Electronic components are strictly functional objects: their appearance is determined by the function they’re meant to fulfil. But that doesn’t mean there’s no beauty in them. In fact, a whole discipline called circuit sculpture exists that aims to make beautiful shapes out of nothing more than electronic components and wires. Today we can show you [Maarten Tromp]’s latest work in this field: a wall-mounted clock that he’s christened the Clock Sculpture.
The clock’s main structure consists of two concentric rings made from galvanized steel wire, held together by twelve spokes. All components are soldered directly onto those two rings, with no additional mechanical support. Steel isn’t the greatest material for soldering to, but [Maarten] managed to make it work with a high-wattage soldering iron and a bit of plumbers’ flux.
The overall design is simple but clever: the outer ring holds 60 LEDs to indicate the minutes, with every fifth LED always illuminated dimly in order to provide a background reference in dark conditions. There are 24 LEDs on the inner ring to indicate the twelve hours as well as the “half-hours” in between. Without these, the dial would look a bit odd at 30 minutes past the hour.
A mains transformer, plus a single diode, a buffer capacitor and a 7805 regulator form a simple DC power supply, with its negative terminal connected to the steel frame. Time is kept by an ATtiny13A that counts mains frequency pulses. There’s no way to adjust the time: you’ll have to plug in the clock exactly at noon or midnight in order to synchronize it with the outside world. A crude method perhaps, but one that fits well with the clock’s bare-bones aesthetic.
The individual LEDs are driven by a set of twelve 74HC595 shift registers, all mounted dead-bug style between the two rings. Signals and power are carried between the chips by inconspicuous grey wires taken from old IDE cables; this gives the clock a clean, uncluttered appearance. [Maarten] has had the sculpture clock in his office for several months and while it apparently took some time to get used to, he claims it’s easy to read in bright and dark conditions.
Binary clocks are a great way to confuse your non-technical peers when they ask the time from you — not that knowing about the binary system would magically give you quick reading skills of one yourself. In that case, they’re quite a nice little puzzle, and even a good alternative to the quarantine clocks we’ve come across a lot recently, since you can simply choose not to bother trying to figure out the exact time. But with enough training, you’ll eventually get the hang of it, and you might be in need for a new temporal challenge. Well, time to level up then, and the Cryptic Wall Clock built by [tomatoskins] will definitely keep you busy with that.
If you happen to be familiar with the Mengenlehreuhr in Berlin, this one here uses the same concept, but is built in a circular shape, giving it more of a natural clock look. And if you’re not familiar with the Mengenlehreuhr (a word so nice, we had to write it twice), the way [tomatoskins]’ clock works is to construct the time in 24-hour format by lighting up several sections in the five LED rings surrounding a center dot.
Starting from the innermost ring, each section of the rings represent intervals of 5h, 1h, 5m, 1m, and 2s, with 4, 4, 11, 4, and 29 sections per ring respectively. The center dot simply adds an additional second. The idea is to multiply each lit up section by the interval it represents, and add the time together that way. So if each ring has exactly one section lit up, the time is 06:06:02 without the dot, and 06:06:03 with the dot — but you will find some more elaborate examples in his detailed write-up.
Timepieces are cool no matter how simplistic or granular they are. Sometimes its nice not to know exactly what time it is down to the second, and most of the really beautiful clocks are simple as can be. If you didn’t know this was a clock, it would still be fascinating to watch the bearings race around the face.
This clock takes design cues from the Story clock, a visual revolution in counting down time which uses magnetic levitation to move a single bearing around the face exactly once over a duration of any length as set by the user. As a clock, it’s not very useful, so there’s a digital readout that still doesn’t justify the $800 price tag.
[tomatoskins] designed a DIY version that’s far more elegant. It has two ball bearings that move around the surface against hidden magnets — an hour ball and a minute ball. Inside there’s a pair of 3D-printed ring gears that are each driven by a stepper motor and controlled with an Arduino Nano and a real-time clock module. The body is made of plywood reclaimed from a bed frame, and [tomatoskins] added a walnut veneer for timeless class.
In addition to the code, STLs, and CAD files that birthed the STLs, [tomatoskins] has a juicy 3D-printing tip to offer. The gears had to be printed in interlocked pieces, but these seams can be sealed with a solution of acetone and plastic from supports and failed prints.
A staple of consumer devices for decades, seven segment displays are arguably one of the most recognizable electronic components out there. So it’s probably no surprise they’re cheap and easy to source for our own projects. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for personal interpretation.
[MacCraiger] wanted to build a wall clock with the classic seven segment LED look, only his idea was to make it slightly larger than average. With RGB LED strips standing in for individual LEDs, scaling up the concept isn’t really a problem on a technical level; the tricky part is diffusing that many LEDs and achieving the orderly look of a real seven segment display.
All those segments perfectly cut out of a sheet of plywood come courtesy of a CNC router. Once the rectangles had been cut out, [MacCraiger] had to fill them with something that could soften up the light coming from the LEDs mounted behind them. He decided to break up a bunch of glass bottles into small chunks, lay them inside the segments, and then seal them in with a layer of clear epoxy. The final look is unique, almost as though the segments are blocks of ice.
At first glance the use of a Raspberry Pi Zero to control the LED strips might seem overkill, but as it turns out, [MacCraiger] has actually added in quite a bit of extra functionality. The purists might say it still could have been done with an ESP8266, but being able to toss some Python scripts on the Linux computer inside your clock certainly has its appeal.
The big feature is interoperability with Amazon’s Alexa. Once he tells the digital home assistant to set an alarm, the clock will switch over to a countdown display complete with digits that change color as the timer nears zero. He’s also written some code that slowly shifts the colors of the digits towards red as the month progresses, a great way to visualize at a glance how close you are to blowing past that end of the month deadline.