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U-Disp - The Digg (tm) display (Open Source)

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Ever wanted to know how many diggs your latest digg submission is getting? Or how many unread mails you got? Or the current load of your server? How many hits your homepage is getting? The exchange rate, gold price or your portfolio value?

And you you want this on a display that's easy to read across the room and can be chained to several display for showing multiple values without scrolling or changing?

Then U-Disp is something for you.

U-DIsp is a eight character seven-segment display that you connect to your computer by USB. The display is controlled by a Windows Service (background) that are pulling information from a multitude of sources and can be configured to display in on one or several displays.
This video shows two chained displays being plugged into my laptop and starting up showing their built in "attract mode" for a while.

When I start the software on the laptop the attract mode ends and the upper display then displays the number of Diggs of two stories on Digg.com, and the lower display shows the current time, my number of unread mails and the CPU load.


 
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Step 1: Open Source Software & Hardware

Picture of Open Source Software & Hardware
All parts of this project are open source. Licensed with the BSD license which allows you to do pretty much anything with it as long as you keep the copyrights and the attributions in the source as well as the products.

Both the firmware in the microcontroller on the board itself as well as the software running as a service on the PC are open source and can by freely modified and redistributed.

The hardware is also open with the schematics and the board layout in Eagleformat plus complete Gerber files.

You are free to build, modify, improve, use, sell and distribute all of this as long as the original copyrights are left intact in the code.

Since I've only got the Non-Profit -version of Eagle I'm not allowed to make any money of any projects created with the software, but I'm allowed to sell boards at my cost-price with no markup. So I can sell some of my spare empty PCB's to anyone that's interested.

Here's the BSD license,

Copyright (c) 2007, Mats Engstrom
All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

  • Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
  • Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
  • The names of its contributors may not be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.

THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS "AS IS" AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COPYRIGHT OWNER OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

denilsonsa2 years ago
Unfortunately, www.u-disp.com is not available anymore. It would be nice to have a mirror somewhere else.

I've tried to find the character set from u-disp at the WayBackMachine, but I couldn't find it. Those images were not stored on their servers.
Mario16 years ago
well it's pretty nice BUT why does the company sell only the board??? if the kit was board and the other parts yes but now that isn't an offer cuZ ill buy myself a cheaper version (not a kit) ill print my own board and buy the parts a lot cheaper and a lot faster but basically it's good
matseng (author)  Mario16 years ago
What company? I made a batch of PCBs for myself and hade some spare PBC's that I sold for the same price that I payed for them. Since this is an open sourced hard & software you are more that welcome to manufacture your own PCB's. But I'm not really sure that you can get a professionally made PCB for less than $4.50 in quantities below a few hundred. For a PCB with this size sparkfun charges you $16. Homemade is of course an option, but double sided PCB with like 30 vias this might be a bit messy. I think I mentioned the prices for the other parts either in the instructable or in a comment here. I bought the components for ten complete boards (small discount for buying for more than one unit) from Mouser to use myself. They might not be the cheapest, but I'd be amazed is you could shave more than a dollar or two of the total of the single unit price. Please show me how to find the parts cheaper and faster. I don't want to overspend. Yea, and of course the PCB....
Mario1 matseng5 years ago
Well in our country everything is allot cheaper and it's faster cus u gave a website that we can buy the parts and the ship to bulgaria is going to be 1 month+/- here i can go to electronics shop and buy them cheaper cus they wont ship from other country ot something ... and here they are cheaper anyway ;) don't know why but they really are
Derin Mario15 years ago
if you are bulgarian you may aswell order from Turkey,and I believe most bulgariaans know turkish.
Mario1 Derin3 years ago
Sorry that I haven't responded since 2 years or so, but I've just had too much work to deal with in the past 2 years and forgot about Instrucatbles and the spirit of DYI.
Bulgarians don't speak turkish nor we need to learn it in school or something.
There are a lot of turkish immigrants in here, that's why you'd think WE speak turkish, but its actually turkish guys that speak turkish lol.
zodono3 years ago
if i build several of these, all with USB ports and USB to serial converters, can i still chain them? That way i could use pin headers and shunts to chain them, or use them all independantly on multiple computers?
yoyology3 years ago
I'm surprised nobody has asked this yet. Can the Windows Service poll Instructables.com so you know if you have new comments? :-)
wandrson4 years ago
Did anyone save a copy of the firmware? I ordered a pc board from sparkfun last fall and just got around to putting together the circuit. When I checked the site the firmware is no longer there. Hate to have to start from scratch on the firmware.
matseng (author)  wandrson4 years ago
Hi, I've now added the firmware as a zip in step 16. You should be able to download it from there. /mats
denilsonsa5 years ago
The www.u-disp.com site is down. Well, mostly, the homepage is up but links are non-functional. Thanks to WayBack Machine, we have an archieved copy, but without images or extra files. It would be nice to have the site back up.
conrad24685 years ago
you could do this with an lcd instead of leds
denilsonsa6 years ago
Hey, I've just noticed that you used 20pF capacitors, but your schematic diagram (both in this instructable and in u-disp site) have 20nF. Please fix that! :)
msfwebdude6 years ago
Even just parts of your instructable, I find so informative and helpful. Like the FTDI to AVR stuff. you da man
Mario16 years ago
well YAHHHHHHHHHH but if I made my own PCB the quality won't be the same as the quality of the purchased PCB ...if you want to work buy everything from the "pro's"
thatonekid6 years ago
if i were to buy it as a kit, do all the components come with it?
denilsonsa6 years ago
Why do you use transistors? Can't you just directly connect the microcontroller pin to the anodes?
matseng's reply below is correct... in addition: In the case that the microcontroller's outputs are not current limited, you risk damaging the microcontroller. The output may pass more current than it is capable of sustaining, and you risk "a meltdown". When desiging a digital system, keep in mind that every circuit is essentially an analog circut and will exhibit analog behaviors. You'd do best to learn some analog theory, especially that of impedance.
matseng (author)  denilsonsa6 years ago
Yes, that would be possible, but the display would be very dim then. If all seven or eight segments on a single display is lit, each segment requiring 20 mA, the microcontroller would have to source 160 mA to the anode. And that's quite a bit over what it's capable of delivering, so the transistors are there to amplify the current for the anodes.
BlueFusion6 years ago
Know what...

My local electronics place has this: http://www.dse.com.au/cgi-bin/dse.storefront/en/Product/Z4172
I'm thinking, that plus USB to serial chip. It doesn't have the linking or memory functionality of the U-Disp but it could easily be used simply to display realtime data from a PC. I might just try that. But nice instructable and I may just have to buy one of those (board/kits)!
thadrien6 years ago
Nice!
richms6 years ago
How about doing this again, but using 16 segment displays so the whole alphabet can be displayed? Possible or am I dreaming?
I suppose you could even find a serial interface LCD and use it. Lots of lines, good readability and less power.
matseng (author)  richms6 years ago
Absolutely possible. It'd be a bit more expensive (like $15 extra) and a needs few extra IC's put on the backside of the PCB.

Most of the alphabet actually are possible to display, but a few of the characetsr gets really strange. See the drawings at The 7-segment characters
richms matseng6 years ago
Yeah, but the retro pinball like starburst displays just scream cool since you don't see them much these days with most consumer electronics going to bitmapped lcd's - I think mums microwave is the only thing I know with them, and thats an lcd anyway so less cool then LEDs. ;) I'm downloading the dev tools to have a lookie, the last microcontroller I programmed was a pic 12c508 back in the days of playstation 1 modding so I have a lot of catching up to do, but im on summer break now so plenty of play time ;)
Wow! This is really cool. I must admit, I fell asleep when reading the programming part. ;) Just me though. I'm curious: what about pixie tubes instead of the LED displays? Ya, I know... I'm completely nuts, but it could be fun. Seriously though, I could see having a few of these at work displaying things like total bandwidth usage, b/w of the public side of our network and /or the WiFi part of that. Maybe even a module for the 'active window' of my IM (Miranda with Yahoo). The things I can think of!! The mark of a great project and instructable: gets my imagination running wild!
Wee bit of a problem with the gerbers. When I ran it through batchPCB's wizard I got this: (enclosed pic here) what the bell do I do to fix this?
wtb.JPG
matseng (author)  grahamslawson6 years ago
I think that the DRC-bot of batchPCB is a bit overly sensitive. BatchPCB are using Gold Phoenix as their manufacturer, and I sent those gerbers directly to Gold Phoenix and they accepted the files without any complaints. It's a bit late (1 am) here now, but I'll try to generate new gerbers that batchPCB will accept tomorrow. At the same time I'll move those pesky vias away from the USB connector so that "misfeature" will be taken care of.
thank you very much. This looks like a good first project to SMT soldering.
matseng (author)  grahamslawson6 years ago
In www.u-disp.com/index.php/downloads there's now a 1.0a -version of the eagle-files and gerbers. Those files pass BatchPCB's DRC-bot with flying colors....
where can we get the gerbers and eagle files from?
thank you
matseng (author)  grahamslawson6 years ago
Sorry, I forgot to upload them to the project site. They are there now.

u-disp.com/index.php/downloads
cafeine6 years ago
oh man....instructables.com has really shown the path to the future....extremely interesting - impressive project... +1 from me ...
amazing job. i would try this, but i am not as smart as you. this is just freaking AMAZING! i have 1,543,684 views on my digg. just kidding haha (favorited)
abbtech6 years ago
Fantastic job. Very impressive build log.
wow, this is beyond well done!
This is neat!
darkmuskrat6 years ago
Nice. This is something I might try on my winter break.
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