Tag Archives: display

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.

Arduino and TM1640 LED Display Modules


The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the use of the second (here’s the first) interesting LED display module I discovered on the dealextreme website, for example:

As you can see the display unit holds a total of sixteen seven-segment LED digits using four modules. However thanks to the use of the TM1640 controller IC

… the entire display is controlled with only four wires – 5V, GND, data in and clock:

Here is the data sheet for the TM1640. The board also ships with the 30cm long four-wire lead and fitted plug. Finally, there is a ‘power on’ LED on the right-hand end of the board:

Getting Started

Now to make things happen. From a hardware perspective – it couldn’t be easier. Connect the 5V and GND leads to … 5V and GND. The data and clock leads will connect to two Arduino digital pins. That’s it. The maximum current drawn by the display with all segments on is ~213mA:

So you should be able to drive this from a normal Arduino-compatible board without any hassle. Please note that the TM1640 IC does heat up somewhat, so you may want to consider some sort of heatsink if intending to max out the display in this manner.

From the software side of things you will need to download and install the TM1638 library (yes) which also handles the TM1640 chip. To simply display text from a string on the display, examine the following sketch:

Which will display:

The sixteen digit binary number in the module.setDisplayToString() line controls the decimal points – 0 for off and 1 for on. For example, changing it to

will display:

You can also display text in a somewhat readable form – using the characters available in this list. Displaying numbers is very easy, you can address each digit individually using:

where x is the digit, y is the position (0~15), and true/false is the decimal point. At this time you can’t just send a long integer down to the display, so you will need to either convert your numbers to a string or failing that, split it up into digits and display them one at a time.

In the following example sketch we display integers and unsigned integers by using the C command sprintf(). Note the use of %i to include an integer, and %u for unsigned integer:

And the resulting output:

Now you have an idea of what is possible, a variety of display options should spring to mind. For example:

Again, this display board was a random, successful find. When ordering from dealextreme, do so knowing that your order may take several weeks to arrive as they are not the fastest of online retailers; and your order may be coming from mainland China which can slow things down somewhat. Otherwise the module worked well and considering the minimal I/O and code requirements, is a very good deal.

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.

Hewlett-Packard 5082-7415 LED Display from 1976

In this article we examine a five digit, seven-segment LED display from Hewlett-Packard, the 5082-7415:

According to the data sheet (HP 5082-series.pdf) and other research this was available for a period of time around 1976 and used with other 5082-series modules in other HP products. Such as the Hewlett-Packard 3x series of calculators, for example:

Using the display is very easy – kudos to the engineers at HP for making a simple design that could be reusable in many applications. The 5082-7415 is a common-cathode unit and wiring is very simple – there are the usual eight anodes for segments a~f and the decimal point, and the five cathodes.

As this module isn’t too easily replaceable, I was very conservative with the power supply – feeding just under 1.6V at 10mA to each of the anode pins. A quick test proved very promising:

Excellent – it worked! But now to get it displaying some sort of interesting way. Using the following hardware…

  • Freetronics Eleven Arduino-compatible board
  • Two 74HC595 shift registers
  • Eight 560 ohm resistors
  • Five 1k ohm resistors
  • Five BC548 transistors
  • A large solderless breadboard and plenty of wires

… it was connected in the same method as a four-digit display (except for the extra digit) as described in my tutorial. Don’t forget to use the data sheet (HP 5082-series.pdf). You don’t have to use Arduino – any microcontroller with the appropriate I/O can take care of this.

Here is a simple Arduino sketch that scrolls through the digits with and then without the decimal point:

And the results:

Now for something more useful. Here is a function that sends a single digit to a position on the display with the option of turning the decimal point on or off:

So if you wanted to display the number three in the fourth digit, with the decimal point – use

with the following result:

We make use of the displayDigit() function in our next sketch. We introduce a new function:

It accepts a long integer between zero and 99999 (number) and displays it on the module for cycles times:

For demonstration purposes the sketch displays random numbers, as shown in the video below:

Update – 01/10/2014

You can purchase the four-digit version (QDSP6064) from Tronixlabs:

They worked very nicely and can be driven in the same method as the 5082-7415s descibed earlier. In the following video we have run the same sketches with the new displays:

In the meanwhile, I hope you found this article of interest. Thanks to the Vintage Technology Association website and the Museum of HP Calculators for background information. And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a fourth printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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 forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Arduino and TM1638 LED Display Modules


The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the use of some interesting LED display modules I discovered on the dealextreme website, for example:

They contain eight 7-segment red LED digits, eight red/green LEDs and also eight buttons for user input. You can get red or green display models. The units can also be daisy-chained, allowing up to five at once, and a short cable is included with each module, as well as some short spacers and bolts, such as:

The spaces are just long enough to raise the PCB above a surface, however to mount the boards anywhere useful you would need longer ones. You may also want to remove the IDC sockets if you want to mount the module close to the surface of a panel. This would be a simple desoldering task as they are through-hole sockets:

The board is controlled by a TM1638 IC:

This part seems to be a domestic Chinese product from “Titan Micro Electronics“. After a quick search the TM1638 isn’t available from Digikey, Mouser or the element14 group… so if anyone has a lead on a low-volume, reliable supplier for these – please leave a comment below. However here is a link to the data sheet – thanks Marc!.

Getting Started

Now to make things happen…

Hardware – Connection to an Arduino-compatible board (or other MCU) is quite simple. The pinouts are shown on the rear of the PCB, and match the fitting on the ribbon cable. If you look at the end of the cable as such:

The top-right hole is pin one, with the top-left being pin two, the bottom-right pin nine and bottom-left pin ten. Therefore the pinouts are:

  1. Vcc (5V)
  2. GND
  3. CLK
  4. DIO
  5. STB1
  6. STB2
  7. STB3
  8. STB4
  9. STB5
  10. not connected

For Arduino use, pins 1~4 are the minimum necessary to use one module. Each additional module will require another digital pin connected to STB2, STB3, etc. More on this later. Please note that each module set to full brightness with every LED on consumes 127mA, so it would be wise to use external power with more than one module and other connections with Arduino boards. After spending some time with the module, I made a quick shield with an IDC header to make connection somewhat easier:

Software –  download and install the T1638 library from here. Thanks and kudos to rjbatista at gmail dot com for the library. Initialising modules in the sketch is simple. Include the library with:

then use one of the following for each module:

x is  the Arduino digital pin connected to the module cable pin 4, y is the Arduino digital pin connected to the module cable pin 3, and z is the strobe pin. So if you had one module with data, clock and strobe connected to pins 8, 7,  and 6 you would use:

If you had two modules, with module one’s strobe connected to Arduino digital 6, and module two’s strobe connected to digital 5, you would use:

and so on for more modules.  Now to control the display…

The bi-colour LEDs

Controlling the red/green LEDs is easy. For reference they are numbered zero to seven from left to right. To turn on or off a single LED, use the following:

Using the method above may be simple it is somewhat inefficient. A better way is to address all of the LEDs in one statement. To do this we send two bytes of data in hexadecimal to the display. The MSB (most significant byte) consists of eight bits, each representing one green LED being on (1) or off (0). The LSB (least significant byte) represents the red LEDs.

An easy way to determine the hexadecimal value to control the LEDs is simple, image you have one row of LEDs – the first eight being green and the second eight being red.  Set each digit to 1 for on and 0 for off. The convert the two binary numbers to hexadecimal and use this function:

Where green is the hexadecimal number for the green LEDs and red is the hexadecimal number for the red LEDs. For example, to turn on the first three LEDs as red, and the last three as green, the binary representation will be:

00000111 11100000 which in hexadecimal is E007. So we would use:

which produces the following:

The 7-segment display

To clear the numeric display (but not the LEDs below), simply use:

or to turn on every segment AND all the LEDs, use the following

To display decimal numbers, use the function:

where a is the integer, b is the position for the decimal point (0 for none, 1 for digit 8, 2, for digit 7, 4 for digit 6, 8 for digit 4, etc), and the last parameter (true/false) turns on or off leading zeros. The following sketch demonstrates the use of this function:

and the results:

One of the most interesting features is the ability to scroll text across one or more displays. To do so doesn’t really need an explanation as the included demonstration sketch:

included with the TM1638 library is easily followed. Just insert your text in the const char string[], ensure that the module(s) are wired according to the module definition at the start of the sketch and you’re set. To see the available characters, visit the function page. Note that the display is only seven-segments, so some characters may not look perfect, but in context will give you a good idea – for example:

Finally, you can also individually address each segment of each digit. Consider the contents of this array:

each element represents digits 1~8. The value of each element determines which segment of the digit turns on. For segments a~f, dp the values are 1,2,4,6,16,32,64,128. So the results of using the array above in the following function:

will be:

Naturally you can combine values for each digit to create your own characters, symbols, etcetera. For example, using the following values:

we created:

The buttons

The values of the buttons are returned as a byte value from the function:

As there are eight buttons, each one represents one bit of a binary number that is returned as a byte. The button on the left returns decimal one, and the right returns 128. It can also return simultaneous presses, so pressing buttons one and eight returns 129. Consider the following sketch, which returns the values of the button presses in decimal form, then displays the value:

and the results:

Update – 21/05/2012

A reader from Brazil has used one of the modules as part of a racing simulator – read more about it here, and view his demonstration below.

Update – 08/02/2013

Great tutorial on using these with a Raspberry Pi.

These display boards were a random, successful find. When ordering from dealextreme, do so knowing that your order may take several weeks to arrive as they are not the fastest of online retailers; and your order may be coming from mainland China which can slow things down somewhat. Otherwise the modules work well and considering the minimal I/O and code requirements, are a very good deal.

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.

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.


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!


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:

For more information about the display used, please visit the Freetronics product pageDisclaimer – The display module used in this article is a promotional consideration made available by Freetronics.

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.

Arduino meets Las Vegas with the Freetronics DMD

Updated 05/11/2014

Time once more to have some fun, and this time by examining the Freetronics DMD “Dot Matrix Display” available from Tronixlabs. We will look at the setup and operation of the display. In a nutshell the DMD comprises of a board measuring approximately 320mm across by 160mm which contains 16 rows of 32 high-intensity red LEDs. For example, in the off state:

Connection of the DMD to your Arduino-compatible board is quite simple. Included with each DMD is a 2×8 IDC cable of around 220mm in length, and a PCB to allow direct connection to the Arduino digital pins D6~13:

Finally the cable connects to the left-hand socket on the rear of the DMD:

You can also daisy-chain more than one display, so a matching output socket is also provided. Finally, an external power supply is recommended in order to drive the LEDs as maximum brightness – 5V at ~4 A per DMD. This is connected to a separate terminal on the rear of the board:

Do not connect these terminals to the 5V/GND of your Arduino board!

A power cable with lugs is also included so you can daisy chain the high-intensity power feeds as well. When using this method, ensure your power supply can deliver 5V at 4A  for each DMD used – so for two DMDs, you will need 8A, etc. For testing (and our demonstration) purposes you can simply connect the DMD to your Arduino via the IDC cable, however the LEDs will not light at their full potential.

Using the display with your Arduino sketches is quite simple. There is an enthusiastic group of people working on the library which you will need, and you can download it from and follow the progress at the DMD Github page and forks. Furthermore, there is always the Freetronics forum for help, advice and conversation. Finally you will also need the TimerOne library – available from here.

However for now let’s run through the use of the DMD and get things moving. Starting with scrolling text – download the demonstration sketch from here. All the code in the sketch outside of void loop() is necessary. Replace the text within the quotes with what you would like to scroll across the display, and enter the number of characters (including spaces) in the next parameter. Finally, if you have more than one display change the 1 to your number of displays in #define DISPLAYS_ACROSS 1.

Here is a quick video of our example sketch:

Now for some more static display functions – starting with clearing the display. You can use

to turn off all the pixels, or

to turn on all the pixels.

Note: turning on more pixels at once increases the current draw. Always keep this in mind and measure with an ammeter if unsure. 

Next some text. First you need to choose the font, at the time of writing there were two to choose from. Use

for a smaller font or

for a larger font. To position a single character on the DMD, use:

which will display the character ‘x’ at location x,y (in pixels – starting from zero). For example, using

results with:

Note if you have the pixels on ‘behind’ the character, the unused pixels in the character are not ‘transparent’. For example:

However if you change the last parameter to GRAPHICS_NOR, the unused pixels will become ‘transparent’. For example:

You can also use the parameter GRAPHICS_OR to overlay a character on the display. This is done with the blinking colon in the example sketch provided with the library.

Next, to draw a string (group of characters). This is simple, just select your font type and then use (for example):

Again, the 5 is a parameter for the length of the string to display. This results in the following:

Next up we look at the graphic commands. To control an individual pixel, use

And changing the 1 to a 0 turns off the pixel. To draw a circle with the centre at x,y and a radius r, use

To draw a line from x1, y2 to x2, y2, use:

To draw a rectangle from x1, y2 to x2, y, use:

And to draw a filled rectangle use:

Now let’s put those functions to work. You can download the demonstration sketch from here, and watch the following results:

Update – the DMD is also available in other colours, such as white:

So there you have it, an inexpensive and easy to use display board with all sorts of applications. Although the demonstrations contained within this article were rather simple, you now have the knowledge to apply your imagination to the DMD and display what you like. For more information, check out the entire DMD range at Tronixlabs. And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a fourth printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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 forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

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.

Kit Review – the LoL Shield

[Update 13/07/2013 – Apprently the kit is in the process of being revised. Watch Sparkfun or Jimmie’s webpage for updates]

Hello readers

Another month, so time for another kit review. In this article we exame the LoL Shield by Jimmie P. Rodgers. So what’s all this about? Simple – the Lol Shield is a shield with nine rows of fourteen 3mm diameter LEDs, and at the time of writing was available in various colours. The shield has many uses, from being another form of hypnotising blinking LEDs, to displaying messages, artwork, data in visual form, or perhaps the basis for a simple computer game. More on that later – first, let’s see how it goes together.

As is becoming the norm lately, the kit arrives in a resealable anti-static bag:

The contents are few in type but huge in number, the PCB:

… at which point you start to think – “Oh, there goes the evening”. And the LEDs confirm it:

You will need 126 LEDs. There was a surplus of seven in my bag, a nice thought by the kit assemblers. There isn’t too much to worry about to start off with, just remember the anodes for the LEDs are on the left-hand side, and start soldering. The greatest of shields starts with a single LED:

However after a while you get into the swing of it:

At this point, one wonders if there is a better way to solder all these in. If you diagonally stagger the LEDs as such:

the legs stay well apart making soldering a little easier:

… however one still needs to take care to keep the LEDs flush with the PCB. I wouldn’t want to do this for a living… Still, many more to solder in:

And – we’re done!

Phew – that’s a lot of LEDs. An inspection of the other side of the PCB to check for shorts in the soldering is a prudent activity during the soldering process. The final step was to now solder in the shield header pins:

And – we’re done! This example took me just over one hour, includind a couple of stretch and breathe breaks. When soldering a large amount, always try to have good ventilation and hopefully a solder fume extractor as well. Furthermore, pause to check your work every now and then, you don’t want to install the lot and find one LED is in the wrong way. To control the 126 LEDs the LoL Shield uses a technique called Charlieplexing. Furthermore, the creator has documented his design process and how this works very well on his website located here.

From a software perspective – there is a library to download and install, it can be found in the downloads section of this site. Don’t forget to use the latest version if you’re using Arduino v1.0 or greater. This will also introduce some demonstration sketches in the File>examples section of the Arduino IDE. The first one to try is basic test, as it fires up every LED. Here is a short video of this example:

Now that we have seen some blinking action, how do we control the shield? As mentioned earlier, you will need the library installed. Now consider the following basic sketch – it shows how we can individually control each LED:

As you can see in the sketch above we need to include the “Charlieplexing” library, and create an instance of LedSign in void setup().  Then each LED can be easily controlled with the function LedSign::Set(x,y,z) – where x is 1~14, y is 1~9 and z is 1 for on, or 0 for off. Here is a short video of the example above in action:

If you want to display animations of some sort – there is a tool to help minimise the work required to create each frame. Consider the example sketch Basic_Test that is included with the LoL Shield library – take note of the large array described before void setup();. This array contains data to describe each frame of the animation in the demonstration sketch. One can create the variables required for each frame by using the spreadsheet found here. Open the spreadsheet (Using OpenOffice.org or Libre Office), then go to the “Test Animation” tab as such:

You can define the frame on the left hand side, and the numbers required for the Arduino sketch are provided on the right. Easy. So for a final example, here is my demonstration animation. You can download the sketch, and the spreadsheet file used to create the variables to insert into the sketch.

However, thanks to an interesting website – there is a much, much easier way to create the animations. Head over to the LoL Shield Theatre web site. There you can graphically create each slide of your animation, then download the Arduino sketch to make it work. You can even test your animations on the screen just for fun. For example, here is something I knocked out in a few minutes – and the matching sketch. And the animation in real life:

So there you have it – another fun and interesting Arduino shield that won’t break the bank. For further questions about the Digit Shield visit the website.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter,  facebook or Google+, or join our Google Group for further discussion. No pre-teen girls were used in this kit review.

High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was ordered by myself and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer]

Review: Gravitech 7-Segment Arduino Shield

Hello Readers

In this article we examine the “7-Segment Arduino Shield” received for review from the team at Gravitech in the United States. This is an Arduino Uno/Duemilanove-type compatible shield that contains four very useful items:

  • Four 7-segment LED numerical displays – driven by the NXP SAA1064 LED display driver IC;
  • A large 10mm RGB LED;
  • A Microchip 24LC128 EEPROM, and
  • A TI TMP75 digital temperature sensor.
Apart from the LED all the other components are controlled via the I2C bus. So as well as being generally useful for experimenting, monitoring temperature and so on, this is an ideal board for Arduino and I2C bus practice. (If you have not done so already, consider reading our I2C tutorial, part one and two). Let’s look at the hardware, then move on to using the features.
As with other Gravitech products, the shield arrives in a reusable static shielding bag:
and here we have it:
The IC at the top-left of the shield is the TMP75 temperature sensor, bottom-left is the 24LC128 EEPROM, and the whopper below the first two digits is the NXP SAA1064. The shield layout is very neat and clean, and the white finish is a pleasant change compared to the usual black or green Arduino shields out there. The PWR LED is a blue colour. The only issues I found were that you cannot use this with a Mega due to the location of the I2C pins, and the component leads were not trimmed at the factory, which caused an issue when the shield was inserted into an Ethernet shield. This is easily solved by clipping the leads yourself:
Here is the shield in operation using the supplied demonstration sketch. The temperature is displayed in Celsius, with the LED changing colour depending on the temperature:

That is all very good, but how do we use the features of the board? Let’s look at each of the aforementioned features individually. First of all, the numeric display. The four seven-segment LED displays are controlled by the NXP SAA1064 LED display driver (data sheet (.pdf)). I have written a separate tutorial on how to use this IC, and it is completely compatible with this shield. So visit the tutorial here and put the numbers to work! Please note the I2C bus address for the SAA1064  is 0x38.

Next we have the RGB LED. Red, green and blue are connected to digital pins 3, 5 and 6 respectively. These are also pulse-width modulation pins, so you can have altering the brightness. Here is a simple demonstration sketch:

And for the curious, here it is in action:

Next, the Microchip 24LC128 EEPROM. It has 128kbit storage space, which translates to 16 kilobytes. The I2C bus address is 0x50. Once again there is a complete explanation of how to use this sort of EEPROM in another tutorial – check it out. But for quick reference the following demonstration sketch writes the numbers 0~255 to memory locations 0~255:

Although there is 16 kilobytes of memory the sketch only writes and reads to the first 255 locations. Each location can store a byte of value between zero and 255. Here is a screen shot of the serial monitor results (click to enlarge):

And now time to work with the Texas Instruments TMP75 temperature sensor (data sheet.pdf). It has a reasonable operating temperature range of between -40 and 125 degrees Celsius – however this would exceed the range in which your Arduino is capable of working, so no leaving the shield on the car dashboard during a hot summer’s day. The I2C bus address for the TMP75 is 0x49. We will deconstruct the Gravitech demonstration sketch to explain how the temperature works.

The TMP75 needs to be initialised before measurement can take place, by sending the following data:

The temperature data is received in two bytes of data, as it spans 12 bits. Thankfully the demonstration sketch has done the work for us. Have a look at the Cal_temp() function, which converts the two raw bytes of data from the TMP75. There is some bitwise arithmetic in there, however if you are not keen on going down to that level, it is easy enough to cut and paste the temperature and numeric display functions.  Here is a quick video of the demonstration sketch in action:


So there you have it – another useful and educational shield for use with your Arduino. If you have any questions or enquiries please direct them to Gravitech via their contact page. Gravitech products including the 7-segment shield are available directly from their website or these distributors.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow on twitterfacebook, or join our Google Group.

[Disclaimer – the shield reviewed in this article was a  promotional consideration made available by Gravitech]

High resolution photos are available on flickr.

Tutorial: Arduino and the NXP SAA1064 4-digit LED display driver

Learn how to use the NXP SAA1064 LED display driver IC in chapter thirty-nine of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – a series of articles on the Arduino universe.

Updated 19/01/2013

In this article we investigate controlling the NXP (formerly Philips) SAA1064 4-digit LED display driver IC with Arduino and the I2C bus interface. If you are not familiar with using the I2C bus, please read my tutorials (parts one and two) before moving on. Although the SAA1064 is not the newest on the market, it is still popular, quite inexpensive and easy to source. Furthermore as it is controlled over the I2C bus – you don’t waste any digital I/O pins on your Arduino, and you can also operate up to four SAA1064s at once (allowing 16 digits!). Finally, it has a constant-current output – keeping all the segments of your LED display at a constant brightness (which is also adjustable).  So let’s get started…

Here is an example of the SAA1064 in SOIC surface mount packaging:

It measures around 15mm in length. For use in a solderless breadboard, I have soldered the IC onto a through-hole adaptor:

The SAA1064 is also available in a regular through-hole DIP package. At this point, please download the data sheet (.pdf) as you will need to refer to it during the article. Next, our LED display examples. We need common-anode displays, and for this article we use two Agilent HDSP521G two-digit modules (data sheet [.pdf]) as shown below:

For the uninitiated – a common anode display has all the segments’ anodes connected together, with the cathodes terminated separately. For example, our LED displays are wired as such:

Notice the anodes for the left digit are pin 14, and the right digit pin 13. A device that is connected to all the cathodes (e.g. our SAA1064) will control the current flow through each element – thereby turning each segment on (and controlling the brightness) or off. Our SAA1064 is known as a current-sink as the current flows through the LED, and then sinks into the IC.

Now, let’s get it connected. There is an excellent demonstration circuit on page twelve of the data sheet that we will follow for our demonstrations:

It looks pretty straight-forward, and it is. The two transistors are standard NPN-type, such as PN2222. The two transistors are used to each turn on or off a pair of digits – as the IC can only drive digits 1+3 or 2+4 together. (When presented in real life the digits are numbered 4-3-2-1). So the pairs are alternatively turned on and off at a rapid rate, which is controlled by the capacitor between pin 2 and GND. The recommended value is 2.7 nF. At the time of writing, I didn’t have that value in stock, so chose a 3.3 nF instead. However due to the tolerance of the ceramic capacitor it was actually measured to be 2.93 nF:

So close enough to 2.7 nF will be OK. The other capacitor shown between pins 12 and 13 is a standard 0.1 uF smoothing capacitor. Pin 1 on the SAA1064 is used to determine the I2C bus address – for our example we have connected it straight to GND (no resistors at all) resulting in an address of 0x70. See the bottom page five of the data sheet for other address options. Power for the circuit can be taken from your Arduino’s 5V pin – and don’t forget to connect the circuit GND to Arduino GND. You will also use 4.7k ohm pull-up resistors on the SDA and SCL lines of the I2C bus.

The last piece of the schematic puzzle is how to connect the cathodes of the LED displays to the SAA1064. Display pins 14 and 13 are the common anodes of the digits.

The cathodes for the left-hand display module:

  • LED display pins 4, 16, 15, 3, 2, 1, 18 and 17 connect to SAA1064 pins 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16 and 15 respectively (that is, LED pin 4 to IC pin 22, etc.);
  • LED display pins 9, 11, 10, 8, 6, 5, 12 and 7 also connect to SAA1064 pins 22, 21, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16 and 15 respectively.
The cathodes for the right-hand display module:
  • LED display pins 4, 16, 15, 3, 2, 1, 18 and 17 connect to SAA1064 pins 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 respectively;
  • LED display pins  9, 11, 10, 8, 6, 5, 12 and 7 also connect to SAA1064 pins 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 respectively.
Once your connections have been made, you could end up with spaghetti junction like this…
Now it is time to consider the Arduino sketch to control out SAA1064. Each write request to the SAA1064 requires several bytes. We either send a control command (to alter some of the SAA1064 parameters such as display brightness) or a display command (actually display numbers). For our example sketches the I2C bus address “0x70 >> 1” is stored in the byte variable saa1064. First of all, let’s look at sending commands, as this is always done first in a sketch to initiate the SAA1064 before sending it data.
As always, we send the address down the I2C bus to awaken the SAA1064 using

Then the next byte is the instruction byte. If we send zero:

… the IC expects the next byte down the bus to be the command byte. And finally our command byte:

The control bits are described on page six of the data sheet. However – for four-digit operation bits 0, 1 and 2 should be 1; bit 3 should be 0; and bits 4~6 determine the amount of current allowed to flow through the LED segments. Note that they are cumulative, so if you set bits 5 and 6 to 1 – 18 mA of current will flow. We will demonstrate this in detail later on.

Next, to send actual numbers to be displayed is slightly different. Note that the digits are numbered (from left to right) 4 3 2 1. Again, we first send the address down the I2C bus to awaken the SAA1064 using

Then the next byte is the instruction byte. If we send 1, the next byte of data will represent digit 1. If that follows with another byte, it will represent digit 2. And so on. So to send data to digit 1, send

Although sending binary helps with the explanation, you can send decimal equivalents. Next, we send a byte for each digit (from right to left). Each bit in the byte represents a single LED element of the digit as well as the decimal point. Note how the elements are labelled (using A~G and DP) in the following image:

The digit bytes describe which digit elements to turn on or off. The bytes are described as such: Bpgfedcba. (p is the decimal point). So if you wanted to display the number 7, you would send B00000111 – as this would turn on elements a, b and c. To add the decimal point with 7 you would send B10000111. You can also send the byte as a decimal number. So to send the digit 7 as a decimal, you would send 7 – as 00000111 in base-10 is 7. To include the decimal point, send 135 – as 100000111 in base-10 is 135. Easy! You can also create other characters such as A~F for hexadecimal. In fact let’s do that now in the following example sketch:

In the function initDisplay() you can see an example of using the instruction then the control byte. In the function clearDisplay() you can see the simplest form of sending digits to the display – we send 0 for each digit to turn off all elements in each digit. The bytes that define the digits 0~9 and A~F are stored in the array digits[]. For example, the digit zero is 63 in decimal, which is B00111111 in binary – which turns on elements a,b,c,d,e and f. Finally, notice the second loop in displayDigits() – 128 is added to each digit value to turn on the decimal point. Before moving on, let’s see it in action:

Our next example revisits the instruction and control byte – we change the brightness of the digits by setting bits 4~6 in the control byte. Each level of brightness is separated into a separate function, and should be self-explanatory. Here is the sketch:

And again, see it in action:

For our final example, there is a function displayInteger(a,b) which can be used to easily display numbers from 0~9999 on the 4-digit display. The parameter a is the number to display, and b is the leading-zero control – zero – off, one – on. The function does some maths on the integet to display and separates the digits for each column, then sends them to the SAA1064 in reverse order. By now you should be able to understand the following sketch:

And the final example in action:

So there you have it – another useful IC that can be used in conjunction with our Arduino systems to make life easier and reduce the required digital output pins.


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.

Kit review – nootropic design Digit Shield

Hello readers

Time once again to examine another kit. This week we have the nootropic design Digit Shield for Arduino Uno/Duemilanove and compatible boards. Although a finger can be called a digit this shield is not some sort of biotechnological experiment – instead it gives us four seven-segment LED displays to show various forms of numerical data from our Arduino sketches.

Although many people may be tempted to use a standard LCD unit, there are a few advantages to using an LED display – such as digit size, enhanced readability in daylight, and LED displays are generally much more robust than LCDs. Therefore there should be many uses for the Digit Shield. Furthermore, the people at nootropic design have been awesome as they support the Open Hardware Definition 1.0, and the Digit Shield design files have been made available under Creative Commons attribution-share alike.

First let’s run through construction, then operation with some demonstrations. The kit arrives in a nice reusable bag with a pointer to the online instructions:


Kit construction was relatively simple thanks to the excellent instructions by nootropic design. All the parts required for completion are included, except for IC sockets:


My demonstration kit included green LED displays, however it is also available in red-orange, depending on the retail outlet you choose. Once again the PCB is well laid out, with a good solder mask and a nicely labelled silk screen on top:


Now to start soldering. The process is nothing out of the ordinary, and should take around half an hour at the most. First in are the resistors:


Notice how the current-limiting resistors for the LED segments will be under the LED displays. So now we solder in the LED modules and create a resistor jail:


Now for the shift register and BCD to decimal ICs. I found inserting them a little tricky due to my large hands and the LED display already being in place, so it would be easier to fit the ICs before the LED modules:


This leaves us with the transistors, capacitors, header sockets and the reset button:


After soldering the reset button, you may need trim down the solder and legs (as shown below) otherwise there is a possibility they will rub the DC input socket on the Arduino board:

Finally the shield pins are fitted and the shield is ready:


The next task is to download and install the Digit Shield’s Arduino library. The latest version can be found here. Extract the folder into your

folder, then restart the Arduino IDE software.  A quick test of the shield can be accomplished with the SimpleCounter sketch available from the inbuilt examples. To find this, select File>Examples>DigitShield>SimpleCounter in the Arduino IDE, and upload the sketch. Hold onto the desk as you watch some numbers increment:

Using the shield in your own sketch is quite simple. Instead of reinventing the wheel there is an excellent explanation of the various functions available on the lower section of this page. A very useful feature is when the shield cannot display a number – it shows all four decimal points instead. The only slight criticism that comes to mind is the inability to directly display hexadecimal digits A~F, as the LED units lend themselves nicely to doing so; or the option of controlling each LED segment individually with a simple function. So let’s see if that is possible…

One of the joys of open hardware is the fact we can get the schematic, see how it works and attempt to solve such dilemmas ourselves. For those without software that can read Cadsoft EAGLE files, here is the schematic in .pdf format. The section we need to see is how the LED segments are driven. Look for the 74HC595 and 74LS247 ICs. Serial data is shifted out from the Arduino digital pins to the 74HC595 shift register. (For more information about how 74HC595s work with Arduino please visit this tutorial).

Outputs A~D (Q0~Q3) represent binary-coded decimal output and the outputs E~H (Q4~Q7) control the transistors which select the current digit to use. The BCD output is fed to the 74LS247 BCD to seven-segment drive IC. Although this is a very useful IC, it can only display the decimal digits and a few odd characters (see page two of the data sheet.pdf). So this leaves us unable to modify our sketches or the shield library to solve our problem. Such is life!

Perhaps the people at nootropic design can consider a change in the hardware for the next version to incorporate such requirements. However there are several projects available in the Digit Shield’s website that may be of interest, including a way to daisy-chain more than one shield at a time.

Nevertheless the Digit Shield is a simple kit that makes displaying Arduino-generated numerical data simple and clear. Furthermore lovers of blinking LEDs will have a ball. For further questions about the Digit Shield contact nootropic design or perhaps post on their forum.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter or facebook, or join our Google Group for further discussion.

High resolution images are available on flickr.

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