When I saw these dusty VFD display tubes, an idea of making something interesting bumped into my mind. Any idea of what I made? Now let’s blow your mind step by step:
You may wonder what a VFD display tube is. As it’s abbreviated for ‘Vacuum Fluorescent Display’, the meaning may be self-explained. Its working mode is similar to an electron tube.
Here are the tubes. They are quite similar to normal eight-digit number tubes. They get backlights and can always display six-digits. You can set up display content and back light colors (eight colors in total) with four wire lines. Custom case is made of glass so that displaying effect looks dashingly cool.
The first idea came into my mind was to make a clock. I searched on the internet and found out there were too many self-made clocks, which contravened my principle of ‘trying out things nobody has done before’. That’s right, I can’t just make a clock! I have to add new functions to it!
Step 1: What Functions to Add?
When I tested the VFD tubes I found there was subtle heat generated from within. I’m afraid they would not last long if lights were on forever. So let me add a low power mode!
Low power mode=sleep mode=snore mode
Since this is the only idea hits me for now, ok, let’s make a clock that snores.
Step 2: Make My Clock Snores-- Add an Mp3 Module
In order to make my clock snores, I found ten different snoring sounds on the web and added an MP3 module, a speaker and a human pyroelectric sensor so that the clock can be able to identify people nearby. If there was no physical movement sensed by the clock, it will enter into low power mode by delivering the built-in snoring sound randomly. Conversely, if there was people’s movement, the clock will get up soon and display time accordingly. To make snoring sounds more interesting, I made two quadrate shapes, more resemble of human eyes, on the VFD display and they would fade in and out like breathing lights. In case that such snoring +breathing lights make people feel uneasy, I set up a deep sleep mode in which no sound and content was displayed.
As a clock with ordinary functions, a power-down timer is a must. Hence, I added an RTC module to maintain timer function when the clock fell into power-down state.
Step 3: RTC Module
Ok, how do we do with the RTC module? Bluetooth might be an option. I connected the ‘GoBLE’ Bluetooth controller APP on iPhone and the clock controller Bluno Nano, and then set up the clock by adjusting with the control panel on the APP.
Step 4: Add One More Function
If we only use mobiles to set up time, how wasteful would that be! I then added one more interesting function: playing games. As a VFD that can only display six-digit numbers and unrecognizable English letters, what game can I play with it? Don’t forget VFD display numbers…display numbers…numbers…games with numbers…games of numbers…
Good! Let’s make numbers game by simply displaying numbers! I was soon reminded of a poker game I played before: Is the number larger or smaller?
The rule is：Number 1 to 13 will appear randomly, players have to guess whether the next number is bigger or smaller. You may continue if you are right and the game is over if you are wrong. The one who has the most correct and continuous guesses wins.
To win the game, you need to know probability theory and have a good fortune. So as long as you can use your phone to decide if the next number is bigger or smaller, all things are done!
Upon the completion of game set-up, I realized that if without demonstration, people would not know how to play with it. Therefore, I had to build audio-interpreting in every round of my games. Music can be essential for game-playing. I then downloaded some music on the internet to boost the atmosphere of guessing numbers. At this stage, mobile phones can set up time and play games. Then a good user interface would be critical. I added a user-friendly interface to the clock. Up until now, all functions were set up, except for the custom case.
Step 5: Appearance Design
I used Solidworks to make a piece of design and printed it out using 3D printing machine.
The whole set of equipment is like the above.
For the convenience of circuit boards integration and maintenance, I designed two sliding doors at the back of the case. A bit more like Japanese style, isn’t it? Still there are some spaces left inside in which you can put your case-dough behind your spouse back, Hahhah……
The sliding door is like the picture 4:
Now there are only five VFD tubes left. How can I deal
with it? Five can never be symmetrical! Feeling irritated by my obsessive compulsion!
Then I took out one more VFD and now the numbers were even and looked more comfortable. Thanks to that, my obsessive compulsion was relieved.
My design was near to success, before changing the six-digit display (hour:minute:second)to four-digit display (hour:minute). It looks now like this:
Front side （Pic 1)
Back side ( Pic 2)
In working mode (Pic 3)
When take a closer look, are the side lights too dazzling? I then printed a cover as shown in the image 4.
It finally looked like picture 5
By changing from six-digit display to four-digit display, power consumption was decreased. Therefore, power doesn’t have to be supplied by using the tube switches. Instead, I can use laptop’s USB ports or portable charger or batteries to supply power. Thanks to this, Ｉdon’t have to connect it to external power every time when I write programs!
Since my clock can snore and play games with human beings, more like a human being in itself actually, I give my clock a name called VFD AL ClOCK, which means a clock resembling human being.