Modular, Customizable & Affordable Split-flap Displays for Everyone

What is splapr?

splapr is a modular, customizable & affordable split-flap display for everyone!

But why?

I’ve always loved them. They are useful and memorable. The inherent limitation of speed and number of characters allowed in each module creates an environment for creativity. And they’re not just about visuals; they sound great too. They can grab your attention just before a message for instance.

As to why yet another split-flap display: splapr modules can be made for under $10 each and by anyone. They use widely available and cheap components.

Goals

I wanted to make split-flap displays accessible for everyone. So if on a whim, you wanted to make a clock out of it, you could with a small budget. Here are a summary of the goals I set out to achieve:

  • Sustainable affordability: modules must be cheap to make for years to come without relying on a single entity to mass produce the entire thing nor relying on specialized components.
  • Modular: final arrangement and behavior of the modules should be left up to the user with some useful examples to get started with.
  • Customizable: shape, size and number of flaps per module should be trivially customizable.
  • Scalable: large arrangments of 100s of modules should be possible.
  • Complexity-in-Software (CiS): as much of the complexity must be deferred to software and firmware to simplify mechanical design, assembly efforts and cost.
  • Small: base size should be as small as possible without hindering assembly much.

Mechanical Design

splapr is designed to have the motor inside the barrell, in a so called direct-drive (almost) system. This means that there are no space taken up on sides of the modules for gears/belts. Everything, including the electronics for each module is contained inside of it. This allows for a horizontally gap free arrangement between the modules.

A consequence of this design is that the enclosure is not defined. This has the advantage of saving materials when multiple modules are combined. It also allows for space savings depending on the specific application of where these modules will be used.

This design also adheres to our goal of making the base size as small as possible. The width of a module is the same as the depth of the motor, from back plane to the top of the shaft. It’s impossible to make it any smaller!

Communication

A UART based daisy chain style comms protocol connects all the modules in a chain carrying packets from the main controller all the way through the modules and back to the controller. Controller can trivially determine the length of the chain, using a counter akin to TTL in IP packets. Initialization, calibration and control of all modules are done through this protocol, minimizing the need to updated firmware on the modules.

The packet spec is defined in the module firmware source code.

Status

This project is in alpha stage. So far, only a single working module is constructed under $10.

  • Module 3D CAD alpha stage design is done, parameterizable by width, height and thickness of the flaps. Module spacer for wide modules is missing. Further refinements are needed to make the assembly less intricate. Also the mating of the halves and b/w modules is finicky.
  • Module alpha firmware is complete.
  • No main controller code is written yet.
  • Multi-module communcation and operation not tested yet.
  • Test code available in repo to control modules.
  • Assembly instructions missing
  • Buying guide missing.
  • Enclusore design missing.

Components

  • 3D printed parts:
    • Inner receptor housing the motor and electronics
    • Inner connector housing the gear
    • Gear
    • Outer
    • Flaps
  • Motor: 28BYJ-48 Stepper Motor
  • Motor Driver: ULN2003 darlington array
  • ┬ÁC: Arduino Pro Mini
  • Positioning: Hall effect sensor and magnets
  • Power: decoupling capacitor
  • Headers: 2.54mm connector and receptors
  • Lettering: acrylic paint/vinyl stickers on flaps (potentional for multi-material printed letters)

Tools

  • Soldering Iron
  • Plier and wirestripper
  • 3D Printer
  • USB-UART bridge (FTDI) for programming, testing and control

Consumables

  • PLA/PETG filament (ABS didn’t result in acceptable prints)
  • Glue (epoxy and/or superglue) - epoxy preferred
  • Solder and flux
  • Paint for letters