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What has 114 LEDs and is always running? As you may know the answer is a word clock. What has 114 LEDs + 114 servos and is always moving? The answer is this servo controlled word clock.

For this project I teamed up with a friend of mine which turned out to be a must because of the large effort of this build. In addition, my electronic and his mechanical skillset complemented each other quite well. The idea for this adaptation of the popular word clock came to us while we were making a regular one as christmas gift. There, we noticed that it is also possible to project the letters from the back onto a white sheet of paper. At the time this was only a workaround solution to hide our crappy craftsmanship since we ended up with a lof of bubbles while attaching a vinyl sticker with the letters to the back of a glass plate. We then noticed that one can achieve interesting effects when bending the sheet of paper since the letters change size and become blurred. This made us come up with the idea to make a word clock where the letters are projected from the back onto a screen and can be moved back and forth to change the size of the projected image. At first we were a bit reluctant to build this project because of the costs and effort it takes when you want to move each of the 114 letters individually. So we tossed with the idea to make a version where just every word that is used to display the time can be moved back and forth. However, after seeing that the Epilog contest was coming up on Instructables asking for epic projects, and also after finding relatively cheap servo motors, we decided to go all the way and make a proper version where each letter is individually controlled by a servo.

ATTENTION: This is not a one-day build!

To give you an idea about the effort that was involved in this project consider the following numbers. The finished clock contains

  • 798 individual 3D printed models (total printing time ~ 200 hours)
  • ~600 screws + ~250 nuts and washers
  • ~500 wires (total length ~ 50 m). Not counting the wires which were already attached to the servos.

Step 1: Design

Picture of Design
Servo Controlled Word Clock V2 no screen.png
Servo Controlled Word Clock V2 no frame.png
Servo Controlled Word Clock V2 no frame zoom.png
linear actuator.png

The clock was designed with Autodesk Fusion 360 and Inventor. As you can see the clock consists of 114 letterboxes which are moved by linear actuators that are in turn driven by servo motors. Each letterbox contains an LED that projects the letter onto the back of a screen made of white PVC foil. All components are housed in a wooden frame.

This is a most excellent project. I have some questions about it.
1. What is the "L" at the third letter from the top left between "IT" and "IS" used for?
2. What words can it project?
3. What are the round circles at the bottom for?
5. What does it say over a 24 hour period? (Maybe a timelaps would let us see it in action and stop to examine each "tableau".

Thanks for an amazing set of instructions.
mosivers (author)  Robert Shaver12 days ago
Thank you.
1. The "L" and some of the other letters are not used for displaying the time but just to fill gaps.
2. The words can spell the current time in steps of five minutes
3. The round circles display the minutes
4. Words do repeat every 12 hours
I suggest you also have a look at some of the other instructables for "standard" word clocks this should make things more clear
@mosivers, thanks for the quick response. Great job.
skymake2216 days ago
eldaria21 days ago
This was really cool, Thank you for posting it. I think I will try to make one.
By the way how noisy is it, both Vidoes have music so tricky to know?
mosivers (author)  eldaria18 days ago
When the servos are moving quickly they are quite noisy so this is probably not a clock to hang in your bedroom. You can hear it in the video at 00:19
Amazing. Wouldn’t it be cheaper and easier to use a screen?
mosivers (author)  James scoobie18 days ago
Yes, it would definitely be easier and probably also cheaper but the point was to come up with an innovative, complicated design. Also the effect would certainly not be as cinematic when using a display.
BerenV21 days ago
Wow, nice build! How many "duds" did you get when ordering the cheap servos? I'm planning a project that will involve lots of them, so I'm curious.
mosivers (author)  BerenV18 days ago
Thank you. Actually, we bought about 120 servos and all of them were working fine.
jxrgen19 days ago
This is so well done! Thanks for making and sharing. If only I had more time to spend...
ynneb20 days ago
Seriously, who thinks of this stuff ! Utterly amazing! Just when I started to think there could be no more great projects on Instructables, this pops up. I just love the way people think.
Top marks to you for outa the box thinking.
msameer3921 days ago
Crazy, amazing, out of the box. Hats off to imagination
Nickduino21 days ago
Fantastic build!
Wow, it is amazing! Congrats!
Did you think to use some piezoelectric actuator?
matt instr21 days ago
Incredible work! Don't know if it would make it easier or more difficult but as I was reading, I was thinking it would be cool to make it modular-a servo, led, and an Attiny or something small and cheap to be an i2c slave and receive control signals from a master microcontroller.
Just stunning! One of the most beautiful objects I've seen around here.
Apembo21 days ago
Very cool. Best Instructable for a while in terms of audacity, number of parts and a fascinating final result. These are the sorts of projects that break the mould and give us all new inspiration.
wourmman21 days ago
CRAZY talented! CRAZY patient! Unbelievably cool result!
Truly, a beautiful thing. Well done
GREYL0CK21 days ago
I agree with nix78, This is truly something special. I read in an earlier reply of yours that you weren't interested in making your work, commercial. That being said, if you could somehow, get it to tie in with popular AI voice assistants it would be mindboggling. Keep up the great work.
nix7821 days ago
This is truly something special. Hats off!
GREYL0CK nix7821 days ago
Agreed. I may just watch the video on loop later :)
azureblue22 days ago
25 seconds into the first video, I knew you were German! Can you guess how? Native English speakers say "back and forth". Germans tend to say "forth and back", which doesn't really change the meaning, but does make you easy to spot ;-)
It's an excellent build. Do you know the average power consumption? And which time transition causes the peak power usage?
mosivers (author)  azureblue21 days ago
I never noticed this subtle difference in language but you are of course correct ;-)
About the power consumption, I did not measure this for the complete clock but only for a single servo. I expect the most current to be drawn during the display effect where all servos are moved back simultaneously. The current of a single servo in this case was about 50 mA. So the total power consumption of the servos should be around 114 x 0.05 A x 5 V = 28.5 W plus another estimated 114 * 0.02 A * 5 V = 11.4 W for the LEDs, i.e. the 50 W power supply we are using should suffice.
alcurb22 days ago
Very clever functional art piece! You should be very proud of your work.
Has anyone commissioned you to build another one? You can easily charge triple your cost as it is very unique how the time phrases are presented. Well done.
mosivers (author)  alcurb21 days ago
Thank you. So far (luckily) no one has asked us to replicate this ;-) In this case I would prefer to point people to the instructions and encourage them to build their own version. We definitely like to keep the project non-commercial.
kmpres22 days ago
A most impressive build! I applaud your ability to stay focused on the more monotonous aspects and follow the project through to completion -- the end result was worth the time spent! One caution, though. I have a box full of seldom used cheap servos that have failed in one way or another, most becoming slow, inaccurate or sloppy. The weakest part seems to be the potentiometer. With 114 inexpensive servos in one device, the chances of them failing one by one as time goes on are pretty good. I hope you bought spares!
mosivers (author)  kmpres21 days ago
Thanks for the praise and the advice. I have some spare servos and can of course always purchase new ones. The more complicated thing will be to unmount and exchange them, so I just hope they will last for some time. Also the clock is currently not running 24/7 but only switched one when needed.
xiandavis21 days ago
Your project grabbed my attention just from the colors—the most beautiful mixes of colors I have seen produced by LEDs. This is good enough to be exhibited in a museum. I love tech art like this!
loko5621 days ago
Great idea and realisation ! Fantastic !
Great Job - Awesome Project!
quintaar22 days ago
This is seriously overengineered! haha
BUT the end effect is worth every servo used and time spent on the project! Serious congratulations! It's beautiful!
ihart22 days ago
Beautiful work! A great project to dispay a broad range of skills.
marciot24 days ago
It’s not often you see something that it truly unique. This certainly fits the bill. I’ve never seen anything using this blurring mechanism! Outstanding!
I'm speechless. You could make the backpanel out of plexiglass/easily removable so we could see the insane wiring madness.
Thanks. I also thought about making the backplate from transparent acrylic. It would be nice to be able to see all the components from the back.
maketvee25 days ago
Just WOW!!! Amazing!!!