Tag Archive | "7"

Arduino and FFD51 Incandescent Displays

In this article we examine another style of vintage display technology – the incandescent seven-segment digital display. We are using the FFD51 by the IEE company (data sheet.pdf) – dating back to the early 1970s. Here is a close-up of our example:

You can see the filaments for each of the segments, as well as the small coiled ‘decimal point’ filament at the top-right of the image above.  This model has pins in a typical DIP format, making use in a solderless breadboard or integration into a PCB very simple:

It operates in a similar manner to a normal light bulb – the filaments are in a vacuum, and when a current is applied the filament glows nicely. The benefit of using such as display is their brightness – they could be read in direct sunlight, as well as looking good inside.  At five volts each segment draws around 30mA. For demonstration purposes I have been running them at a lower voltage (3.5~4V), as they are old and I don’t want to accidentally burn out any of the elements.

Using these with an Arduino is very easy as they segments can be driven from a 74HC595 shift register using logic from Arduino digital out pins. (If you are unfamiliar with doing so, please read chapters four and five of my tutorial series). For my first round of experimenting, a solderless breadboard was used, along with the usual Freetronics board and some shift register modules:

Although the modules are larger than a DIP 74HC595, I like to use these instead. Once you solder in the header pins they are easier to insert and remove from breadboards, have the pinouts labelled clearly, are almost impossible to physically damage, have a 100nF capacitor for smoothing and a nice blue LED indicating power is applied.

Moving forward – using four shift register modules and displays, a simple four-digit circuit can be created. Note from the datasheet that all the common pins need to be connected together to GND. Otherwise you can just connect the outputs from the shift register (Q0~Q7) directly to the display’s a~dp pins.

Some of you may be thinking “Oh at 30mA a pin, you’re exceeding the limits of the 74HC595!”… well yes, we are. However after several hours they still worked fine and without any heat build-up. However if you displayed all eight segments continuously there may be some issues. So take care. As mentioned earlier we ran the displays at a lower voltage (3.5~4V) and they still displayed nicely. Furthermore at the lower voltage the entire circuit including the Arduino-compatible board used less than 730mA with all segments on –  for example:

 For the non-believers, here is the circuit in action:

Here is the Arduino sketch for the demonstration above:

Now for the prototype of something more useful – another clock. 🙂 Time to once again pull out my Arduino-compatible board with onboard DS1307 real-time clock. For more information on the RTC IC and getting time data with an Arduino please visit chapter twenty of my tutorials. For this example we will use the first two digits for the hours, and the last two digits for minutes. The display will then rotate to showing the numerical day and month of the year – then repeat.

Operation is simple – just get the time from the DS1307, then place the four digits in an array. The elements of the array are then sent in reverse order to the shift registers. The procedure is repeated for the date. Anyhow, here is the sketch:

and the clock in action:

So there you have it – another older style of technology dragged into the 21st century. If you enjoyed this article you may also like to read about vintage HP LED displays. Once again, I hope you found this article of interest. Thanks to the Vintage Technology Association website for background information.

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.

Posted in arduino, electronics, ffd51, incandescent, lesson, tutorial, vintageComments (2)

Review – Akafugu TWI 7-Segment Display

Hello Readers

Today we review a product from a new company based in Japan – akafugu. From their website:

Akafugu Corporation is a small electronics company that operates out of Tokyo, Japan. We specialize in fun and easy to use electronic gadgets. Our goal is to provide products that not only make prototyping faster and easier, but are also perfect for incorporation in finalized products.

And with this in mind we examine their TWI 7-segment display board. It consists of a four digit, seven-segment LED module driven by an Atmel ATtiny microcontroller – and has an I2C (or called TWI for “two-wire interface”) interface. By using I2C you only need power, GND, SDA and CLK lines – which saves on I/O and physical space.


The display arrives appropriately packaged in reusable bags, and the main board is sealed in an anti-static pouch:


The display board arrives partly-assembled. The MCU is presoldered to the board, so all we need to solder are the external connections on each side of the board, and the LED module. It is quite small and of an excellent quality:

The reason for having the power and data lines on both side is that you can then daisy-chain the displays. Speaking of which, the review unit arrived with a common-anode white LED module (data sheet.pdf) – however you can also order it in red or blue. Although they are not included, I soldered in a line of socket pins to allow for changing the LED module later on:

The final product is neat and compact, the view from the rear:

Note the ISP header pin sockets which allow low-level programming of the ATtiny4313 MCU. And the front:

akafugu also sell an optional housing stand, manufactured from transparent acrylic, which turns the display module into a nice little desk stand model:

Using the display module

Now to put the display to use. As it is controlled via I2C/TWI a variety of microcontroller platforms will be able to use the display. For our examples we will be using an Arduino-compatible board. Before moving forward you need to download and install the Arduino library which is available (as well as an avr-gcc library) on Github. Note that the example sketches in the Arduino library are for IDE v1.0.

As the module uses its own microcontroller, you can change the I2C bus address with a simple sketch (which is provided with the library). This is a great idea, which removes any chance of clashing with other bus devices, and allows more modules to be on the same bus. The default address is 0X12h.

When using the module, the following lines need to be in your sketch:

You can change the brightness mid-sketch using disp.setBrightness() with a parameter between zero and 255. To display an integer, use:

To turn on or off the decimal points, use:

To clear the display, use:

You can even display strings of text. Not every character can be displayed, however most can and the effect of scrolling looks good. For some example code:

Now to put the display to work! Using this IDE v1.0 demonstration sketch (download), we have created the following display:

For the curious, the current drawn with all segments on at full brightness is just over  33 milliamps:


When you need to display some numerical or other fitting data with a greater clarity than an LCD, or just love LEDs then you could do very well with this display. The designers have made a quality board and backed it up with documentation and (unlike many much larger, more prominent companies) a mature library to ensure it works first time. Furthermore the use of the I2C/TWI bus removes the problem of wasting digital output pins on your MCU – and the ability to change the bus address is perfect. So give akafugu a go and you will not be disappointed. The display and other goodies are available directly from akafugu.jp

Disclaimer – The parts reviewed in this article are a promotional consideration made available by akafugu.

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.

Posted in arduino, I2C, kit reviewComments (7)

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