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New advances in the cunning chronograph competition

September 29, 2015

Max The Magnificent-September 29, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, my chum Steve Manley in the UK raised the bar on our on-going chronograph competition when he used his 3D printer to create a structure to hold the rings of tri-colored LEDs and to corral their light to form clock-hand-like presentations (see Video: Upping the stakes in the Cunning Chronograph Competition).

As you can see in the image below, Steve's first-pass result was incredibly spectacular. Note, however, that the inner-pointing "tails" of the outside elements are a little muted:

In his initial implementation, Steve used his 3D printed white plastic structures "as is," but he observed a significant amount of light bleed-through as illustrated below:

In the above image, only the center horizontal line of elements is actually lit up; the ones above and below are illuminated by light bleeding through the plastic. Steve's solution was to spray-paint his face-plate black:

The result was to dramatically reduce the light bleed-through as illustrated below. Note, however, the left-hand "tail" of the right-hand (outer) element remains a tad subdued:

While Steve and I were chatting on the phone, I suggested that he try spraying the face-plate with a reflective chrome or silver finish. As I recall, Steve wasn't initially enamored by this idea; he didn’t think it would make much difference, but he said "I'll give it a go!"

Well, color me flushed with success, because this really made a difference. Take a look at the image below and observe how crisp everything now looks:

The image below shows everything assembled displaying a rainbow color scheme:

Actually, Steve is becoming famous for the quality of his "How To" videos that detail the construction of his projects. After a little whining on my part, Steve consented to create this video that brings us up to date as to the current state of play with regard to his cunning chronograph.

As always, I have to admit that I'm tremendously impressed. The thing is that Steve's method of attaching his NeoPixel rings and corralling the light from them is far better than my original attempt, which involved a simple piece of wood with three circular grooves, and which left the light from the NeoPixels being presented as small, round dots.

Now, as you may recall from my previous column, Steve kindly made his 3D design files available for us all to use. I purchased a cheap-and-cheerful 3D printer a year-or-so ago, but I wasn't doing much with it, so I gave it away. This obviously posed a bit of a problem when it came to printing Steve's base- and face-plates, but my chum Adam Carlson suggested I use the Shapeways.com 3D printing service.

When I mentioned this to Steve, he pointed out that the reason he'd created his base- and face-plates in multiple pieces that clipped together was because his small 3D printer was limited as to the size of the objects it could produce. By comparison, Shapeways boast large, professional 3D printers that can accommodate much larger pieces, so Steve kindly reworked his design files so as to create the base-plate as a single object; similarly for the face plate as illustrated below:

If you wish to print your own base- and face-plates as multiple pieces, you can find the design files in my previous column. Alternatively, if you wish to print them as single objects, then you can access a compressed ZIP file containing these design files by clicking here.

I have to say that using the Shapeways website was extremely intuitive, and the whole process was a highly conducive experience. All I had to do was upload Steve's design files, select a material (I went for "White Strong & Flexible Plastic"), give them my credit card details, and press the "Go" button. Over the course of the next few days, I received a series of emails telling me that they were checking the design, printing it, and shipping it.

It wasn't long before the finished plates arrived in my office. These are things of beauty and a joy to behold. The image below shows them sitting on a table; this is followed by a close-up of the face-plate:

My chum Bob is a master carpenter. He's going to make the case for my cunning chronograph. We're on a bit of a deadline now because I'm planning on presenting this little beauty in the Awesome Arduino Show & Tell session at ESC Minneapolis, 4-5 November 2015. Meanwhile, I'm continuing to work on the software on my prototype unit at home.

One thing I've been wondering is whether it's best to visualize the three NeoPixel rings as being a single strip of pixels, to daisy-chain them together, and to drive them using a single digital output pin from my Arduino. Alternatively, would it be better to drive them as three separate elements using three digital outputs.

There are several considerations here, including the memory overhead (if any) associated with having three separate ring declarations; the processing overhead (if any) associated with instigating three separate uploads; and the requirements of the application (do we always need to upload all three rings at the same time, or do we sometimes wish to upload them at different times?).

Steve has been investigating this; in fact, he's just sent me an entire column detailing his experiments and results. Also, as usual, I have some thoughts of my own (be afraid, be very afraid), so "watch this space" for future postings and developments. In the meantime, what do you think about Steve's creation? Are you as impressed as I am?

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