flaps start flipping around to find your fortune. Once the fates have aligned, a thermal printer on the front spits out an image of your card along with an interpretation.

It’s obvious that [i_mozy] put quite a lot of effort into this slick machine, and we think the stickers look especially great. All the details of physical tarot card readings are accounted for, including a random number to decide the card’s position, and LEDs to represent the card’s element. Suspend your disbelief and check out the demo/promo video after the break.

Split-flap displays are a great choice no matter what you want to show. We’ve seen them used to display everything from the weather to the current Spotify track.

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Airport Split-Flap Letters Carry On As Spotify Display

Today’s tale of being in the right place at the right time comes from [fabe1999], who was doing an intern gig at the airport when the controller on their split-flap display bought a one-way ticket going south. They were just going to throw away thousands of these letters and replace them with monitors, but the intern intervened.

[fabe1999] grabbed an armload, took them home, and set about making them flap again, one letter at a time. An ATtiny worked okay, but it wasn’t really fast enough to flip them at their full clacking potential, so [fabe1999] switched to an ESP8266. So now there is one ESP for each of the 20 characters, and another that runs a web server where text can be directly entered for immediate display.

Each letter uses two sensors to flap to the right letter. The first one acts as a start sensor, detecting the blackness of a blank character. Another sensor counts the letters and makes the ESP stop the motor on the right one. So far, [fabe1999] hasn’t figured out how to recognize when a blank character can stay blank, so they flap all the way around back to blank for now. It certainly adds to the rich, flappy sound, but that can’t be good for the long-term life of the letters. Your flight is now departing for Post Break Island, where the letters are spending part of their retirement showing song titles from Spotify.

No chance of split flaps falling into your lap? Here’s a tip: you can fab your own flip.

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Split Flap Clock Keeps Time Thanks To Custom Frequency Converter

Why would anyone put as much effort into resurrecting a 1970s split-flap clock as [mitxela] did when he built this custom PLL frequency converter? We’re not sure, but we do like the results.

The clock is a recreation of the prop from the classic 1993 film, Groundhog Day, rigged to play nothing but “I Got You Babe” using the usual sound boards and such. But the interesting part was getting the clock mechanism keeping decent time. Sourced from the US, the clock wanted 120 VAC at 60 Hz rather than the 240 VAC, 50 Hz UK standard. The voltage difference could be easily handled, but the frequency mismatch left the clock running unacceptably slow.

That’s when [mitxela] went all in and designed a custom circuit to convert the 50 Hz mains to 60 Hz. What’s more, he decided to lock his synthesized waveform to the supply current, to take advantage of the long-term frequency control power producers are known for. The write-up goes into great detail about the design of the phase-locked loop (PLL), which uses an ATtiny85 to monitor the rising edge of the mains supply and generate the PWM signal that results in six cycles out for every five cycles in. The result is that the clock keeps decent time now, and he learned a little something too.

If the name [mitxela] seems familiar, it’s probably because we’ve featured many of his awesome builds before. From ludicrous-scale soldering to a thermal printer Polaroid to a Morse-to-USB keyboard, he’s always got something cool going on.