Alpha Clock Five features a hackable LED display
December 16, 2011
When is a clock not a clock? When it's a big fat, programmable, five-character, 18-segment display, a bit like the Alpha Clock Five from Evil Mad Science. Its 2.3 inch 18-segment alphanumeric characters are each illuminated by 54 LEDs, providing a bold, bright answer to that most burning of questions: what's the time?
Functionally, Alpha Clock Five meets all the alarm clock necessities. It tells the time. It has an alarm (with a choice of four tones) and snooze function. The display is dimmable, which is thoughtful, as maxed out the ACF is "annoyingly bright," apparently. The inclusion of a white LED nightlight is a nice touch, and laser-engraved buttons add a dash of luxury.
A universal-input power supply ensures the device will work with varying source voltages, and the electronics include a battery back-up so you shouldn't lose the time in the event of a power cut. Time keeping is handled by a Macetech Chronodot which, thanks to a real-time clock and temperature-compensated crystal oscillator (or TCXO for short), is supposedly accurate to within two minutes per year.
What separates ACF from its alarm clock siblings is its hackability. Though the device comes preprogrammed as an alarm clock, the ATmega644A microcontroller at its core can be reprogrammed using the Arduino development environment, and its generous housing (about 9.5 inches wide, 3.8 inches tall and 2.8 inches deep, or 24 x 10 x 7 cm) has room for additional electronics. All the hardware and software is open source, and extensive online documentation is on its way. Besides the obvious limitation that only five alphanumerics can be displayed at any given time, the display could theoretically be put to any use calling for the display of text.
The clock is sold as a kit, and you'll need a soldering iron, wire clippers and a Phillips-head screwdriver to assemble it. Evil Mad Science says it will take up to three hours to assemble, depending on your soldering skills.
The Alpha Clock Five is available from Evil Mad Science (remember the Bulbdial Clock?) for US$145, though a Basic Edition is available for $95 that comes without the case and Chronodot clock module - a sensible option if you have a specific application in mind that does not require time-keeping.