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Next month I’m going to lead a studio at TEI12 about how to fabricate electronics using rapid prototyping tools. Our studio isn’t even the coolest one; you can check out the complete program here. This week I’ve been experimenting with different ways to fabricate edge-lit displays. There are excellent tutorials on how to make your own edge-lit displays at Instructables and EMSL, but why do something by hand when you can do it with a laser? After wandering around the parameter space I found that rastering a 0.005″ width outline on 0.125″ thick clear acrylic works pretty well. (The settings for those keeping score at home are 100% power and 68% speed on a 40W Versa Laser.) Here’s an example of my lab’s logo. The light is coupled into the acrylic using cheap optical fiber.

Now one edge-lit display is cool, but more is always better. The optical fiber works well for a single piece, but it doesn’t scale well. If only multiple LEDs came in a cheap, convenient package… Then I remembered that we have a couple LED matrix shields from last semester’s display class floating around the lab. Let’s see what they can do! The acrylic pieces are currently spaced two rows apart to reduce cross talk and make assembly easier, but future iterations could have up to 8 pieces.

It should also be possible to use two 5×7 LED matrices instead of one 8×8 matrix and have 10 pieces for the digits 0-9. Coming soon: Laser-etched, edge-lit numerical displays, the nixie tubes of the 21st century!

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