Picture of Wireless Altoids Display
This Instructable will show you how to modify an Altoids tin for a wireless 2x16 character display.

Using an Altoids tin was inspired by the need to have a small yet protective enclosure for a pair of Xbee modules recently bought from Sparkfun. I purchased the Xbee Pro modules with external antenna for the extended range the setup provides (useful for future projects). Then I realised I would need to mount the antenna socket and have a box to house the circuits.

A L T O I D S !

Overall Configuration

There will be a 'remote' Altoids tin containing Arduino, LCD and Xbee module.

A second Altoids tin containing an Xbee module only. This connects to the PC with a USB to FTDI serial cable.

Data is sent from the PC using a terminal program such as the Arduino 'Serial Monitor' and appears on the Altoids display.

So here are some possible ideas for use with this setup:

(Data flow PC to Wireless Display)
- Email Notifier
- RSS Feeds
- Facebook/Twitter Updates
- Realtime Clock

(Data flow Wireless Display to PC)
- Weather Station
- Speedometer
- Engine Monitoring
- Heart Rate Monitor
- Other realtime data logging

Let's get started!
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aguyfromearth4 months ago
Can i use an arduino uno for this?
danmellow5 months ago


how do you make the colors inverted?

I know this is an old comment, but for any new readers that are new to this tech:

You need to buy the lcd character displays that you plan to use in either the 'positive' contrast format or the 'negative' contrast format. Negative format LCD displays have bright lettering/pixels on a dark background. Positive displays have dark lettering/pixels on a light or colored background. In other words, the positive lcd pixels actually mask the backlighting that is shining through the glass display yielding dark text.

There are some coding tricks you can do on some models to imitate an inverted character set on the display but it's not the same visually and capabilities vary from product to product.

DX, ebay, adafruit and sparkfun all have some very cool offerings. I personally prefer the iic/i2c lcs displays as it's easier to connect and looks nicer without all the wiring on projects where the guts will be exposed. i2c backpacks can be picked up for a few bucks to retrofit older lcd displays you already own.

If you get adventurous, some lcd displays can even have the back-lighting leds changed out for a different color of your choice--but you'd have to do that yourself. There are some videos (youtube) online, but be advised that this will void your warranty, is tedious and has risks. However, it is an excellent way to re-work or re-purpose older or cheaper lcd character displays for new projects.

Once again, I enjoyed this fine article!

Alexdlp (author)  The nerdling3 years ago
Well it's a monochrome display and so is only meant show white text on a black background. Other colours are available like Red on Black, Black on Green etc. Just search for 16x2 character display. I suppose you could create custom characters if you really wanted to have the background/text inverted though :)
M.Hawse10 months ago

Very nice indeed!

iApple guy2 years ago
Where did you get that display? Can I use a arduino UNO, if not can I change up the code so that I can use a UNO?
I know its a really old question but... it just happens that I got to this instructable today and I made it with an arduino UNO, it works :) just had to adjust the code a tiny bit, cheers.
I wonder how difficult it would be to modify this setup to work with bluetooth. You could make something almost like an old school pager. Anyway, very cool Instructable, definitely trying this one out.
blenderking2 years ago
VERY COOL :)!!!!!!!
iApple guy2 years ago
5 STARS!!! Great Instructable!
shewolf233 years ago
I'm very new to this kind of thing and I was wondering how you could get the screen to have buttons, so that i could have it display different text if i pressed a button.

Nice work :)
Alexdlp (author)  shewolf233 years ago
You might find this useful... It uses the Arduino LCD Keypad Shield :)
Sky-Monkey3 years ago
Have you gotten to test the range limitations yet? - I just ordered a pair of the 60mW U.FL units with similar antennae, for a project. I was originally hoping to get upwards of 1000m range, but reading some reviews online, that may be optimistic. Thanks - Nice work
BodenM3 years ago
Would it be possible to add a buzzer or vibration motor? I was thinking of maing this, and it means I can leave it on the table so i don't have to constantly check it.
vika3673 years ago
hi, i have already bought xbee pro chip antenna, is it ok to me to use it??i'm placed the xbee pro in the box.
is it same between u.fl with chip?? i'm new in xbee. so really need your help.thanks
Alexdlp (author)  vika3673 years ago
Hmm I haven't used the xbee's with the chip antenna (: I'm not sure what kind of range you're gonna get with it being in the altiods tin..

I have a feeling that putting the antenna inside a metal box is going to shield and discharge the radio signal - a bit like a Faraday Cage?? Although i'm not certain.

You could always try it I guess - if it doesn't work, how about mounting the Xbee on top of the Altoids tin instead of on the inside?

Let me know how you get on :)
pobturtle4 years ago
How much does this cost to make?
I just worked out gathering parts from America, UK and Hong Kong (eBay) that this would cost roughly £150 GBP inc postage for me.

I could be way off though as I wouldn't know where to buy the parts from the UK alone.
Alexdlp (author)  garyrowe3 years ago
Gary - please don't order parts just yet!! I think you may have overestimated slightly... Just to let you know that I've got your message and will get back to you later this evening :) Thanks
Ghost Wolf4 years ago
I want to make one big time
Same here!
Same, big time!
kyismaster4 years ago
could i make this into a name tag?
pretty high-tech for a nametag.
Oh man...The Bike Shack needs one like this that reads the hours for volunteers off of Google Calendar. Alas, no funds, and I'm sure not going to take the time.
fzxdf54 years ago
It would be easier to use a can get these from home depot for about $15 in the electrical department
Digi-mech4 years ago
(removed by author or community request)
Alexdlp (author)  Digi-mech4 years ago
Hey there! Sure, I admit that the particular components featured are expensive but they were actually meant for another project (not just to put in a tin!) :D

I think it's the Arduino and radio modules that bump up the cost...

Check out the link below for a great kit that was designed especially for low cost Arduino/radio communication!

Hope this helps?
siklosi4 years ago
Have you tried what's the range, and also what happens when signal is lost? I need something like this for fast moving car... display would be in car and should show text that is sent every lap when car passes. Is it possible with Xbee? What is reconnection time when signal is again in range?
Alexdlp (author)  siklosi4 years ago
Hi, it's funny you should mention that because that was the idea I had when I bought the components! (Fit to a track car to gather sensor data and send messages to driver). I have to admit that i'm fairly new to Xbees and at the moment just running default settings. (There are many configurations).

The modules used here are XbeePro 60mW which are good for about 1 mile outdoors, but believe you can get higher power output modules with 6 mile range. I haven't done a range test yet but if you disconnect one module and power it up again, data starts streaming almost immediately!

Please keep me informed about your project, it sounds very interesting :)
Ghost Wolf4 years ago
NOTICE: All who don't give this person 5 stars should have never joined instructables! Thank you for your time
Alexdlp (author)  Ghost Wolf4 years ago
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it! :)
blackwellj4 years ago
how can i get my mac to display the number of unread emails i have on the lcd?
Alexdlp (author)  blackwellj4 years ago
Hmm, I have made an Arduino Gmail Notifier before, but that only triggers an output such as an LED. I know that you need to have a program called Python installed. From what I understand, it gathers your inbox status data (unread emails) and then sends it to the arduino software. I imagine it must be a similar setup to check the amount of emails unread and print to the LCD.

Check out this link... (google mail though)

Sorry I don't know exactly but hope this helps?
kingbirdy4 years ago
this would make a nice little RSS feeder, depending on costs. what did you spends total on this project?
Alexdlp (author)  kingbirdy4 years ago
Hi there, I agree an RSS feeder would be great! The components featured in this 'ible weren't specifically bought for this project alone. I just needed some sort of enclosure for the circuits. The Xbee wireless modules were the most expensive components, you can find them here... :)