Build a Binary Clock with engineerish

Standard clocks with easily recognisable numbers are so last season. Who wants to save valuable seconds simply telling the time, when a series of LEDs and numerical notation can turn every time query into an adventure in mathematics?

How to read binary

I’ll be honest: I have to think pretty hard to read binary. It stretches my brain quite vigorously. But I am a fan of flashy lights and pretty builds, so YouTube and Instagram rising star Mattias Jähnke, aka engineerish, had my full attention from the off.

“If you have a problem with your friends being able to tell the time way too easily while in your house, this is your answer.”

Mattias offers a beginners’ guide in to binary in his video and then explains how his clock displays values in binary, before moving on to the actual clock build process. So make some tea, pull up a chair, and jump right in.

Binary clock

To build the clock, Mattias used a Raspberry Pi and NeoPixel strips, fitted snugly within a simple 3D-printed case. With a few lines of Python, he coded his clock to display the current time using the binary system, with columns for seconds, minutes, and hours.

The Python code isn’t currently available on Mattias’s GitHub account, but if you’re keen to see how he did it, and you ask politely, and he’s not too busy, you never know.

Make your own

In the meantime, while we batter our eyelashes in the general direction of Stockholm and hope for a response, I challenge any one of you to code a binary display project for the Raspberry Pi. It doesn’t have to be a clock. And it doesn’t have to use NeoPixels. Maybe it could use an LED matrix such as the SenseHat, or a series of independently controlled LEDs on a breadboard. Maybe there’s something to be done with servo motors that flip discs with different-coloured sides to display a binary number.

Whatever you decide to build, the standard reward applies: ten imaginary house points (of absolutely no practical use, but immense emotional value) and a great sense of achievement to all who give it a go.


Frederick Vandenbosch avatar

Great explanation video!

Back in 2016, I built a binary clock using a Unicorn pHAT and Pi Zero. Instead of one column for hours, minutes and seconds, I used two for each :)

Build and code:

W. H. Heydt avatar

Very nice. But I’m afraid that if I wanted to build an electronic clock, it would be with vacuum tubes and Nixies for the display. (I have a circuits book in the house that has a 4-tube decade counter…it uses dual triodes. The book was published in 1947…)

In the mean time, a 7″ RPF display running dclock works really well and a cron jobs reduce the backlight at night and brings it back up when the “alarm” goes off.

BertTheNerd avatar

Well, if it is about a clock nobody would understand but you …

How about a binary clock but using the ‘digits’ of a 7-segment display as ‘bits’?
| for one
_ for two
_| for three, and so on.

Or grab two servo’s and spell the hours with the semaphore alphabet.

the possibilities are near endless, my supply of time is not I’m afraid.

FillDee avatar

I built a binary clock a while ago. It’s a 12hr am/pm, accurate to the nearest minute (ie doesn’t display seconds), and only uses 4 RGB leds…
Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the hosue that can ell the time with it…. :)

Mattias Jähnke avatar

The source code is now available on GitHub for anyone who’s interested ;)

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