GIVEAWAY: Vacuum florescent character displays

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This week we’re giving away 2×20 character vacuum florescent displays to three winners (2 each). It interfaces just like a typical HD44780 LCD, but the display uses blue-green VFD characters. VFDs are always very popular, but also very expensive. Pulls are the only affordable source we’ve found.

Leave a comment on this post with a project idea and preferably a rough schematic. Three commenters will receive two VFDs to use in their project this Thursday.

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85 Comments

  1. I would like to use the displays for a status console for a LED based arcade game I am creating.

    I am refining the controls and the timing of the gameplay. The next step after this is coming up with a data display for both players, and these displays would be perfect for that.

  2. Were I to win, I’d make an in-dash display for my motorcycle, a Yamaha XVZ13TF, which comes with a cassete deck (yes, really). I’d remove the deck and install the displays in its place, driving them with an Arduino ProMini which, in turn, reads a homebuilt sensor network.

    Yes, I am a geek and I really *need* to know what my manifold vacuum is right this instant :-) Also, I must be notified the instant oil and coolant temperatures veer apart by more than 5C. You get the idea :-)

    Wishing myself good luck!

  3. Don’t have a schematic handy (it’s on paper, don’t have a scanner) But it would be awesome for my little handheld console i’m building. Goes right under the screen for text notifications, or some random game implementation.

  4. I have a habit of building clocks. Electronic clocks. Never two the same. I look for unique displays (Nixie, VFD, 7-segment, dot-matrix, etc). This display would be ideal for an ‘analog’ clock – not analog as in hands – but analog as in text display – “Seven fifty-four”. For this project, I would like to integrate a cheap GPS module to give truly accurate time instead of relying on a drifting 32KHz crystal. Schematic is easy – Arduino module and GPS. More info on the display would be required – what sort of power supply does it need? Does it have an inverter built in? (looks like it from the picture)

  5. I am just building a new data centre for my business, I would use the displays to mount in the wall on the outside to show time/date/temp/power and “status” messages. Some variant of arduino and a handful of sensors will do the magic, Ds1820 for temp, I have some current transformers for the power.

    –Pete

  6. TBH i’d probably just use it to brag around our makerspace, lol. And maybe eventually it would end up in a home automation controller I plan on making.

  7. I would like to use this display for a fuel timer for the Cherokee PA28-180 that my wife and I fly. Basically, a 30 minute timer that beeps and flashes to let us know it’s time to switch tanks. As a side benefit, it would be nice to add code that would allow us to double check the fuel usage estimates (gallons/hour) on our flight plan.

    Cheerful regards, Mike

  8. I am working on the design of a discrete-logic (40/74hc) CMOS computer with a RISC-like ISA and a microcode-sequenced hardware architecture with both archetypical and somewhat unique elements. It has a 16-bit word size/instruction length/bus width and memory-mapped IO. I don’t have any of the design ready for online consumption yet but when I build the thing all source and schematics will be made available (you’ll be seeing it in October!). The IO will include a cheapo graphic LCD (potentially with a very basic gpu, and I’ll make a serial interface for its touchscreen if I have time) and I was planning on using a character one too but a pair of VFDs would make for much nicer/more visible simple text outputs!

  9. I am planning to build a internet and FM/AM radio.
    The original display was regular LCD. However, if I’ll win the project i go inside an old 80’s VCR case i have sitting with on use. Because i need the retro-style display.

  10. Currently working on a project , logging temperature and humidity for 12 temperature / humidity channels , with PIC 30F4013, realtime clock MCP79402, 2Mbit EEproms, and many other function ic’s, and want to implement a readout of the current state of all the channels , inclusive the time

  11. I am building a nice precision handy tool that measures voltage, current and temperature, it would look nice with VFD as a display.

  12. No schematics, and really just a broad idea at this point, but I would like it to be the primary data output for a stand-alone (no computer attached) software defined radio. Plus they look hella-cool!

  13. Im building a project for firefighters. Its a re-flash detector. I am using a PIC18F4580, MLX90614ESF-ACF-000-TU (IR Temperature Sensor), a speaker run via 2n2222, a few buttons/switches, and a bright LCD display.

    The device will be able to detect a “hidden” heat signature and respond by increasing the frequency of a tone played. Also it will display a bargraph on the LCD and change an RGB LED from cool to hot (blue to red).

    This project is for a class at Cal Poly, requested by a fire department. Your display would look good and bright through the smoke. When complete, my device will help eliminate the threat of a re-flash fire starting by providing to firefighters a cheap and easy to use tool.

  14. I’d probably use one for a music information display for my home hi-fi system (song name, artist name, etc.). The other, perhaps for a precision DC Ammeter with some switchable current shunts (100mA, 1A, 10A, 100A), though I have no major plans.

    I don’t really have any active projects that would be using it, so I’d by designing around one or with one as a centerpiece,

  15. I am developing an open-source hardware and software platform based on Raspberry Pi and Arduino for safe and easy herbal vaporization, with Internet integration and control. We are almost done with the prototype, but I have had terrible luck finding an LCD HD44780 module to use that has adequate contrast for our intended starting market, which is Colorado and Washington senior citizens and infirm who need a safe and precise method to enjoy their new meds, with the option for data logging to a USB stick so that their doctors can review their usage each checkup.

    I would love to get my hands on one of these to see if the contrast and performance will work for those of us with slightly older eyes!

  16. I’m currently purchasing the components for a toaster reflow oven. The display(s) would be great to make sure status messages and current timing/temp information can be seen.

    The schematic and design are complete.

  17. I am currently developing an open source controller for hobby aquaponic and hydroponic systems. These displays would be perfect for the user interface and displaying of system status messages.

  18. These displays beg to be used for a WIFI radio. I am planning to try building one so right now I have the encoder , the pic24 and the audio amplifier chip and the speakers. All I need is the WIFI module and the display.

  19. This display would be perfect for a saltwater aquarium controller I plan to build to control power to various devices based using various sensor inputs (temperature, ph, oxygen, water level, etc)

  20. I would love to use these as part of a heads up display (HUD) for a precision car parking system. it would use the vfd to display information on localization. it would be hooked up to a raspberry pi along with the rtlsdr for radio location.

  21. I’d just use one to toy around with, probably hooking it up to my bus pirate.

    So because I can’t compete with pilots or frikkin’ firefighters, please share an ebay link to these VFD’s with me.

  22. Im not good at spelling, Im better at electronics then spelling. So I am not faulting you for misspelling “florescent” above. But maybe you want to change it to “fluorescent”.

  23. I have 3 ideas:

    1. Screen for a stand-alone 3D printer controller for my hackerspace.
    2. Display for a midi instrument I am working on.
    3. Part of my nixie tube based atx power supply conversion project.

  24. If I win a set of these lovely VFD displays, I’ll implement them into my DIY CnC machine, to report current X/Y/Z co-ords of my bit, allowing me to tun off the monitor while it’s running and save a bit of juice :D Also great for a quick read out due to the brightness and ledgibility of VFD over the LCD, meaning I won’t need to be as close to it to read it. Also thinking now that a %completion of the run would be cool or pass reports :D man I’d really like these :D

    Ben

  25. I’ve built a laser interferometer using a child’s toy–the Spynet LASER Tripwire (http://www.spynethq.com/spynet-arsenal/laser-tripwire). The interferometer is capable of measuring movement or vibrations as small as 650 nanometers. It is an extremely sensitive vibration detector. The receiver will be controlled by a PICAXE microcontroller programmed to detect P-waves as an earthquake early warning system and sounds an alarm to alert users to the imminent earthquake. I can use the display to display the text “EARTHQUAKE WARNING!” (once the text is displayed it can then be flashed or scrolled or both on the display) when the alarm sounds.

  26. I have a couple ideas:

    1. TfL Bus + Tube countdown so I know what way to go when I leave the house.
    2. Message wall, a small installation to allow people to communicate with a fixed location in the real world (art project).
    3. Bed side alarm clock.
    4. IRC client.

    *crosses fingers*

  27. Ok, mi idea is not original, but I try it.
    A very cool internet radio player ad mp3 jukebox based on a raspberry pi, this very cool fluorescent display (scrolling all infos on the first line and a static menu on the second line), an encoder for up and down and finally one or two pushbutton for ok and esc. Internet connection (WIFI???), a stereo amplifier, ir receiver for remote control.
    Fluorescente display can be connected via I2C interface using a PCF8574 I2C expander.
    I thing that LCD display is not so cool, than I NEED this florescent one.
    That’s All Folks………………
    Many thanks.

  28. I too built a 74hc computer with a 16 bit databus. It currently only runs eight bit, the other half of one wire wrap board is not complete. This would be a great I/O addition rather than my lame 7 segment displays. I think a tower of seven 6″*8″ wire wrap boards connected to three breadboards with a hundred wires running between them might deserve a bit more than an led. I would buy these on my own, but I am a freshman in high school and have little money.

    1. If you dont win a VFD, i have some big HD44780 LCDs I would be happy to throw a couple your way or maybe I’ll come across a VFD or two… Post a link to your project, I want to see this thing.

  29. If I were to win a set of these I would use them in a bench power supply I’m working on.

    Very rough schematic (still needs caps, resistors, I2C addresses set, etc):
    https://s3.amazonaws.com/digispark/BenchSupply.PNG

    Basically it uses an attiny85 as the brains and talks to the components over I2C. It has 6 voltage outputs – 5v,3.3v,1.8v,12v and 2 adjustables – each output can also have a current limiting. The adjustables are digitally set and thena chieved by PWM to the ADJ pin of the vreg. The current limits are similar and use PWM to the gate of transistors/mosfets on the output lines. INA219 by TI is used to read the current and voltage of each output and used for feedback to set the voltage and maintain the current limit.

    There is also a dummy load, also set by PWM controller by the Attiny. It uses a overcurrent/overtemp protected fet. Another INA219 is used to read the current for PID control to maintain the set load, and read the voltage.

    An ATX connector is used to provide the power from an ATX supply.

    An encoder with push down and RGB led is used to navigate the menu and show status.

    The VFD would add a nice high visibility display, and I think would looks excellent if I put this all in a laser cut black acrylic case. The dsiplay would be hooked to an i2c (I have a few sitting around) module so it could be controlled over i2c due to the lack of pins on the attiny. The display would show the menus and when operating show all voltages and currents as well as current limits.

    Certainly an overkill for a bench supply, but I think it would meet any need I could throw at it!

    1. Here is a revision on it – I simplified it and reduced to just 3 adjustables, and one dummy load – also simplified it to a single supply around 15v DC
      I added USB control/reporting (for things like graphing current over time, voltage with a current load, etc) by v-usb on the attiny
      I’m thinking the attiny could now be switched out for atmega and then the PWM chip and i/o expanders could be removed
      I went to one encoder per output to make it faster/easier to switch them

      New very rough schematic: https://s3.amazonaws.com/digispark/benchsupply0.2.pdf
      includes a rough layout using two 20×2 VFDs – [1],[2],[3] refer to the output number and [L] refers to the dummy load – top number is voltage, bottom number is current/current limit

      1. Congrats Erik,

        It’s funny that you won the displays being that I was going to use the Digispark for my project. I guess I should have gotten the schematics done and posted. Next time ;-)

        Still hoping my Digisparks arrive today to give me something fun to do over the weekend..

        –Pete

  30. Building a thermostat/environment monitor for my soon-to-be-born daughter’s room, the VFD would give an awesome glow. Temp, humidity, gas sensors, transmit data over nRF24l01+ to a data logger and to control heater and ceiling fan.

  31. Very cool displays.
    I am planning on making a decent bench multimeter.
    Analog devices got an ARM microcontroller with an 2 channel 24 bits ADC inside, perfect to make a Voltage/Current multimeter that can do something like 5 or 6 digits.
    I got an LM399 based reference voltage up and running that is precise enough for that kind of stuff.
    All combined, you can see where it is going, a VFD display would finish it as most professional bench multimeters use them too (agilent for example)

  32. I would love to use a VFD in a GeoCache where the GeoCachers have to solve a puzzle on a box hanging outside my house. The VFD would help me gettimg an easy to use interface.
    The idea: a digital lock with some sort of quiz on the display. If they answer the questions right, they’ll be able to log the cache!

  33. I’m a freelance prototype builder, and I’d like to use it for a “punch card” style time tracker.

    Sketch: http://zackfreedman.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/2013-01-27-22-42-08.jpg
    Schematic: http://zackfreedman.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/punch-o-matic-5000.png (hacked out in Fritzing)

    I use index cards to store to-do list items. I activate the timer by slotting in one of the cards, then hit the green “GO” button to begin. It chimes in every 15 minutes to see if I’m working or distracted – I hit the green or red button to tell it. After 90 minutes, it will tell me to move on to something else – your work suffers during that time.

    At the end of the day, it will send me an email with a breakdown of time worked, time wasted, etc, which I can then transfer to my time sheets for billing.

    The VFD is critical for two reasons: One, to act as the interface and give me motivational feedback. Two, to make my desk look f**king awesome.

  34. Its got to be a Twitter and other Feed notifier and display, there can never be enough variations on a twitter display showing either tweets to you as they come in or displaying local or worldwide trends.

    Been wanting to make a nice one for ages and since the Twatch has been dis-continued I have been looking at alternatives. I love designing and building retro casings and mounts from Acrylic and Ply from my friendly purvayer of all things awesome (inc alot of DP gear) and their fantastic laser cutting service. Can see this in a nice Black and Red layered laser cut case and mounting.

    Also am building my 3D RepRap currently so that’s perfect for building a casing and mounting for one of these beauties and the electronics to run the program and the display.
    Might even use the display for a easy view of all the critical values of the printer… Sooo many ideas!

    Would LOVE one of these and it would be seriously used for something really neat!

  35. I would use at least one of the 2 VFD displays to upgrade my 1970’s BK Precision triple rail power supply from an analog to a digital display.

    I am currently contemplating using a PSOC micro from Cypress for the AtoD conversion, CPU control and VFD display driving to minimize the total components needed.

    After bread boarding a working design I plan on getting a prototype PCB board made so as to make a more streamlined system that I could plug into my power supply case.

    Finally, I would like to keep the other VFD display for another project that may come up in the future, possibly a integrated display for the Softrock SDR I am in the middle of making.

  36. I’m working on a DIY digitally controlled power supply which currently uses a standard HD44870 LCD for showing current/voltage/power but I was looking for one of these VFD displays to give it a more professional look like the Fluke/Agilent lab equipment. I did found these on ebay but as they were expensive I continued working with the standard lcd.

  37. I am building a internet-connected device to collect atmospheric and environmental data to warn of impending apocalypses (such as the narrowly averted Mayan one last year). Currently measures disturbances in the magnetosphere, air pressure and ionising radiation. This display would add just the right ‘doomsday look’ to the machine.

  38. I’m building a Delta-Star Motor Controller for a windmill and I was looking for one of these VFD displays to show information about current rpm, wind speed, motor status and other information.

  39. I will stick a pic18f2550 up it’s a@# and marry it to my desktop case to make a cool usb smart VFD. That green-blue is very…..photogenic :)

  40. I ‘m building wireless quiz buttons. I already have a 2×40 HD44780 lcd, but this one would certainly improve clarity of the output for the quizmaster. No schematics yet but I use nrf24l01+ and an ATTINY84A together with the domed buttons from seeed. My battery packs are recycled Li-ion cells.

  41. Hi! I’m developing a 7 segment counter for my daughter, who has 4 years old. It can count up or down, from 0 to 99. This helps her to know numbers, more info about this project soon!!. With this display, I can made the next statemet: see her letters and some small words, so she can start read basic words. I haven’t schematics yet, but I’m thinking in a AT89C51RE2 microcontroller and some pushbuttons to change messages. Thanks!!

  42. Never used a vfd, so I’d like to try it and use for my experiments with microcontrollers. I think they are very cool compared to standard LCD

  43. I’m building a geocaching crypto box and this would be ideal as a user interface. The people doing the geocaching hike need to collect clues and perform different assignments at the different waypoints along the hike. Based on the gathered information, they can potentially open this crypto box by entering the right information. The VFD display will be used as the user interface.

  44. I’m currently building a dual-rail linear precision power supply, it’s highly accurate and programmable.

    The novel feature is really the control interface which can be through wifi on a smartphone, apps in development. So during automated testing, profiles can be adjusted, current consumption can be checked etc. all on the go.

    Current problem is designing a front panel, at the moment I’m thinking of using a large TFT however the software for that is probably going to be a pain. VFD would look really professional and much easier to implement!

  45. I agree that I’d prefer that 6 people get 1 VFD apiece instead of 3 people getting 2. :-)

    My project idea is a display for the top N bug/feature tickets for my redmine server. That way I can tell at a glance what I should be working on!

  46. So I am building a nigh vision cam as an internet enabled “granny-cam”. But in addition to a password access to the feed, there needs to be a failsafe so my daughter-in-law can breastfeed etc in private.
    A switch is OK, but without a readout it can be taxing. Also, what if the baby room is too cold, too noisy? All these things could be fixed with such a display, quite possibly via the wr703n I am using.

  47. I would use it to display the current playing song from my Xbian setup with my rasbperry pi. If I can use the GPIOs that would be the priority, but otherwise i’d use a USB FTDI to send data to the VFD. I picked up a 128×64 Noritake vfd a long time ago when they were on sale for $19 and it has been great for display tinkering, but it sucks down the power! (>400mA)

  48. I would like to use one of these to make a box that I could sit at the entrance to my flat with a switch for each flatmate in order to show at a glance who is in the flat so I know whether or not to lock the outside door on the way ou/roam around naked/play loud music.

  49. I’m gonna make a zork zip interpreter with an arduino and mount it in a box with this display. It would be awesome contrast with a black obilesk style case, to play off the dungeon dark style of the zork series. So pick me.

  50. Replace the old LCD on my MP3 jukebox. I’m using an old PC as MP3 player in my study, and its about 3m away from the desk (just because the amplifier is there). And over this distance, I just cannot read the LCD display. So the idea is to just replace it with a VFD – it is much brighter, and its contrast is way higher than for a LCD. (And then maybe I should think about replacing the PC with a RasPi…)

  51. I’d like to put one of those displays on my bicycle computer built from an arduino, gps shield, SD data logger and li-ion battery pack . The display would look cool at night :-D

  52. I’m disabled and pretty limited in my finances, so I usually build everything I need, and spend very little. I have been meaning to make my own desktop DMM.. I have a handheld, but I always wanted a bench DMM like a Fluke or Agilent, but of course I can never afford that.

    If I win these displays, I’ll go to work creating a DMM similar to a Fluke or Agilent, but probably not nearly as accurate. I hope to get 5-1/2 digits at least; I already have some samples of ADCs and voltage reference ICs that I’ve been considering for this task. I’ll open source the hardware, software and put all the design files out for anyone to use.

    With the second display, I will make a true analog, op-amp based power supply accurate to 1mV output, with voltage and current setpoints and actual values, and also include programmable steps in the output control. The microcontroller will only set the values, it will not be involved in the control loop or the measurement system. This will replace my existing home made lm317 based power supply, which has no display (I use the DMM to set it)

    The system will be modular. I will make the microcontroller a separate module, so 1 PCB can be used both in the DMM and the PSU, with just software changes. The display and keyboard/panel will be on a 2nd board. The personality of the device ( DMM, PSU, or even future ideas, like a function gen) will be on a 3rd interface board, that connects to the microcontroller board.

    Whatever I build will communicate to the display using the HD44780 interface, and should be buildable by anyone.

    I don’t have a website, but if I get the chance to build these I hope I can host the files on dangerous prototypes.

    Thanks for the opportunity. Cheers and good luck to everyone!

  53. I’d make an interactive game for my son who has cerebral palsy. I’m always looking for ways to encourage him to use his arms and hands.

    My idea is to have a circuit board with multiple capacitive touch pads on it connected to a Microchip PIC24 series micro to use the Cap Touch Measurement Unit to detect where he has touched on the circuit board. The vacuum display would prompt him to move or place his hands on the board. I may also add small SMD LEDs to prompt him as well. When he moves or places his hand properly. The VFD would “reward” him for accomplishing the task with a short animation of various characters. I know the bright display will hold his attention and distract from the fact he’s doing work!

    No schematic, but I’d use a PIC24F16KA101 I already have on hand (I planned to make a cap touch device for him before I saw this). This is a 20 pin part. 6 pins for the VFD, and then I’d use four cap touch channels connected to a separate circuit board for the cap touch pads. That still leaves four GPIO for LEDs and the output compare channel for a PWM buzzer.

    Thanks for doing this. This could really add some jazz to this project.

  54. Since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to have a Big Trak. I used to spend hours at a neighbour’s house “programming” the thing in its logo-style language. It was fun!
    Now I’m building my own with a Rogu Rover5, using Rogu’s Motor Driver Board, an Arduino Pro Mini, a membrane matrix keypad, some colorful buttons and… one of these displays will be über-cool for the project…
    No schematic, but lots of cables right now :)

  55. These displays would be a great addition to my home automation system. I’m picturing it as a retro HAL style “Welcome home, velkro” kind of display – also showing temperatures and suchlike.

    Loving your work!

  56. I would definitely use it in some kind of “gamebox” with the display (and the rest of the electronics) enclosed in a tinted laser-cut acrylic box for my 2-year old son to play with. It would look really cool and retro!

  57. I would use them for my home info display. It displays data from my weather server, heating system and alarm system, all data is pulled from my LAN using an Arduino and an ethernet shield.
    At the moment the data is displayed on a white on black 4×20 HD44780 display – but this would be a great update :-)
    Bo :o)

  58. I would dedicate an arduino to monitoring and displaying Dangerous Prototype tweets in real time!
    No more alt-tabbing for me – just mount it above my monitor and have at-a-glance information about Dangerous Prototypes :)

  59. The display would be perfect for my project of a spectrum anaylser using a ardruino and a simple serial a/d. Im currently using a standard lcd 2×16 but it doesnt work well at distance…

  60. I would like to create an NTP server from a router and attach the LCD to it to show accurate time coming from GPS. My first experiment to learn from. :)

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