If you’re driving through the rural town of Panama, N. Y., and forgot to wear a watch, you’re in luck. Engineer John Miktuk used scrap LEDs and a GPS to assemble a giant clock on the side of his garage.
The timekeeper began as a sign of self-appreciation. Miktuk had a bunch of red LEDs and resistors laying around, scraps from the auto industry, so he drilled holes through the galvanized steel cladding of his four-car garage, plugged them with the lights, built the necessary circuits, and flipped the switch to reveal his surname in glowing letters along a 30-foot wall facing the road.
When it dawned on him that he had plenty of room and materials to add another line of text, Miktuk decided to display something more useful: the time. He circuited together another round of LED-resistor series and connected these to a microcontroller, programmed to ferry information from a GPS unit to the LEDs.
Miktuk mounted a GPS unit 20 feet above the ground and linked it to the microcontroller via a long serial cable. The cable transmits the GPS unit’s time and location (calculated from a satellite signal) down the line to the microcontroller, which then directs the appropriate LEDs to turn on. The chip’s software even calculates local time from the GPS unit’s UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) reading and corrects for daylight saving.
Now anyone with an inkling can build their own LED-GPS clock. In July, Miktuk released “GPS Time on YOUR Garage,” a kit for sale on his website for around $300. Although the garage clock is plugged into his home utilities, Miktuk estimates that the entire array (now shining bright green) costs him just $25 a year to power — and it’s been running for four years and ticking.
When asked what motivated him to build the clock, he says, “Nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment when a DIY project is finished and working. Except the thrill of the next one. And the next one …”