VFD Project: The Death Clock

Emily and I have been working with a VFD (vacuum fluorescent display) salvaged from a piece of old electronics. The primary objective was to demystify this now-obsolete class of technology, and with the screen lighting up to our commands, that part has been a success. But we’re not content to just leave it be… we want to do something with it. Hence the secondary objective: using this old and left-for-dead piece of technology in a “Death Clock”

What is a “Death “Clock” in this context? It’s a clock, but not a timepiece. If someone wanted a VFD clock which tells the time of day, go to a thrift store and rummage around. We didn’t go through all this work just to duplicate that! No, what we’re going to do is a quirky fun electronics project off the beaten path.

The core functionality is fairly basic, we will put a random value on this display’s time-of-day and day-of-week capability. It will do so when commanded by a touch sensor. The gag is that the clock has touched your body and sensed the time and day you will die. Completely unscientific, it’s just a fun gag. And since it’s random: if you don’t like the answer, just touch it again for another prediction on your death.

If anyone is still unsure why Emily has named her YouTube channel “Emily’s Electric Oddities“, this project should serve as prime example. Emily has done most of the electrical work and has started building prototype enclosures. My responsibility will be producing code to run this display.

Here’s Emily describing the project during episode 5 of Hackaweek Coast2Coast. (This URL should already be cued to the correct time, but if YouTube is uncooperative, skip ahead to 54:10.)

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