Thermal printer with a loop of thermochromic foil inserted in it, printing digits of Pi on the loop.The digits gradually disappear from the foil as it exits the printer.

Celebrating The Infinity Of Pi Day With Thermochromic Foil

It might take you some time to understand what’s happening in the video that Hackaday alum [Moritz Sivers] shared with us. This is [Moritz]’s contribution for this year’s Pi Day – a machine that shows digits of Pi in a (technically, not quite) infinite loop, and shows us a neat trick we wouldn’t have thought of.

The two main elements of this machine are a looped piece of thermochromic foil and a thermal printer. As digits are marked on the foil by the printer’s heating element, they’re visible for a few seconds until the foil disappears from the view, only to be eventually looped back and thermally embossed anew. The “Pi digits calculation” part is offloaded to Google’s pi.delivery service, a π-as-a-Service endpoint that will stream up to 50 trillion first digits of Pi in case you ever need them – an ESP8266 dutifully fetches the digits and sends them off to the thermal printer.

This machine could print the digits until something breaks or the trillions of digits available run out, and is an appropriate tribute to the infinite nature of Pi, a number we all have no choice but to fundamentally respect. A few days ago, we’ve shown a similar Pi Day tribute, albeit a more self-sufficient one – an Arduino calculating and printing digits of Pi on a character display! We could’ve been celebrating this day for millennia, if Archimedes could just count a little better.

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Improved Thermochromic Clock Uses PCB Heaters For Better Contrast

We love timepiece projects round these parts, so here we are with another unusual 7-segment clock design. Hackaday’s own [Moritz Sivers] wasn’t completely satisfied with his last thermochromic clock, so has gone away and built another one, solved a few of the issues, and this time designed it to be wall mounted. The original design had a single heater PCB using discrete resistors as heating elements. This meant that the heat from active elements spread out to adjacent areas, reducing the contrast and little making it a bit hard to read, but it did look really cool nonetheless.

This new version dispenses with the resistors, using individual segment-shaped PCBs with heater traces, which gives the segment a more even heat and limited bleeding of heat into neighbouring inactive air-gapped segments.  Control is via the same Wemos D1 Mini ESP8266 module, driving a chain of 74HC595 shift registers and a pile of dual NMOS transistors. A DS18B20 thermometer allows the firmware to adjust for ambient temperature, giving more consistency to the colour change effect. All this is wrapped up in an aluminium frame, and the results look pretty nice if you ask us.

Both PCB designs and the Arduino firmware can be found on the project GitHub, so reproducing this should be straightforward enough for those so inclined, just make sure your power supply can handle at least 3 amps, as these heaters sure are power hungry!

Got a perfectly good clock, but desperately need a thermochromic temperature/humidity display? [Moritz] has you covered. And if this digital clock is just too simple, how about a mad 1024-element analog thermochromic clock instead?

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Erasable Pen Ink Adds Colors To 3D Prints

Changing colors during a 3D print is notoriously difficult. Either you need multiple heads ready to go during the print which increases operating and maintenance costs for your printer, or you need to stop the print to switch the filament and then hope that everything matches up when the print is resumed. There are some workarounds to this problem, but not many of them are as smooth an effortless as this one which uses erasable pen ink to add colors to the filament on the fly.

Erasable pen ink is a thermochromic material that doesn’t get removed from paper when erased like graphite from a pencil. Instead the heat from the friction of erasing causes it to become transparent. By using this property for a 3D print, the colors in the print can be manipulated simply by changing the temperature of the hot end. Of course the team at [Autodrop3d] had quite a learning curve when experimenting with this method, as they had to run the extruder at a much lower temperature than normal to have control over the ink’s color, had to run the print much slower than normal, and were using a very sticky low-temperature plastic for the print.

With all of these modifications to the print setup, there are bound to be some limitations in material and speed, but the results of the project speak for themselves. This allows for stock 3D printers to use this method with no hardware modifications, and the color changes can be done entirely in software. While everyone catches up with this new technology, there are some other benefits to a 3D printer with multiple print heads, though, and some clever ways of doing the switching without too much interruption.

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Responsive Paintings Do It With Heat And Light

Art is a conversation, yes. But normally, it’s a short one: the artist makes a statement and the audience responds, each bringing their own interpretations. The hard thing about being an artist is that once you release a piece into the world, it’s sort of bound and gagged in that it can’t defend itself from comments and misinterpretation.

On the other hand, interactive art allows for a longer discussion. Pieces are responsive and no longer mute. But so much of the interactive art out there is purely digital, and lacks a certain analog warmth that comes from physicality. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Laura] sought to put a digital interface on an analog visual piece and make paintings that change based on data inputs.

For now, [Laura] is focusing on adding two dynamic elements to her paintings: shifting color and light patterns in response to a viewer’s presence and/or actions using an Arduino and TinyML. For the color changes, [Laura] ended up mixing thermochromic pigment powder with a transparent gel medium.

This was a bit of a journey, because the regular kind of transparent medium came out too runny, and mixing the pigments with white paint made the colors come out lighter than [Laura] wanted and left white behind when heated. But transparent gel medium was just right. You can see the difference in this picture — the colors come out darker with the gel medium, and disappear almost completely with heat.

[Laura] didn’t want to just poke LEDs through the canvas, which in this case is a 1/8″ birch panel. Instead, there’s an RGB matrix shining behind a pair of thin, diffused cutouts filled with thermoplastic.

Check out the video after the break of a painting sketch that uses both techniques. Keep your eye on the purple triangles on the right side, and watch them slowly turn blue in real time as light patterns dance behind the diffused cutouts. Stick around for the second brief video that shows an updated light animation.

We’ve seen many ways of making interactive art, like this Rube Goldberg fairy tale ball maze that you control with your phone.

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Using Heaters To Display Time

We’re always fans of interesting clock builds around here, whether it’s a word clock, marble clock, or in this case a clock using a unique display method. Of course, since this is a build by Hackaday’s own [Moritz v. Sivers] the display that was chosen for this build was a custom thermochromic display. These displays use heat-sensitive material to change color, and his latest build leverages that into one of the more colorful clock builds we’ve seen.

The clock’s display is built around a piece of thermochromic film encased in clear acrylic. The way the film operates is based on an LCD display, but using heat to display the segments. For this build, as opposed to his previous builds using larger displays, he needed to refine the method he used for generating the heat required for the color change. For that he swapped out the Peltier devices for surface mount resistors and completely redesigned the drivers and the PCBs around this new method.

Of course, the actual clock mechanism is worth a mention as well. The device uses an ESP8266 board to handle the operation of the clock, and it is able to use its wireless capabilities to get the current time via NTP. All of the files needed to recreate this are available on the project page as well, including code, CAD files, and PCB layouts. It’s always good to have an interesting clock around your home, but if you’re not a fan of electronic clocks like this we can recommend any number of mechanical clocks as well.

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Hackaday Podcast 069: Calculator Controversy, Socketing SOIC, Metal On The Moon, And Basking In Bench Tools

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams march to the beat of the hardware hacking drum as they recount the greatest hacks to hit the ‘net this week. First up: Casio stepped in it with a spurious DMCA takedown notice. There’s a finite matrix of resistors that form a glorious clock now on display at CERN. Will a patio paver solve your 3D printer noise problems? And if you ever build with copper clad, you can’t miss this speedrun of priceless prototyping protips.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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Matrix Of Resistors Forms The Hot Hands Behind This Thermochromic Analog Clock

If you’re going to ditch work, you might as well go big. A 1,024-pixel thermochromic analog clock is probably on the high side of what most people would try, but apparently [Daniel Valuch] really didn’t want to go to work that day.

The idea here is simple: heat up a resistor by putting some current through it, lay a bit of thermochromic film over it, and you’ve got one pixel. The next part was not so simple: expanding that single pixel to a 32 by 32 matrix.

To make each pixel square-ish, [Daniel] chose to pair up the 220-ohm SMD resistors for a whopping 2,048 components. Adding to the complexity was the choice to drive them with a 1,024-bit shift register made from discrete 74LVC1G175 flip flops. With the Arduino Nano and all the other support components, that’s over 3,000 devices with the potential to draw 50 amps, were someone to be foolish or unlucky enough to turn on every pixel at once. Luckily, [Daniel] chose to emulate an analog clock here; that led to additional problems, like dealing with cool-down lag in the thermochromic film when animating the hands, which had to be dealt with in software.

We’ve seen other thermochromic displays before, including recently with this temperature and humidity display. This one may not be the highest resolution display out there, but it’s big and bold and slightly dangerous, and that makes it a win in our book.