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Propeller clock This is one of the most neat projects to build using a PIC.

We used a PIC16F84A, basically an improved version of the 16F84 and the 16C84. I'd have to admit that the programming end of things was more difficult than building the clock itself; I originally built over five homemade programmers with various software available over the internet, all of which failed to program the PIC. I finally gave up and bought a kit programmer, which was not very good either, but after fiddling with the software, I managed to program a PIC successfully. The original design took the power off the spinning armature of a DC motor and converted it to striaght DC for the clock. I have tried this modification on two motors and the results were not very satisfactory; either it resulted the motor rattling a little or it did not work efficiently. I also learned that the original design had a .047F (FARAD) capacitor for memory, and I did not have a such capacitor on hand, so I decided to make some modifications. Instead, I put a rubber plate above an unmodified DC motor for insulation, and a washer on top (the washer is isolated from the metal case of the motor). The metal case of the motor is connected to ground, and the washer was connected to 5V. The spinning board obtains the 5V through a sliding contact to the washer, and ground through the spinning center of the motor that is also part of the grounded body. This modification worked very well, but there was the problem of providing a reference point for the clock (the original design obtains the reference point from one of the terminals on the armature). I put a small notch on the outer end of the washer and put a pick-up wire on the spinning board to pick up the pulse from the notch. This worked, but I was not satisfied by the display occassionally wobbling because the flexible wire does not always keep its position after it hits the notch, and also this caused a soft clicking sound that was irritating. Therefore, I replaced the wire with an infrared sensor, and installed an infrared LED on the side of the motor. One advantage from this overall modification is the fact you can provide variable speeds on the motor, since the power to the motor is completely independent of the power to the clock, also you could turn off the motor and still set the clock, which omitted the need of a .047F memory capacitor. Below is a schematic of my clock:


Front of clock

Rear of clock

Clock during operation

I decided to rebuild the original propeller clock using higher intensity LEDs. However, the original propeller clock had some problems with the sliding contact, which was eaten away due to friction over time. Also the board was built a year before the clock was actually up and running (I admit I couldn't figure out how to program the PIC in a long time!), so there were several modifications on the wiring, which resulted in some brittle connections and intermittent operation. Bottom line, I needed to build a new one. I reused some parts from the orignal clock, especially the PIC and also used a revised code somewhere on the internet to add the seconds to the display. I found a nice motor in my junk pile that probably was used in an old laserdisc player if I remember correctly. I decided to build this clock using the classic Bob Blick style, obtaining power from the armature of the motor. I was lucky to pull this off with this motor, since all other previous motors failed to run smoothly when I was building the original clock. I used a ball bearing from a VCR head to hold the top end of the motor in place, plus some other parts from cassette tape players. Since this clock does not obtain power independently from the motor like the original, a .047F capacitor was absolutely necessary to keep the PIC powered up so you can set the time. However, this was not easy for me to obtain, so I replaced it with a miniature 3V lithium watch battery, which works nicely. I also made a few modifications to the original schematic on Bob Blick's website; I added a zener to regulate the voltage from the armature of the motor to 5V for the PIC, so the motor could run at higher speeds with the clock having only 5V. Below are some pictures.

New clock Click Picture for Larger Image

Clock during operation

I built another propeller clock using smaller ultra-bright green LEDs. I planned on making a clock using ultra-bright 5mm blue LEDs, but after I built the experimental clock using these LEDs the digits did not come out as expected. I thought that these brighter blue LEDs might result in sharper looking digits as opposed to my second one with the weaker "ultra-bright" red LEDs, but the digits appeared poorly out of focus. Disappointed by the results, I bought some 3mm ultra-bright green LEDs and changed out the blue LEDs with these. The results were much better; the digits came out much sharper and crisp. The circuit is pretty much identical except for a few modifications. The second propeller clock used Bob Blick's method of obtaining power from the motor's armature. I didn't want to bother with aligning the ball bearing on the top of the motor so the clock runs smoothly, which was not very easy. I started to revisit my original plan in the first clock by supplying the spinning board constant power to eliminate the need of a memory capacitor or battery. Instead of a washer on top of the motor with a spring contact, I simply pulled out the armature out of another motor and put it on the shaft of an unmodified motor. Also, the brushes from the gutted motor was placed on top of the unmodified motor. For most DC motors, the shaft is not long enough for the armature and the plastic piece that connects the spinning board to the shaft. I used a cassette tape motor, which typically have long shafts because of the gear assembly for running tapes forward and reverse. Some cassette player motors runs the mechanisms via a belt, but some have a motor that drives the tapes directly via the gear assembly. The shaft from motors like these are about three-quarters of an inch, which is plenty for the entire armature and the connecting piece for the board. Below is a picture of how the brushes and armature are assembled on the unmodified cassette tape motor:

The circuit is basically the same as the second propeller clock with simple modifications; the power for the clock is fed through the armature so the clock has power while the motor is not running. There is no need for the memory capacitor or battery. Below is the schematic diagram:

I hid the motor, the armature and brushes on the top inside some cedar wood. I drilled out the hole in a piece of cedar wood for the motor, then cut the outside about a halfinch thick using a band saw. I used a piece of black (painted) aluminum as the base for the clock. There is a very small red switch at the base that turns the motor on and

off to set and run the time respectively. Below are some pictures (click on the thumbnails for a larger image):

Notice the red switch at the bottom of the base

Clock during operation