Digital Hourglass Counts Down The Seconds


If someone asked you to build a digital hourglass, what would your design look like? [BitBlt_Korry] took on that challenge, creating a functional art piece that hits it right on the nose: an hourglass with a digital display

Iron filings fall between two pieces of plexiglass while ghostly numbers appear, counting down 30 seconds. Just as quickly as they appear, the numbers disappear – dropping down to the bottom of the enclosure. Each second is punctuated by what might be the loudest clock tick we’ve ever heard.

Of course, it’s not all magic. The hourglass is controlled by a Raspberry Pi Pico running code in MicroPython. The pico drives a series of transistors, which in turn are used to control 14 solenoids.  The solenoids serve double duty — first, they move pieces of flat “fridge magnet” material close enough to attract iron filings. Their second duty is of course provide a clock tick that will definitely get your attention.

Tilt sensors are the user input to the hourglass, letting the Pi Pico know which end is up when it’s time to start a new 30-second countdown.

[BitBlt_Korry] mentions that the hardest part of the project was setting the screws at the top and bottom of the hourglass to get the perfect uniform flow of iron filings. 

[BitBlt_Korry] calls his creation “「時場(じば)」”.  Google translates this to “Jiba”, which means “magnetic field”.  We’re not native speakers, but we’re guessing there is a double meaning there.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen humble iron filings stand up and dance at our command. If iron dust is too dry a topic, we’ve got plenty of ferrofluid projects as well!






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