Is That A Word Clock In Your Pocket?

Word clocks are one of those projects that everyone seems to love. Even if you aren’t into the tech behind how they work, they have a certain appealing aesthetic. Plus you can read the time without worrying about those pesky numbers, to say nothing of those weird little hands that spin around in a circle. This is the 21st century, who has time for that?

Now, thanks to [Gordon Williams], these decidedly modern timepieces just got a lot more accessible. His word clock is not only small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but it’s the easiest-to-build one we’ve ever seen. If you were ever curious about these gadgets but didn’t want to put in the the time and effort required to build a full scale version, this diminutive take on the idea might be just what Father Time ordered.

The trick is to attach the microcontroller directly to the backside of an 8 x 8 LED matrix. As demonstrated by [Gordon], the Bluetooth-enabled Espruino MDBT42Q fits neatly between the rows of pins, which need only a gentlest of persuasions to get lined up and soldered into place. Since the time can be set remotely over Bluetooth, there’s not even so much as an additional button required. While driving the LEDs directly off of the digital pins of a microcontroller is never recommended, the specifics of this application (only a few of the LEDs on at a time, and not for very long) means he can get away with it.

Of course, that just gets you an array of square LEDs you blink. It wouldn’t be much of a word clock without, you know, words. To that end, [Gordon] has provided an overlay which you can print on a standard inkjet printer. While it’s not a perfect effect as the light still comes through the ink, it works well enough to get the point across. One could even argue that the white letters on the gray background helps with visibility compared to just the letters alone lighting up.

If you’re not in the market for a dollhouse-sized word clock, fear not. We’ve got no shortage of adult sized versions of these popular timepieces for your viewing pleasure.

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Word Clock Don’t Need No Stencil Font

Word clocks use natural language to display the time. They’ve been in vogue in the last 20 years or so, as low-cost digital technology makes them particularly cost effective and easy to build for the average maker. The hardware and software is a solved problem, so presentation is everything. Luckily, [watsaig]’s effort does not disappoint.

The build began with a timeframe of just seven days — a narrow window given [watsaig]’s lack of experience with lasercutting and woodworking. Not content to let that get in the way, it was time to get to work. Wood was sourced from Amazon and designs laid out, before lasercutting began in earnest.

[watsaig] decided to fill all of the letters with epoxy to achieve a flat finished surface that also served as diffuser for the LEDs. To avoid using an unsightly stencil font, the centers (the cut out portion) of letters like O, A, and R had to be placed by hand. Unfortunately his turned out quite badly. When using a squeegee method to work epoxy into the letters, the inserts tended to shift, ruining the face plate.

Undeterred, the clock face was recreated from scratch, and it was determined that a pipette was a far more suitable tool, allowing the letters to be filled with epoxy without unduly disturbing the letter inserts. The final result is visually attractive, finished with a wonderful stain and giving a pleasing glow thanks the careful attention to diffusion and masking. The hidden Happy Birthday message may have been lost in the rush, but it’s the thought that counts, after all.

For a Continental take, check out this word clock in Catalan.

Automating The Design Of Word Clocks

Word clocks, or a matrix of light-up letters that spell out the time, are a standard build for all enterprising electronics enthusiasts. The trouble is finding the right way to drive a matrix of LEDs and the significant amount of brainpower that goes into creating a matrix of letters that will spell out the time without making it look like it’s supposed to spell out the time.

For his Hackaday Prize entry this year, [Stephen Legge] is creating a standard toolkit that makes word clocks easier to build. It’s a hardware and software project, allowing for LED matrices of any reasonable size, and the software to make a grid of letters that only spells out the words you want and not the four-letter ones you don’t.

The hardware for this project is built around the IS31FL3733 LED driver from ISSI. This is an interesting chip that takes I2C in and spits out a LED matrix with very few additional support components. This chip provides [Stephen] with a 12×16 single-color LED matrix, which is more than enough for a word clock.

Where this build gets slightly more interesting is the creation of a custom matrix of letters that will still spell out ‘quarter to noon’ when lit in the appropriate way. This is a big challenge in creating a customized word clock; you could always borrow the layout of the letters from another word clock, but if you want customized phrases, you’ll either have to sit down with a pencil and graph paper, or write some software to do it automatically.

It’s a great project, and since all of [Stephen]’s work is being released under Open Source licenses, it’s a great entry to the first portion of the Hackaday Prize where we’re challenging hardware creators to build Open Hardware.

Wooden Word Wristwatch Wows Woomies

[HakuG] wanted to make a watch for his roommates, and had a design project due. He killed two birds with one stone, and then some. The result is a classic word clock, but with a refined all-wood look that’s also small enough to wear on your wrist.

Nothing good ever comes out right the first time, and the log of [HakuG]’s different versions is full of different attempts, all of them just fine in their own right, but none of them “perfect”. Kudos to [HakuG] for sticking with it and refining the project far past the initial prototype stage to something that really looks like a finished product.

Of course we’ve covered word clocks before. Heck, we’ve even seen a beautiful wooden one. But we’re pretty sure that this is the first wooden word-clock watch we’ve ever written up, and it’s surely one of the nicest.

Thanks [Paul Hein] for the link!

A Wordsearch Twist on the Word Clock

We love seeing new takes on existing ideas, and [Danny] certainly took the word clock concept in an unusual direction with his Wordsearch Clock. Instead of lighting up words to spell out the time, [Danny] decided to embrace the fact that the apparent jumble of letters on the clock face resembles a word search puzzle.

In a word search puzzle, words can be found spelled forward or backward with letters lined up horizontally, diagonally, or vertically. All that matters is that the correct letters are in a line and sequentially adjacent to one another. [Danny]’s clock lights up the correct letters and words one after the other, just as if it were solving a word search puzzle for words that just happen to tell the correct time. You can see it in action in the video, embedded below.

[Danny] went the extra mile in the planning phase. After using a word search puzzle generator tool to assist in designing the layout, he wrote a Processing sketch to simulate the clock’s operation. Visually simulating the clock allowed him to make tweaks to the layout, identify edge cases to address, and gain insight into the whole process. If you’re interested in making your own, there is a GitHub repository for the project.

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A Different Sort of Word Clock

Our wonderfully creative community has a penchant for clocks. We have seen so many timepieces over the years that one might suppose that there would be nothing new, no instrument of horology that would not elicit a yawn as we are presented with something we’ve seen many times before.

Every once in a while though along comes a project that is different. A clock that takes the basic idea of a timepiece and manages to present something new, proving that this particular well of projects has not yet quite run dry.

Such a project is the circular word clock made by [Roald Hendriks]. Take a conventional circular wall clock and remove the hands and mechanism, then place LEDs behind the numbers. Add the words for “Quarter”, “Half”, etc. in an inner ring, and place LEDs behind them. Hook all these LEDs up to a microcontroller with a real-time clock, and away you go with a refreshingly novel timepiece.

[Roald]’s clock has the wording in Dutch, and the brain behind it is an Arduino Uno with the relevant driver ICs. He’s provided a video which we’ve put below the break, showing the clock in operation with its various demo modes.

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Realize the Truth… There Is No Word Clock

Do you always look at it encoded? – Well you have to. The image translators work for the construct program.

Word clocks are supposed to de-encode time into a more readable format. Luckily [Xose Pérez] managed to recover the encoded time signal of the simulation we are all living in with his word clock that displays time using a stylish Matrix code animation.

[Xose] already built his own versions of [Philippe Chrétien’s] Fibonacci Clock and [Jeremy Williams’s] Game Frame, and while doing so he designed a nice little PCB. It’s powered by an ATmega328p, features an RTC with backup battery, an SD-card socket, and it’s ready to drive a bunch of WS2812Bs aka NeoPixels. Since he still had a few spare copies of his design in stock, his new word clock is also driven by this board.

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