With the LED characters in-hand, the next step is to write an embedded program to display integers and strings on the time circuit displays. The goal is to be able to set the characters for each display group based on simple variables, so doing something like displaying the time returned from a real-time clock (RTC) becomes trivial.
Before the time circuits can display the time, step one is figuring out what the “proper” LED characters actually are. There is in fact no standard set of characters for segmented LEDs, and the Back to the Future series takes some liberties with the alphanumeric segments. Still, I can do my best to reproduce them as faithfully as I can.
Now that all of the time circuit display electronics are in the mail it’s time to talk about programming the display. This starts with learning how to control LEDs with the Holtek HT16K33 integrated circuit (IC), which I’m using as the display’s matrix driver.
The time circuit display is a mix of three LED types: alphanumeric displays, seven-segment displays, and standalone 3 mm LEDs. Each one has a different height off of the circuit board and a different distance to the faceplate. I need to offset the components so all of the parts mate with the faceplate correctly, which requires sourcing LED standoffs and designing my own custom ones.
When it came time to start the programming for my time circuit displays, I needed a library of characters for segmented LED displays so that I could not only show the time, but also display strings of text. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough or I was looking in the wrong place, but much to my dismay I couldn’t find a readily-accessible library to use. So I’ve made my own and I want to share it so others don’t run into this same problem.
Now that I know exactly what I’m looking for, it’s time to buckle down and try to find some real-world LED displays for the time circuits.
Now that I have a tentative plan for how I’m going to control all 300-some LED segments, the next step towards making this prop a reality is to figure-out the specifications for the LED displays.
I have no formal education as an electrical engineer, so one of my first steps for the time circuits project is figuring out how to drive the large number of LED segments that make up the three time circuit displays.