Fallout Inspired Display is Ready for the Apocalypse

We’ve seen more projects based on books, TV shows, movies, and video games than we could ever hope to count. Hackers and makers derive inspiration from what they see around them, and it turns out there’s considerable overlap between the folks who sit in their labs building stuff all day and the ones who spend their free time playing games or watching movies. Big surprise, right? But among them, few can match the influence of the Fallout franchise.

As the latest entry in a long line of incredible Fallout-inspired builds, we present the Octoglow VFD by [Michał Słomkowski]. While this build isn’t trying to replicate anything directly from the games, it captures all the hallmarks that make up the game’s distinctive post-apocalyptic chic : antiquated vintage components, exposed internals, and above all, a dirty, industrial look. It’s supposed to look like somebody built the stuff out of parts they found in the trash, primarily because that’s exactly what they would’ve needed to do.

So what is it? Well, that’s a little hard to nail down. Frankly we’d say it’s a little more like art than anything, but it does have some useful functions. Currently it shows the time, date, weather information, and various RSS feeds on its dual vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s also a real-life Geiger-Müller counter onboard, because what says Fallout more than a little radiation?

The build itself is absolutely fascinating, and [Michał] leaves no stone unturned in his comprehensive write-up. Every module of the Octoglow has its own page on his site, and each one is bristling with hardware details, schematics, and firmware documentation. Reading along you’ll run into all sorts of interesting side notes: like how he reverse engineered a wireless temperature sensor with his sound card, or devised his own ten-pin bus to interconnect all the modules.

If the Octoglow doesn’t quite scratch that Vault-Tec itch, there’s plenty more where that came from. How about this replica of the wall terminals from Fallout 4, or this radiation monitor perfect for roaming the wastelands? Don’t forget to bring along this 3D printed Thirst Zapper for protection.

A Scratch Built VFD Clock with Inner Beauty

Vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs) are one of those beautiful pieces of bygone technology that you just don’t see much of anymore. At one time they were a mainstay of consumer electronics, but today they’ve largely been replaced with cheaper and more energy efficient displays such as LEDs and LCDs. While they might be objectively better displays, we can’t help but feel a pang of regret seeing a modern kitchen bereft of that unmistakable pale green glow.

If his impressive VFD clock is any indication [Simón Berraud] feels the same way. Not only does the clock’s display instantly trigger waves of nostalgia, but the custom PCB has that mistakable look of consumer electronics circa 1985. If we didn’t know better, we’d think this thing fell through a time warp.

Well, if it wasn’t for the SMD ATmega328 on the flip side of the board, anyway. In addition to the MCU, the clock features four ULN2003AN Darlington transistor arrays to drive the VFD, and a M48T08 Real Time Clock to keep the whole thing ticking.

The careful observer might notice a distinct lack of buttons or switches on the clock, and wonder how this retro wonder is set. In a particularly radical hack, [Simón] sets the time with a hard coded variable in the source code; you just need to set it far enough into the future so that you have enough time to power it up at the appropriate moment.

[Simón] has put the Arduino-flavored source code for the ATmega328 as well as the schematics and board files in his GitHub repository for anyone else who might want to take a walk down memory lane. While you’re at it, you may want to look at these tips for getting unknown VFDs up and running, as well as this interesting explanation of how they can be used as amplifiers if you’re really looking for style points.

Faded Beauty DMM Gets An OLED Makeover

When a fine piece of lab instrumentation crosses your bench, you’ve got to do your best to put it to work. But even in the highest quality devices no component lasts forever, especially vacuum tubes. For some vintage instruments with vacuum fluorescent displays, that means putting up with less-than-perfect digits in order to get that sweet, sweet precision. Or not – you can always reverse engineer the thing and add a spanking new OLED display.

The Hewlett-Packard 34401A digital multimeter that fell into [qu1ck]’s lap was a beauty, but it had clearly seen better days. The display was full of spuriously illuminated dots and segments, making it hard to use the 6.5 digit DMM. After a futile bit of probing to see if a relatively easy driver fix would help, and with a replacement display being made of solid unobtanium, [qu1ck] settled in for the long process of reverse engineering the front panel protocol. As luck would have it, H-P used the SPI protocol to talk to the display, and it wasn’t long before [qu1ck] had a decent prototype working. The final version is much more polished, with a display sized to fit inside the original space occupied by the VFD. The original digits and annunciator icons are recreated, and he added a USB port and the bargraph display show in the clip below.

We think it looks fabulous, and both the firmware and hardware are on Github if you’d like to rescue a similar meter. You may want to check our guide to buying old test gear first, though, to get the most bang for your buck.

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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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It’s a Nixie! It’s a VFD! No, It’s a Custom LED Display in a Tube

Like the look of Nixies but they just seem a little overdone? Or perhaps you just don’t want the hassles of a high-voltage power supply? Then maybe these faux-Nixie LED “tube” displays will find a way into your next clock build.

For his 2018 Hackaday Prize entry, [bobricius] decided that what the world needs is a Nixie that’s not a Nixie. To that end, each display is formed by seven surface-mount LEDs soldered to a seven-segment shaped PCB and slipped into a glass tube. The LEDs are in 4014 packages so they’re only 4 millimeters long, but what they lack in size they make up for in brightness. We’re not sure if it’s a trick of the camera, but the LEDs certainly seem to put off a bluish glow that’s reminiscent of vacuum-fluorescent displays — it’s like a Nixie and a VFD all rolled up in one package.  The current case, which hides the clock circuitry on the lower part of the PCB, is just plastic, but this would look spiffy in a fine wooden case.

Could this be another Nixie tube killer that never was? Perhaps, but wherever it ends up, we like the look of it, and we’re glad it’s one of the early Hackaday Prize entries. Have you got something to enter in the greatest hardware competition on Earth? If not, get cracking!

Quick and Dirty Driver Tips for Surplus VFDs

Sometimes it seems like eBay is the world’s junk bin, and we mean that in the best possible way. The variety of parts available for a pittance boggles the mind sometimes, especially when the parts were once ordered in massive quantities but have since gone obsolete. The urge to order parts like these in bulk can be overwhelming, and sooner or later, you’ll find yourself with a fistful of old stuff but no idea how to put it to use.

Case in point: the box of Russian surplus seven-segment vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs) that [w_k_fay] had to figure out how to use. The result is a tutorial on quick and dirty VFD drivers that looks pretty handy. [w_k_fay] takes pains to point out that these are practical tips for putting surplus VFDs to work, as opposed to engineered solutions. He starts with tips on characterizing your surplus tubes in case you don’t have a pinout. A 1.5 V battery will suffice for the hot cathode, while a 9 V battery will turn on the segments. The VFDs can be treated much like a common cathode LED display, and a simple circuit driving the tube with a 4026 decade counter can be seen below. He also covers the challenges of driving VFDs from microcontrollers, and promises a full build of a frequency counter wherein the mysteries of multiplexing will be addressed.

Sounds like it’s time to stock up on those surplus VFDs and put them to work. For inspiration, take a look at this minimalist VFD clock, or perhaps mix VFDs with Nixies to satisfy your urge for all things glowy.

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Celebrate Display Diversity for a Circuit Circus Clock

There’s a lot to be said for nice, tidy projects where everything lines up and looks pretty. Seeing straight lines and pleasing proportions speaks to our obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and tends to soothe the mind and calm the spirit. But disorder is not without its charm, and mixing it up a little from time to time, such as with this mixed-media digital clock, can be a good idea.

Now, we know what you’re thinking — yet another Nixie clock. True, but that’s only half the story — or more accurately, one-sixth. There’s but a single Nixie in [Fuselage]’s circus-punk themed clock, used for the least significant digit in the hours part of the display. The other digits are displayed with four seven-segment devices — a Numitron, a vacuum fluorescent display, and an LED dot display — plus a real oddball, an old electromechanical display with individual slides for each character and a rear-screen projector. The RTC part of the project is standard Arduino fare, but as you can imagine the power supply needed for such a diversity of displays is pretty complex and has to provide everything from +5 to -270 volts. Each display needs its own driver, too, making this more of a zoo than a circus. The mixed up look just works with the circus theme, too. We’d really like more information on the projector display, though.

Looking for a real statement for your next clock build? Check out the rare as hens’ teeth NIMO tube.

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