# Various 1 Hz Oscillator Methods

Introduction

During the fun and enjoyment of experimenting with electronics there will come a time when you need a nice 1 Hz oscillator to generate a square-wave signal to drive something in the circuit. On… off… on… off… for all sorts of things. Perhaps a metronome, to drive a TTL clock, blink some LEDs, or for more nefarious purposes. No matter what you need that magic 1 Hz for – there’s a variety of methods to generate it – some more expensive than others – and some more accurate than others.

A few of you may be thinking “pull out the Arduino” and yes, you could knock out a reasonable 1 Hz – however that’s fine for the bench, but wild overkill for embedding a project as a single purpose. So in this article we’ll run through three oscillator methods that can generate a 1 Hz signal (and other frequencies) using methods that vary in cost, accuracy and difficulty – and don’t rely on mains AC. That will be a topic for another day.

Using a 555 timer IC

You can solve this problem quite well for under a dollar with the 555, however the accuracy is going to heavily rely on having the correct values for the passive components. We’ll use the 555 in astable mode, and from a previous article here’s the circuit:

And with a 5V power supply, here’s the result:

As you can see the cycle time isn’t the best, which can be attributed to the tolerance of the resistors and capacitor C1. A method to increase the accuracy would be to add small trimpots in series with the resistors (and reduce their value accordingly by the trimpot value) – then measure the output with a frequency counter (etc). whilst adjusting the trimpots. If you’re curious about not using C2, the result of doing so introduces some noise on the rising edge, for example:

So if you’ve no other option, or have the right values for the passives – the 555 can do the job. Or get yourself a 555 and experiment with it, there’s lots of fun to be had with it.

A variety of GPS modules have a one pulse per second output (PPS) and this includes my well-worn EM406A module (as used in the Arduino tutorials):

With a little work you can turn that PPS output into a usable and incredibly accurate source of 1 Hz. As long as your GPS can receive a signal. In fact, this has been demonstrated in the April 2013 edition of Silicon Chip magazine, in their frequency counter timebase project. But I digress.

If you have an EM406A you most likely have the cable and if not, get one to save your sanity as the connector is quite non-standard. If you’re experimenting a breakout board will also be quite convenient, however you can make your own by just chopping off one end of the cable and soldering the required pins – for example:

You will need access to pins 6, 5, 2 and 1. Looking at the socket on the GPS module, they are numbered 6 to 1 from left to right. Pin 6 is the PPS output, 5 is GND, 2 is for 5V and 1 is GND. Both the GNDs need to be connected together.

Before moving forward you’re probably curious about the pulse, and want to see it. Good idea! However the PPS signal is incredibly quick and has an amplitude of about 2.85 V. If you put a DSO on the PPS and GND output, you can see the pulses as shown below:

To find the length of the pulse, we had to really zoom in to a 2 uS timebase:

Wow, that’s small. So a little external circuitry is required to convert that minuscule pulse into something more useful and friendly. We’ll increase the pulse length by using a “pulse stretcher”. To do this we make a monostable timer (“one shot”) with a 555. For around a half-second pulse we’ll use 47k0 for R1 and 10uF for C1. However this triggers on a low signal, so we first pass the PPS signal through a 74HC14 Schmitt inverter – a handy part which turns irregular signals into more sharply defined ones – and also inverts it which can then be used to trigger the monostable. Our circuit:

and here’s the result – the PPS signal is shown with the matching “stretched” signal on the DSO:

So if you’re a stickley for accuracy, or just want something different for portable or battery-powered applications, using the GPS is a relatively simple solution.

Using a Maxim DS1307/DS3232 real-time clock IC

Those of you with a microcontroller bent may have a Maxim DS1307 or DS3232. Apart from being pretty easy to use as a real-time clock, both of them have a programmable square wave output. Connection via your MCU’s I2C bus is quite easy, for example with the DS1307:

Using a DS3232 is equally as simple. We use a pre-built module with a similar schematic. Once you have either of them connected, the code is quite simple. For the DS1307 (bus address 0x68), write 0x07 then 0x11 to the I2C bus – or for the DS3232 (bus address is also 0x68) write 0x0E then 0x00. Finally, let’s see the 1 Hz on the DSO:

Certainly not the cheapest method, however it gives you an excellent level of accuracy without the GPS.

Conclusion

By no means is this list exhaustive, however hopefully it was interesting and useful. If there’s any other methods you’d like to see demonstrated, leave a comment below and we’ll see what’s possible. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Book – “Arduino Workshop – A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects”

Over the last few years I’ve been writing a few Arduino tutorials, and during this time many people have mentioned that I should write a book. And now thanks to the team from No Starch Press this recommendation has morphed into my new book – “Arduino Workshop“:

Although there are seemingly endless Arduino tutorials and articles on the Internet, Arduino Workshop offers a nicely edited and curated path for the beginner to learn from and have fun. It’s a hands-on introduction to Arduino with 65 projects – from simple LED use right through to RFID, Internet connection, working with cellular communications, and much more.

Each project is explained in detail, explaining how the hardware an Arduino code works together. The reader doesn’t need any expensive tools or workspaces, and all the parts used are available from almost any electronics retailer. Furthermore all of the projects can be finished without soldering, so it’s safe for readers of all ages.

The editing team and myself have worked hard to make the book perfect for those without any electronics or Arduino experience at all, and it makes a great gift for someone to get them started. After working through the 65 projects the reader will have gained enough knowledge and confidence to create many things – and to continue researching on their own. Or if you’ve been enjoying the results of my thousands of hours of work here at tronixstuff, you can show your appreciation by ordering a copy for yourself or as a gift 🙂

Arduino Workshop is available from No Starch Press in printed or ebook (PDF, Mobi, and ePub) formats. Ebooks are also included with the printed orders so you can get started immediately.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Project: Clock Four – Scrolling text clock

Introduction

Time for another instalment in my highly-irregular series of irregular clock projects.  In this we have “Clock Four” – a scrolling text clock. After examining some Freetronics Dot Matrix Displays in the stock, it occurred to me that it would be neat to display the time as it was spoken (or close to it) – and thus this the clock was born. It is a quick project – we give you enough to get going with the hardware and sketch, and then you can take it further to suit your needs.

Hardware

You’ll need three major items – An Arduino Uno-compatible board, a real-time clock circuit or module using either a DS1307 or DS3232 IC, and a Freetronics DMD. You might want an external power supply, but we’ll get to that later on.

The first stage is to fit your real-time clock. If you are unfamiliar with the operation of real-time clock circuits, check out the last section of this tutorial. You can build a RTC circuit onto a protoshield or if you have a Freetronics Eleven, it can all fit in the prototyping space as such:

If you have an RTC module, it will also fit in the same space, then you simply run some wires to the 5V, GND, A4 (for SDA) and A5 (for SCL):

By now I hope you’re thinking “how do you set the time?”. There’s two answers to that question. If you’re using the DS3232 just set it in the sketch (see below) as the accuracy is very good, you only need to upload the sketch with the new time twice a year to cover daylight savings (unless you live in Queensland). Otherwise add a simple user-interface – a couple of buttons could do it, just as we did with Clock Two. Finally you just need to put the hardware on the back of the DMD. There’s plenty of scope to meet your own needs, a simple solution might be to align the control board so you can access the USB socket with ease – and then stick it down with some Sugru:

With regards to powering the clock – you can run ONE DMD from the Arduino, and it runs at a good brightness for indoor use. If you want the DMD to run at full, retina-burning brightness you need to use a separate 5 V 4 A power supply. If you’re using two DMDs – that goes to 8 A, and so on. Simply connect the external power to one DMD’s terminals (connect the second or more DMDs to these terminals):

The Arduino Sketch

You can download the sketch from here. Please use IDE v1.0.1 . The sketch has the usual functions to set and retrieve the time from DS1307/3232 real-time clock ICs, and as usual with all our clocks you can enter the time information into the variables in void setup(), then uncomment setDateDs1307(), upload the sketch, re-comment setDateDs1307, then upload the sketch once more. Repeat that process to re-set the time if you didn’t add any hardware-based user interface.

Once the time is retrieved in void loop(), it is passed to the function createTextTime(). This function creates the text string to display by starting with “It’s “, and then determines which words to follow depending on the current time. Finally the function drawText() converts the string holding the text to display into a character variable which can be passed to the DMD.

And here it is in action:

Conclusion

This was a quick project, however I hope you found it either entertaining or useful – and another random type of clock that’s easy to reproduce or modify yourself. We’re already working on another one which is completely different, so stay tuned.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Kit Review – akafugu TWILCD Display Controller Backpacks

Introduction

Working with LCD displays is always useful, for debugging hardware by showing various data or part of a final design. Furthermore, using them can be rather wasteful of I/O pins, especially when trying to squeeze in other functionality. Plus there’s the external contrast adjustment, general wiring and the time taken to get it working. (Don’t believe me? See here).

However, using the subjects of this kit review – you can convert standard HD44780 LCD modules to use the I2C bus using a small backpack-style board – bringing total I/O down to four wires – 5V/3.3V, GND, SDA and SCL. If you’re using an Arduino – don’t panic if you’re not up on I2C – a software library takes care of the translation leaving you to use the LiquidCrystal functions as normal. Furthermore you can control the brightness and contrast (and colour for RGB modules) – this feature alone is just magic and will make building these features into projects much, much easier.

In this review we examine both of the backpacks available from akafugu. There are two available:

• the TWILCD: Supports 1×16 and 2×7 connectors. It covers 16×1, 20×1, 16×2, 20×2 and 20×4 displays with and without backlight, and the
• TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB: Supports 1×18 connector (for Newhaven RGB backlit displays), 2×8 connector (used for some 20×4 displays) and 2×9 connector (used for 40×4 displays)
If unsure about your LCD, see the list and explanation here. The LCDs used in this article were supplied with the mono and colour LCD bundles available from akafugu. So let’s see how easy they really are, and put them through their paces.

Assembly

The backpacks arrive in the usual anti-static bags:

First we’ll examine the TWILCD board:

Very small indeed. There are three distinct areas of interface – including the single horizontal or dual vertical connectors for various LCDs, and I2C bus lines as well as ICSP connectors for the onboard ATTINY4313 microcontroller. The firmware can be updated and is available on the akafugu github repository. If you look at the horizontal row along the top – there are eighteen holes. This allows for displays that have pins ordered 1~16 and also those with 15,16,1~16 order (15 and 16 are for the LCD backlight).

The next step is to solder in the connectors for power and I2C if so desired, and then the LCD to the backpack. Double-check that you have the pin numbering and alignment correct before soldering, for example:

and then you’re finished:

Simple. Now apply power and after a moment the the backpack firmware will display the I2C bus address:

Success! Now let’s repeat this with the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. The backpack itself is still quite small:

… and has various pin alignments for different types of LCD module. Note the extra pins allowing use of RGB-backlit modules and 40×4 character modules. Again,  make sure you have the pins lined up against your LCD module before soldering the backpack in:

Notice how the I2C connector is between the LCD and the backpack – there is enough space for it to sit in there, and also acts as a perfect spacer when soldering the backpack to the display module.  Once finished soldering, apply 5/3.3V and GND to check your display:

Using the TWILCDs

Using the backpacks is very easy. If you aren’t using an Arduino, libraries for AVR-GCC are available. If you are using the Arduino system, it is very simple. Just download and install the library from here. Don’t forget to connect the SDA and SCL connectors to your Arduino. If you’re unsure about LCD and Arduino – see here.

Programming for the TWILCD is dead simple – just use your existing Arduino sketch, but replace

with

and that’s it. Even creating custom characters. No new functions to learn or tricks to take note of – they just work. Total win. The only new functions you will need are to control the brightness and contrast… to set the brightness, use:

You can also set the brightness level to EEPROM as a default using:

Contrast is equally simple, using:

and

You can see these in action using the example sketches with the Arduino library, and in the following video:

Now for the TWILCD 40×2/40×4/RGB version. You have one more function to set the colour of the text:

where red, green and blue are values between 0 and 254. Easily done. You can see this in action using the test_RGB example sketch included with the library, and shown in the following video:

Conclusion

The TWILCD backpacks are simple, easy to setup and easy to use. They make using LCD displays a lot easier and faster for rapid prototyping, experimenting or making final products easier to use and program. A well-deserved addition to every experimenter’s toolkit. For more information, visit the akafugu product website. Full-size images available on flickr.

Note – the products used in this article were a promotional consideration from akafugu.jp, however the opinions stated are purely my own.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Kit Review – akafugu Simpleclock

Introduction

Finally another kit review! Thanks to akafugu in Japan (the people who brought us the Akafuino-X) we have a new clock kit to assemble – the Simpleclock. But first, what is it?

A clock – yes. You can never have too many clocks. Also, a digital thermometer and an alarm clock. It is based on the Atmel ATmega328 and Arduino IDE, with open-source firmware. The real-time clock uses the DS1307 circuit with battery backup that we know and love. This means you can completely modify the clock or concoct a completely different use for your Simpleclock. Countdown timer? There’s an idea…

Furthemore, the display module is their individual I2C-interface TWI Display. Therefore you have a clock as well as some Arduino-based hardware to experiment with later on. However, let’s assemble it first.

Assembly

Putting it all together was quite straight-forward. You can follow the detailed instructions at the akafugu site. All the parts required to make a functional clock as advertised are included with the kit:

Here are the brains of the operation – the pre-programmed microcontroller and the DS1307 real-time clock IC:

You do receive an IC socket for the MCU, but not for the RTC – however this shouldn’t be an issue – just double-check your soldering and have some confidence. The PCBs are nicely laid out with solder-masking and a clear silk-screen:

The PCB on the left in the images above is for the display module – it runs an ATtiny microcontroller than can be worked with separately. Moving forward, you start with the lowest-profile components including the resistors and capacitors:

Take note of the vice – these are great, and light years ahead of the “helping hands” things you see around the traps. This was a Stanley model from element14. The resistors sit in nicely:

The next step is to put a blob of solder on the solder pad which will be beneath the backup battery holder – this forces contact between the negative side of the coin cell battery and the PCB:

Everything else went smoothly – I did have a small worry about the pin spacing for the USB power socket, however a clean tip and a steady hand solved that problem:

The rest of the clock board is much easier – just follow the instructions, take your time and relax. Soon enough you’ll be finished:

However I did have one “oops” moment – I left the PTC in too tall, so it needed to be bent over a little to give way for the display module when inserted:

The next task is to solder the four digit display to the display PCB – nothing new here:

Which leaves you with the standalone display module:

Using the Simpleclock

The firmware for clock use as described in the product page is already loaded in the MCU, so you can use it without needing and programming time or effort. It is powered via a mini-USB cable which you will need to acquire yourself. Frankly the design should have a DC socket and regulator – perhaps for the second revision 🙂 With second thought, it’s better running from USB. When I turn on the computer in the morning the Simpleclock beeps and ‘wakes up’. The menu system is simple and setting the time and alarm is deceptively so. Some thought has been put into the user interface so once assembled, you could always give the clock away as a gift without fear of being asked for help. However mine is staying on top of the monitor for the office PC:

And here it is in action on the bench:

If you get the urge to modify and update the code, it is easily done. As the Simpleclock kit is open source, all the data required is available from Akafugu’s github page. Please read the notes and other documentation before updating your clock. The easiest way to physically upload the new code will be with a 5V FTDI to USB adaptor or cable.

Conclusion

The Simpleclock was easy to assemble and works very well. It would make a fun kit for those learning to solder, as they have something that once completed is a reminder of their success and useful in daily life. Apart from using USB for power instead of a DC socket – it’s a great kit and I would recommend it to anyone interested in clocks, enjoys kit assembly, or as a gift to a young one to introduce them to electronics and microcontrollers.

Note – the Simpleclock kit was a promotional consideration from akafugu.jp, however the opinions stated are purely my own.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Project: Clock Three – A pillow clock with LilyPad Arduino

A pillow clock? How? Read on…

Updated 18/03/2013

Time for another instalment in my irregular series of irregular clock projects. In contrast with the minimalism of Clock Two, in this article we describe how to build a different type of clock – using the “lilypad” style of Arduino-compatible board and components designed for use in e-textiles and wearable electronics. As the LilyPad system is new territory for us, the results have been somewhat agricultural. But first we will examine how LilyPad can be implemented, and then move on to the clock itself.

By now you should have a grasp of what the whole Arduino system is all about. If not, don’t panic – see my series of tutorials available here. The LilyPad Arduino boards are small versions that are designed to be used with sewable electronics – in order to add circuitry to clothing, haberdashery items, plush toys, backpacks, etc. There are a few versions out there but for the purpose of our exercise we use the Protosnap Lilypad parts which come in one PCB unit for practice, and then can be ‘snapped out’ for individual use. Here is an example in the following video:

The main circular board in the Arduino-type board which contains an ATmega328 microcontroller, some I/O pins, a header for an FTDI-USB converter and a Li-Ion battery charger/connector. As an aside, this package is  good start – as well as the main board you receive the FTDI USB converter, five white LEDs, a buzzer, vibration module, RGB LED, a switch, temperature sensor and light sensor. If you don’t want to invest fully in the LilyPad system until you are confident, there is a smaller E-Sewing kit available with some LEDs, a battery, switch, needle and thread to get started with.

Moving forward – how will the parts be connected? Using thread – conductive thread. For example:

This looks and feels like normal thread, and is used as such. However it is conductive – so it doubles as wire. However the main caveat is the resistance – conductive thread has a much higher resistance than normal hook-up wire. For example, measuring a length of around eleven centimetres has a resistance of around 11Ω:

So don’t go too long with your wire runs otherwise Ohm’s Law will come into play and reduce the available voltage. It is wise to try and minimise the distance between parts otherwise the voltage potential drop may be too much or your digital signals may have issues. Before moving on to the main project it doesn’t hurt to practice sewing a few items together to get the hang of things. For example, run a single LED from a digital output – here I was testing an LED by holding it under the threads:

Be careful with loose live threads – it’s easy to short out a circuit when they unexpectedly touch. Finally for more information about sewing LilyPad circuits, you can watch some talent from Sparkfun in this short lesson video:

And now to the Clock!

It will be assumed that the reader has a working knowledge of Arduino programming and using the DS1307 real-time clock IC. The clock will display the time using four LEDs – one for each digit of the time. Each LED will blink out a value which would normally be represented by the digit of a digital clock (similar to blinky the clock). For example, to display 1456h the following will happen:

• LED 2 blinks four times
• LED 3 blinks five times
• LED 4 blinks six times

If a value of zero is required (for example midnight, or 1000h) the relevant LED will be solidly on for a short duration. The time will be set when uploading the sketch to the LilyPad, as having two or more buttons adds complexity and increases the margin for error. The only other hardware required will be the DS1307 real-time clock IC. Thankfully there is a handy little breakout board available which works nicely. Due to the sensitivity of the I2C bus, the lines from SDA and SCL to the LilyPad will be soldered. Finally for power, we’re using a lithium-ion battery that plugs into the LilyPad. You could also use a separate 3~3.3 V DC power supply and feed this into the power pins of the FTDI header on the LilyPad.

Now to start the hardware assembly. First – the RTC board to the LilyPad. The wiring is as follows:

• LilyPad + to RTC 5V
• LilyPad – to RTC GND
• LilyPad A4 to RTC SDA
• LilyPad A5 to RTC SCL
Here is an our example with the RTC board soldered in:

At this stage it is a good idea to test the real-time clock. Using this sketch, you can display the time data on the serial monitor as such:

Sewing it together…

Once you have the RTC running the next step is to do some actual sewing. Real men know how to sew, so if you don’t – now is the time to learn. For our example I bought a small cushion cover from Ikea. It is quite dark and strong – which reduces the contrast between the conductive thread and the material, for example:

However some people like to see the wires – so the choice of slip is up to you. Next, plan where you want to place the components. The following will be my rough layout, however the LilyPad and the battery will be sewn inside the cover:

The LilyPad LEDs have the current-limiting resistor on the board, so you can connect them directly to digital outputs. And the anode side is noted by the ‘+’:

For our example we connect one LED each to digital pins six, nine, ten and eleven. These are also PWM pins so a variety of lighting effects are available. The cathode/negative side of the LED modules are connected together and then return to the ‘-‘ pad on the LilyPad. The actual process of sewing can be quite fiddly – so take your time and check your work. Always make note to not allow wires (threads) to touch unless necessary. It can help to hold the LilyPad up and let the cloth fall around it to determine the location of the LilyPad on the other side, for example:

As this was a first attempt – a few different methods of sewing the parts to the cloth were demonstrated. This becomes evident when looking on the inside of the slip:

… however the end product looked fair enough:

After sewing in each LED, you could always upload the ‘blink’ sketch and adapt it to the LEDs – a simple way to test your sewing/wiring before moving forward.

The sketch…

As usual with my clock projects the sketch is based around the boilerplate “get time from DS1307” functions. There is also the function blinkLED which is used to control the LEDs, and the time-to-blinking conversion is done in the function displayTime. For those interested, download and examine the sketch.

The results!

Finally in the video clip below our pillow clock is telling the time – currently 1144h:

So there you have it, the third of many clocks we plan to describe in the future. Once again, this project is just a demonstration – so feel free to modify the sketch or come up with your own ideas.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Project: Clock Two – Single digit clock

Let’s hack an Ikea lamp into a single-digit clock! How? Read on…

Updated 18/03/2013

Time for another instalment in my irregular series of clock projects. (Or should that be “Time for another instalment in the series of irregular clock projects”?) In contrast with the extreme “blinkiness” of Clock One, in this article we describe how to build this single-digit digital clock:

Once again the electronics of the clock will be based from an Arduino-compatible board with a DS1307 real-time clock IC added to the board. On top of this we add a shield with some extra circuitry and two buttons – but more on this later. The inspiration for this clock came from a product that was recently acquired at Ikea – the “Kvart” work lamp, for example:

If you are shopping for one, here are the Ikea stock details:

The goal is to place the electronics of the clock in the base, and have one single-digit LED display at the top of the neck which will blink out the digits. There will be two buttons under the base that are used to set the time. It will be powered by a 9V battery or an AC adaptor which is suitable for a typical Arduino board.

Construction

This article is a diary of my construction, and you can always use your own knowledge and initiative. It is assumed that you have a solid knowledge of the basics of the Arduino system.  If not, review my series of tutorials available from here. Furthermore, feel free to modify the design to work with what you have available – I hope this article can be of some inspiration to you.

Software

It is much easier to prototype the clock and get the Arduino sketch working how you like it before breaking down the lamp and building up the clock. To do this involves some jumper wires and a solderless breadboard, for example:

Although there are four buttons on the board we only use two. They are connected to digital pins eight and nine (with 10k pull-down resistors). The LED display segments a~g are connected to Arduino digital pins 0~6 respectively. The decimal point is connected to the pulse output pin of the DS1307 – which will be set to a 1Hz output to have a nice constant blinking to show the clock is alive and well.

If you are unfamiliar with operating the DS1307 real-time clock IC please review this tutorial. Operation of the clock has been made as simple for the user as possible. To set the time, they press button A (on digital eight) while the current time is being displayed, after which point the user can select the first digit (0~2) of the time by pressing button A. Then they press button B (on digital nine) to lock it in and move to the second digit (0~9) which is again chosen with button A and selected with button B. Then they move onto the digits in the same manner.

After this process the new time is checked for validity (so the user cannot enter invalid times such as 2534h) – and is ok, the clock will blink the hyphen twice and then carry on with the new time. If the entered time is invalid, the clock reverts back to the current time. This process is demonstrated in the following video clip:

Hardware

The parts required to replicate the Clock Two in this article are:

• One Arduino-compatible board with DS1307 real-time clock IC as described in this article
• One Arduino protoshield and header pins
• One common-cathode 7-segment LED display of your choosing
• Seven current-limiting resistors to reduce the output current from Arduino digital outputs going to the LED segments. In our example we use a 560 ohm resistor network to save time
• Two buttons and two 10k ohm pull-down resistors
• One meter of nine-core wire that will fit inside the neck and stand of the Kvart lamp – an external diameter of less than 6mm will be fine
• And of course – the lamp

The protoshield is used to hold the buttons, resistor network and the terminus for the wires between the LED display and the Arduino digital outputs, for example:

At this stage you will need to do some heavy deconstruction on the lamp. Cut off the mains lead at the base and remove the plastic grommet from the stand that surrounded the AC lead. Next,  with some elbow grease you can twist off the lamp-shade unit from the end of the flexible neck. You could always reuse the lamp head and AC lead if wired by a licensed electrician.

Now you need to feed the multicore wire through the neck and down to the base of the lamp. You can pull it through the hole near the base, and then will need to drill a hole in the base to feed it through to the electronics as such:

Take care when feeding the cable though so you don’t nick the insulation as shown above. Leave yourself a fair bit of slack at the top which will make life easier when soldering on the LED display, for example:

The next step is to solder the wires at the top to the LED display. Make notes to help recall which wires are soldered to the pins of the display. If your soldering skills (like mine) aren’t so good, use heatshrink to cover the soldering:

Most displays will have two GND pins, so bridge them so you only need to use one wire in the multicore back to base:

At this point use the continuity function of a multimeter or a low-voltage power source to test each LED segment using the other end of the cable protruding from the base. Once you are satisfied the segments have been soldered correctly, carefully draw the cable back through the neck and base in order to reduce the slack between the display and the top of the lamp neck. Then solder the individual LED segment wires to the protoshield.

Now if you have not already done so, upload the sketch into the Arduino board – especially if you are going to permanently mount the circuitry into the base. A simple method of mounting would be using  a hot glue gun, but for the purpose of demonstration we have just used blu-tac:

Although this does look a little rough, we are using existing stock which kept the cost down. If you are going to power the clock with an AC adaptor, you will also need to cut out small opening to allow the lead to protrude from the side of the base. And now for the resulting clock – our Clock Two:

So there you have it, the second of many clocks we plan to describe in the future.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Project: Clock One

Let‘s make a huge analogue and digital clock using a dot-matrix display.

Updated 18/03/2013

For some strange reason I have a fascination with various types of electronic clocks (which explains this article). Therefore this project will be the start of an irregular series of clock projects whose goal will be easy to follow and produce interesting results. Our “Clock One” will use a Freetronics Dot Matrix Display board as reviewed previously. Here is an example of an operating Clock One:

As you can see, on the left half of the board we have a representation of an analogue clock. Considering we only have sixteen rows of sixteen LEDs, it isn’t too bad at all. The seconds are illuminated by sixty pixels that circumnavigate the square clock throughout the minute. On the right we display the first two letters of the day of the week, and below this the date. In the example image above, the time is 6:08. We omitted the month – if you don’t know what month it is you have larger problems.

Hardware

To make this happen you will need:

• Freetronics Dot Matrix Display board;
• If you want the run the display at full brightness (ouch!) you will need a 5V 2.8A power supply – however our example is running without the external supply and is pretty strong
• An Arduino board of some sort, an Uno or Eleven is a good start
• A Maxim DS1307 real-time clock IC circuit. How to build this is explained here. If you have a Freetronics board, you can add this circuit directly onto the board!

Software

Planning the clock was quite simple. As we can only draw lines, individual pixels, and strings of text or individual characters, some planning was required in order to control the display board. A simple method is to use some graph paper and note down where you want things and the coordinates for each pixel of interest, for example:

Using the plan you can determine where you want things to go, and then the coordinates for pixels, positions of lines and so on. The operation for this clock is as follows:

• display the day of week
• display the date
• draw the hour hand
• draw the minute hand
• then turn on each pixel representing the seconds
• after the 59th second, turn off the pixels on the left-hand side of the display (to wipe the clock face)

There isn’t a need to wipe the right hand side of the display, as the characters have a ‘clear’ background which takes care of this when updated. At this point you can download the Arduino sketch from here. Note that the sketch was written to get the job done and ease of reading and therefore not what some people would call efficient. Some assumed knowledge is required – to catch up on the use of the display, see here; and for DS1307 real-time clock ICs, see here.

The sketch uses the popular method of reading and writing time data to the DS1307 using functions setDateDs1307 and getDateDs1307. You can initally set the time within void setup() – after uploading the sketch, comment out the setDateDs1307 line and upload the sketch again, otherwise every time the board resets or has a power outage the time will revert to the originally-set point.

Each display function is individual and uses many switch…case statements to determine which line or pixel to draw. This was done again to draw the characters on the right due to function limitations with the display library. But again it works, so I’m satisfied with it. You are always free to download and modify the code yourself.  Moving forward, here is a short video clip of the Clock One in action:

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# Clock Kit Round-up – December 2011

If there’s one thing that I really like it’s a good clock kit. Once constructed, they can be many things, including:

• a point of differentiation from other items in the room;
• a reminder of the past (nixie tubes!) or possible visions of the future;
• the base of something to really annoy other people;
• a constant reminder to get back to work;
• a source of satisfaction from having made something yourself!

So just for fun I have attempted to find and list as many interesting and ‘out of the ordinary’ kits as possible, and ignored the simple or relatively mundane kits out there. If you are in the clock kit business and want a mention, let me know. So in no particular order, we have:

Based around a vintage Soviet-era vacuum IV-18 type fluorescent display, the ice tube clock is a rare kit that includes a nice enclosure which keeps you safe from the high voltages as well as allowing the curious to observe your soldering skills. I reviewed this kit almost a year ago and the clock is still working perfectly. Here is a video of the ice tube clock in action:

After some travelling meeting various people it seems that quite a few of us have an ice tube clock. There is something quite mesmerising about the display, perhaps helping to recall memories of our youth in the 1970s and 80s.

nootropic design Defusable Clock Kit

As recently reviewed, this kit allows you to build a simulated ‘countdown’ timer for a hypothetical explosive device that also doubles as a clock with an alarm. For example:

Whatever you do, don’t make a ‘fake bomb’ and leave it out in public! Only bad things could happen 🙂

ogilumen nixie tube kits

Not a clock kit as such, however they have made doing it yourself very easy with their power supply and IN-12A nixie board kits. We made one ourselves in a previous review, as shown below:

Alan Parekh’s Multimeter Clock Kit

This is certainly one from left field – using the analogue multimeters to display hours, minutes and seconds. See Alan describe his kit in this video:

Certainly something different and would look great on the wall of any electronics-themed area or would easily annoy those who dislike the status-quo of clock design.

akafugu VFD Modular Clock

The team at akafugu have created a modular baseboard/shield kit which holds a shield containing four IV-17 alphanumeric nixie tubes to create your own clock or display system:

Unlike some of the other nixie tube kits the firmware has been made public and can be modified at will. In the future different display shields will be available to extend the use of the kit.

tubeclock.com kits

This site has two kits available, one using either four or six Soviet-era IN-12 type nixie tubes:

… and another kit using the Soviet-era IN-14 nixie tubes:

You have to hand it to the former Soviet Union – they knew how to over-produce nixie tubes. One rare example where we can benefit from a command economy!

The certainly not evil people have two clock kits, the first being the Bulbdial Clock Kit:

This uses a unique ring of LEDs around the circumference of the clock face to create shadows to mark the time. It is also available in a range of housing and face styles. Their other kit of interest is the Alpha Clock Five:

The photo of this clock doesn’t do it justice – the alphanumeric displays are 2.3″ tall, making this one huge clock. It also makes use of a Chronodot real-time clock board, which contains a temperature-controlled oscillator  which helps give it an accuracy of +-/ 2 minutes per year. Furthermore you can modify this easily using an FTDI cable and the Arduino IDE with some extra software. Would be great for model railways (or even a real railway station) or those insanely conscious about the time.

Kabtronics Clock Kits

This organisation has several clock kits which span a range of technology from the later part of the twentieth century. These guys can only be true clock enthusiasts! Starting with the 1950s, they have their Nixie-Transistor Clock:

Look – no integrated circuits, leaving the kit true to the era. If you need to hide from someone for a weekend, building this would be a good start. Next we move onto the 1960s and the Transistor Clock:

The 1960s brought with it LEDs so they are now used in this kit, however the logic is still all analogue electronics. However next we can move to the 1970s, and finally save some board space with the TTL Clock:

This would still be fun to assemble but somewhat less punishing for those who don’t enjoy solder fumes that much. However you still have a nice kit and something to be proud of. Finally, the last in the line is the 1980s-themed Surface-Mount Technology Clock:

So here we have a microcontroller, SMT components, and a typical reduction in board size. Their range is an excellent way of demonstrating the advances in technology over the years.

The GPS FLW Display Clock

Wow – this clock makes use of huge Burroughs B7971 15-segment nixie tube displays and a GPS receiver to make a huge, old-style/new-tech clock. Check out the demonstration video:

This thing is amazing. And it is actually cheaper to buy a fully-assembled version (huh). The same organisation also offers another GPS-controlled clock using IN-18 nixie tubes:

Again, it isn’t inexpensive – however the true nixie tube enthusiasts will love it. This clock would look great next to a post-modern vintage hifi tube amplifier. Moving forward to something completely different now, we have the:

Almost the polar opposite of the nixie-tube clocks, the monochron uses an ATmega328 microcontroller and a 128 x 64 LCD module to create some interesting clock effects. For example:

Many people have created a variety of displays, including space invaders and the pong game simulation. The clock also includes the laser-cut acrylic housing which provides a useful and solid base for the clock.

Spikenzie Labs Solder : Time™ watch kit

Technically this is a watch kit, however I don’t think that many people would want to walk around wearing one – but it could be used in more permanent or fixed locations. Correct me if I’m wrong people. However in its defence it is a very well designed kit that is easy to solder and produces a nice clock:

It uses a separate real-time controller IC to stay accurate, and the design However this would be a great suggestion as a gift for a younger person to help them become interesting in electronics and other related topics. The asm firmware is also available for you to modify using Microchip MPLAB software if that takes your fancy.

Velleman Kits

The Velleman company has a range of somewhat uninspiring clock kits, starting with the Scrolling/Rolling LED Clock:

… the 2¼” 7-Segment Digital Clock:

This clock includes the housing and also accepts an optional temperature sensor, and therefore can display this as well. There is also the aptly-named – Digital LED Clock:

It tells the time and would be useful in a 1980s-era idea of the future movie set. The final velleman clock kit is the Jumbo Single-Digit Clock:

In all fairness this one looks quite interesting – the LED display is 57mm tall and the time is display one digit at a time. It is powered by a PIC16F630 however the firmware is proprietary to velleman.

Nocrotec Nixie Clocks

This company has a range of kits using nixie tubes and numitrons (low voltage incadescent displays in tubes). One particularly lovely kit is their IN-8 Blue Dream kit:

The blue glow at the base of the nixie tubes is due to an LED mounted at the bottom of the tube. Another aesthetically-pleasing kit is their Little Blue Something nixie clock. Check out their demonstration video:

nixiekits.eu

More IN-12 nixie clocks from Germany, the first being the Manuela_HR. You can buy the kit without an enclosure, or choose from the ‘office’ style:

… or this funky number:

You can specify it with RGB LEDs which colour-cycle to provide the effect shown above. For those not too keen you can also buy the kits pre-assembled. Their other kit is the Sven:

It is available with IN-8 or IN-14 nixie tubes. The design quality of the enclosure is outstanding, a lot of effort has been made to produce a complete kit that “won’t look like a kit” when completed.

Minty Time

This is a small binary clock kit that fits in an Altoids tin:

This is a nice little kit as it is inexpensive, easy to make and very well documented. You could also mount this in a variety of flat surfaces, limited only by your imagination.

The Chronulator

Here we find a unique design that uses analogue panel meters in a similar method to the multimeter clock detailed previously. Here is an example of the completed kit:

The kit contains the electronics and meters (or you can delete the meters for a discount if you already have some) however the housing is up to you. Furthermore, this kit has some of the best instructions (.pdf) I have ever seen. They are a credit to the organisation. Our final clock kit is the …

Denkimono

This is another clock kit in the style of ‘suspicious bomb timer’-looking – and it pulls this off quite well. Consider the following video demonstration:

As well as a normal clock it can function as an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer and lap counter. The instructions (.pdf) are well written and easy to follow. Furthermore the Denkimono is also well priced for the kit and delivery.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

# The 555 Precision Timer IC

Learn about the useful and inexpensive 555 timer IC in this detailed tutorial!

Today we revisit one of the most popular integrated circuits ever conceived – the 555 timer IC. “Triple-five”, “five-five-five”, “triple-nickel” … call it what you will, it has been around for thirty-eight years. Considering the pace of change in the electronics industry, the 555 could be the constant in an ever-changing universe. But what is the 555? How does it work? How can we use it? And … why do we still use it? In this introductory article we will try to answer these questions. If you would like to see some examples, visit here.

What is the 555?

The 555 timer is the solution to a problem found by the inventor – Hans Camenzind.  He saw the need through his radio work for a part that could act as an oscillator or a timer [1]; and working as a contractor for Signetics developed the 555. (Signetics was purchased by Philips in 1975, and their semiconductor division was spun off as NXP in 2006). The 555 has to be one of the most used ICs ever invented. It is used for timing, from microseconds to hours; and creating oscillations (which is another form of timing for the pedants out there). It is very flexible with operation voltage, you can throw from 4.5 to 18V at it; you can sink or source 200mA of current through the output; and it is very cheap – down to around nine cents if you order several thousand units. Finally, the 555 can achieve all of this with a minimum of basic components – some resistors and capacitors.

Here are some examples in the common DIP casing:

Furthermore a quick scan of suppliers’ websites show that the 555 is also available in surface-mount packages such as SOIC, MSOP and TSSOP. You can also source a 556 timer IC, which contains two 555 ICs. (What’s 555 + 555? 556…) Furthermore, a 558 was available in the past, but seems rather tricky to source these days.

How does the 555 work?

The 555 contains two major items:

• A comparator – a device which compares two voltages, and switches its output to indicate which is larger, and
• A flip-flop – a circuit that has two stable states, and those states can be changed by applying a voltage to one of the flip-flop’s inputs.

Here is the 555 functional diagram from the TI 555 data sheet.pdf:

… and the matching pin-out diagram:

Don’t let the diagrams above put you off. It is easier to explain how the 555 operates within the context of some applications, so we will now explore the three major uses of the 555 timer IC in detail – these being astable,  monostable, and bistable operations, in theory and in practice.

Astable operation

Astable is an on-off-on… type of oscillation – and generates what is known as a square wave, for example:

There are three values to take note of:

• time (s) – the time for a complete cycle. The number of cycles per second is known as the frequency, which is the reciprocal of time (s);
• tm (s) – the duration of time for which the voltage (or logic state) is high;
• ts (s) – the duration of time for which the voltage (or logic state) is low.

With the use of two resistors and one capacitor, you can determine the period durations. Consider the following schematic:

Calculating values for R1, R2 and C1 was quite simple. You can either determine the length of time you need (t) in seconds, or the frequency (Hz) – the number of pulses per second.

t (time) = 0.7 x (R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1

f (frequency) = 1.4 / {(R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1}

Where R1 and R2 are measured in ohms, and C1 is measured in farads. Remember that 1 microfarad = 1.0 × 10-6 farads, so be careful to convert your capacitor values to farads carefully. It is preferable to keep the value of C1 as low as possible for two reasons – one, as capacitor tolerances can be quite large, the larger the capacitor, the greater your margin of error; and two, capacitor values can be affected by temperature.

How the circuit works is relatively simple. At the time power is applied, the voltage at pin 2 (trigger) is less than 1/3Vcc. So the flip-flop is switched to set the 555 output to high. C1 will charge via R1 and R2. After a period of time (Tm from the diagram above) the voltage at pin 6 (threshold) goes above 2/3Vcc. At this point, the flip-flop is switched to set the 555 output to low. Furthermore, this enables the discharge function – so C1 will discharge via R2. After a period of time (Ts from the diagram above) the voltage at pin 2 (trigger) is less than 1/3Vcc. So the flip-flop is switched to set the 555 output to high… and the cycle repeats.

Now, for an example, I want to create a pulse of 1Hz (that is, one cycle per second). It would be good to use a small value capacitor, a 0.1uF. In farads this is 0.0000001 farads. Phew. So our equation is 1=1.4/{(R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1}. Which twists out leaving us R1=8.2Mohm, R2=2.9MOhm and C1 is 0.1uF. I don’t have a 2.9MOhm resistor, so will try a 2.7MOhm value, which will give a time value of around 0.9s. C2 in astable mode is optional, and used if there is a lot of electrical noise in the circuit. Personally, I use one every time, a 0.01uF ceramic capacitor does nicely. Here is our example in operation:

Notice how the LED is on for longer than it is off, that is due to the ‘on’ time being determined by R1+R2, however the ‘off’ time is determined by R2 only. The ‘on’ time can be expressed as a percentage of the total pulse time, and this is called the duty cycle. If you have a 50% duty cycle, the LED would be on and off for equal periods of time. To alter the duty cycle, place a small diode (e.g. a 1N4148) over pins 7 (anode) and 2 (cathode). Then you can calculate the duty cycle as:

Tm = 0.7 x R1 x C1 (the ‘on’ time)

Ts = 0.7 x R2 x C1 (the ‘off’ time)

Furthermore, the 555 can only control around 200mA of current from the output to earth, so if you need to oscillate something with more current, use a switching transistor or a relay between the output on pin 3 and earth. If you are to use a relay, put a 1N4001 diode between pin 3 (anode) and the relay coil (cathode); and a 1N418 in parallel with the relay coil, but with the anode on the earth side. This stops any reverse current from the relay coil when it switches contacts.

Monostable operation

Mono for one – one pulse that is. Monostable use is also known as a “one-shot” timer.  So the output pin (3) stays low until the 555 receives a trigger pulse (drop to low) on pin 2. The length of the resulting pulse is easy to calculate:

T = 1.1 x R1 x C1;

where T is time in seconds, R1 is resistance in ohms, and C1 is capacitance in farads. Once again, due to the tolerances of capacitors, the longest time you should aim for is around ten minutes. Even though your theoretical result for T might be 9 minutes, you could end up with 8 minutes 11 seconds. You might really need those extra 49 seconds to run away…  Though you could always have one 555 trigger another 555… but if you were to do that, you might as well use a circuit built around an ATmega328 with Arduino bootloader.

Now time for an example. Let’s have a pulse output length of (as close as possible to) five seconds. So, using the equation, 5 = 1.1 x R1 x C1… I have a 10 uF capacitor, so C1 will be 0.00001 farads. Therefore R1 will be 454,545 ohms (in theory)… the closest I have is a 470k, so will try that and see what happens. Note that it you don’t want a reset button (to cancel your pulse mid-way), just connect pin 4 to Vs. Here is the schematic for our example:

How the monostable works is quite simple. Nothing happens when power is applied, as R2 is holding the trigger voltage above 1/3Vcc. When button S1 is pushed, the trigger voltage falls below 1/3Vcc, which causes the flip-flop to set the 555’s output to high. Then C1 is charged via R1 until the threshold voltage 2/3Vcc is reached, at which point the flip-flip sets the output low and C1 discharges. Nothing further happens until S1 is pressed again. The presence of the second button S2 is to function as a reset switch. That is, while the output is high the reset button, if pressed, will set the output low and set C1 to discharge.

Below is a video of my example at work. First I let it run the whole way through, then the second and subsequent times I reset it shortly after the trigger. No audio in clip:

Once again, we now have a useful form of a one-shot timer with our 555.

Bistable operation

Bistable operation is where the 555′s output is either high, or low – but not oscillating. If you pulse the trigger, the output becomes and stays high, until you pulse reset. With a bistable 555 you can make a nice soft-touch electronic switch for a project… let’s do that now, it is so simple you don’t need one of my quality schematics. But here you are anyway:

In this example. pressing S1 sets the voltage at pin 2 (trigger) to below 1/3Vcc, thereby setting the output to high – therefore we call S1 our ‘on’ switch. As pin 6 (threshold) is permanently connected to GND, it cannot be used to set the output to low. The only way to set the output back to low is by pressing S2 – the reset button, which we can call the ‘off’ switch. Couldn’t be easier, could it? And that output pin could switch a transistor or a relay on or off, who knows? Your only limit is your imagination. And here’s one more video clip:

And there you have it – three ways in which we can use our 555 timer ICs. But in the year 2011, why do we still use a 555? Price, simplicity, an old habit, or the fact that there are so many existing designs out there ready to use. There will be many arguments for and against continued use of the 555 – but as long as people keep learning about electronics, the 555 may still have a long and varied future ahead of it.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

References

[1] “The 555 Timer IC – An interview with Hans Camenzind” (Jack Ward – semiconductormuseum.com)

Various diagrams and images from the Texas Instruments NE555 data sheet.

# Kit Review – adafruit industries Ice Tube clock v1.1

Today we examine a kit that perhaps transcends from general electronic fun and games into the world of modern art – the adafruitIce Tube” clock.

What is an Ice Tube clock? Before LCDs (liquid-crystal displays) were prevalent another form of display technology was popular – the vacuum-fluorescent display (or VFD). This clock uses a VFD originally manufactured in the former Soviet Union (link for the kids) or Russia (I think mine is date-stamped January 1993). This particular VFD contains a series of seven-segment digits and a dot, which allow the display of time in a bright and retro fashion.

Since this kit was released I had always desired one, however my general parsimonious traits and the wavering exchange rate against the US dollar kept my spending in check. But lately my wallet was hit by a perfect storm: the Australian dollar hit parity with the greenback, adafruit had a discount code and I felt like spending some money – so before the strange feelings passed I ordered a kit post-haste.

Sixteen slow, hot days later the box arrived. I must admit to enjoying a good parcel-opening:

As always, the packaging was excellent and everything arrived as it should have. But what was everything?

Included is the anti-static bag containing the PCB and general components, a bag with the laser-cut acrylic pieces to assemble the housing, another bag with the housing fasteners and the back-up coin cell for the clock, a mains adaptor, and finally another solid cardboard box containing the classic display unit – albeit with the following sensible warning:

And finally the Russian IV-18 display tube:

The tube is a fascinating piece of work, certainly a piece of perfect retro-technology and a welcome addition to my household. Assembling the clock will not be a fast process, and in doing so I recommend reviewing the detailed instructions several times over at the adafruit website. Furthermore, it is a good idea to identify, measure and line up the components ready for use, to save time and confusion along the way. Your experience may vary, however this kit took around three hours for me to construct.

Normally with most kits you can just solder the components in any order, however it is recommended you follow the instructions, as they are well written and allow for testing along the way. For example, after installing the power regulator, you can check the output:

At this stage, you can test your progress with the piezo beeping at power-on:

These mid-construction tests are a good idea as you can hopefully locate any problems before things get out of hand. Another item to be careful with is the PLCC socket for the Maxim MAX6921 VFD driver IC (second from the left):

However with time and patience there is no reason why you would have any problems. Once the main PCB is completed, the next item is the end PCB which connects to the VFD:

At this point it is a good time to have a break and a bit of a stretch, as you need all your patience for soldering in the VFD. Before attempting to do so, try and carefully straighten all the wires from the VFD so they are parallel with each other. Then using the adafruit instructions, make sure you have the tube wires lined up with the correct hole on the PCB:

It is also a good idea to check the gap between the VFD and the PCB is correct, by checking the fit within the housing:

And after much patience, wire pulling with pliers, and light soldering –  the VFD was married to the PCB:

So now the difficult soldering work has been completed and now it was time for another test – the big one… does it all work?

Yes, yes it does. *phew* The low brightness is normal, as that is the default level set by the software. Please note: if you run your VFD without an enclosure that you must be careful of the high voltages on the right-hand side of the PCB and also the VFD PCB. If you test your VFD in this manner, don’t forget to allow ten minutes for the voltage to return to a safe level after removing the power supply. If you have been following the instructions (I hope so!) there is some more soldering to do, after which you can put away your soldering iron.

Now to remove the liner from the acrylic housing pieces and put it all together. Be very careful not to over-tighten the bolts otherwise you will shatter the housing pieces and be cranky. If all is well, you’re finished clock will appear as such:

The clock in use:

And finally, our ubiquitous video demonstration:

VFDs can lose their brightness over the years, and can be difficult to replace – so if you want many, many years of retro-time it would be smart to buy an extra tube from adafruit with your kit, or a modified DeLorean.

Overall, this was an interesting and satisfying kit to assemble. Not for the beginner, but if you have built a few easier kits such as  the “TV-B-Gone” with success, the Ice Tube clock will be within your reach. Furthermore, due to the clear housing, this kit is a good demonstration of your soldering and assembly skills. High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

# Add a real-time clock to the Freetronics Eleven

Let’s add a DS1307 real-time clock to our Freetronics Arduino-compatible board.

Updated 18/03/2013 – this is also perfect for the Freetronics Eleven board.

Now and again I find myself making another kind of clock or timing device using the Arduino system, and each one has been making use of the Maxim DS1307 real-time clock IC. However every time another clock is being worked on, my DS1307 real-time clock shield needs to come out to play. Although in itself it is a nice shield, at the end of the day – the less you have the better. Originally I used a Freetronics TwentyTen board – which has now been superseded by their Eleven board, however they’re both identical for the purposes of this tutorial.

So what to do? As regular readers will know, my preferred board is the Freetronics Eleven, and within this we have a solution to the following problem:

The Freetronics team have thoughtfully provided a prototyping area in their board – and that will be a perfect home for the real time clock system. Being a cheapskate and a masochist – instead of  following others by using a smaller RTC module I will instead use parts already in stock (except for the battery) and install my own circuit. So, as always – we need a plan. The circuit itself is quite simple, the DS1307 data sheet has a fine example on page thirteen, and here is my interpretation:

So the parts required for our clock circuit will be:

• IC1 – Maxim DS1307 I2C real-time clock IC
• 8-pin IC socket
• R1~R3 – 10k ohm 1% metal film resistors
• X1 – 32.768 kHz crystal
• B1 – Panasonic CR1220 3v battery with solder pins (Farnell part number 1298944) [data sheet one and two]
• One header pin (from those 40-way strips)
• some thin black single-core wire

The CR1220 battery was chosen over the usual CR2032 due to the smaller diameter. According to the DS1307 data sheet, the battery should last around ten years if it has a capacity of 48 mAh. Our CR1220 is 35 mAh – which will do nicely, perhaps seven years or so. That will have to do. Don’t forget to check the voltage of the battery before installation – it should be just over three volts.

Now to get everything arranged in the prototyping area. When doing this it pays to always have the schematic in front of you as well so you can refer to it when necessary. Planning to use protoboard of any size requires a good plan as well. After spending some time considering component placement, the final layout was as follows:

Each square on the grid represents one hole on the board. After you see the images below, everything will make sense. Before soldering away, it will pay to give the prototyping area a quick clean with some PCB cleaner.

Now it is finally time to get soldering. The first items were the battery, crystal and the resistors. Although the battery was designed to be soldered, I am always a little wary when applying heat to them. Two seconds with the hot iron was enough.

When soldering in the crystal (or anything else), try to keep in mind what the leads will be connecting to. For example, the crystal legs will need to connect to pins 1 and 2 of the IC socket. So bend the crystal leads in the direction of the respective IC socket pins. Doing so will make creating solder joins between them much easier:

The resistors were simple enough. Keep the excess clippings to make jumpers with later. Also notice how the right hand leg of R3 was bent around and brought back up to the top row – this is to help make connections with the 5V rail link:

The next item was the IC socket. Nothing to worry about there, just drop it in and solder away. Don’t forget to bridge the crystal pins to socket pins one and two, and the battery positive pin to IC socket pin three.

Next for the SQW pin. The DS1307 can also output a nice square wave at either 1Hz, 4.096 kHz, 8.192 kHz or 32.768 kHz, with the resulting signal being found on pin 7. It isn’t something really used that often, but you never know. So I soldered in one of these pins, which should make it easy enough to use later on:

Note that if you are using the SQW function, the DS1307 will merrily pulse away once it is set, until the power is cut – the square-wave generator is autonomous to the I2C bus once it has been set. And it remembers (as long as the backup battery is fine). For example, you can upload a sketch to set the SQW to 4.096 kHz, remove power, yank out the ATmega328, power up – and the SQW is still active.

Next we turn the board over, and solder in our jumper wires:

The lead on the top runs from the right-hand side of the pull-up resistors R1~R3 (when facing the top of the board) to the 5V pad. The bottom lead runs from pin four of the IC socket to the GND pad. The negative pin of the battery is also bent over and soldered to the GND pad. Also, connect all the resistors together as shown in the above image (below the TX pin). The next step is turn the board back over and make some more wired connections, the first being pin eight of the IC socket to the resistors and then to the 5V link on the rear:

The next are somewhat longer, they are the leads for the I2C bus. Run a wire from next to IC socket pin six all the way to (and through) the bottom-right hole of the TwentyTen (when facing the top); this will be the SCL line and soldered to analogue 5. Repeat again from IC socket pin five, this is the SDA line (as above) for analogue 4. The joints you have to solder them onto are not that large, however it can be done. Before soldering the wires in, heat up the existing joint to melting point then let it cool again – this makes actually soldering the wire in a lot easier:

And there we have it. At this stage, don’t plug the board in. Do some quality control: check that the soldered joints are complete; check that solder has bridged where you need it, and not where you don’t; use the continuity function (‘beeper’) of a multimeter to spot-check for shorts, and also follow the new 5V and GND lines to ensure they are connected correctly. And finally, insert the DS1307 IC into the socket.

OK – now for some test timing. If you have not worked with the DS1307 IC before, there is a full explanation of how it works within our Arduino tutorials. Here’s a sketch you can use to test the real-time clock. Once you have uploaded that sketch, open the serial monitor box at 9600 bps, and you should have something like this:

Now let’s check the 1 Hz output from the SQW pin:

Recall that you can generate four frequencies with your DS1307, here is an example sketch that does just that:

and here is the result – measured on a freqency counter:

My frequency counter is around twenty-two years old, please be patient with it as the sampling rate is not the best.

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