Vintage LED display prototype revived with Arduino

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Patrick Hickey has been collecting retro LED indicators and displays for decades, and his rarest item is an HP 5082-7002—a 5×7 dot matrix LED display in a beautiful gold and (possibly) sapphire enclosure. This device is so rare, in fact, that he believes it to be a prototype, somehow relegated to eBay for gold salvage.

Hickey wasn’t able to find any reference to the unit—much less a datasheet—even after extensive research. Instead, he went to work reverse engineering the HP 5082-7002 following the tracks of the PCB to work out how the rows and columns are connected.

He then designed a test shield for an Arduino Uno with sockets on which the mystery device could sit. With this piece of hardware built, he can now create simple pictures and animated sprites on it using pulsed Arduino outputs.

I followed the tracks to work out which pins are connected rows and columns, and set out to build a test shield for an Arduino Uno. I decided to drive them as “rows” of 5. The max output of Arduino I/O pins is rated at 40mA, so in theory, I could simultaneously power up to 5 LEDs in parallel at 8mA using 1 pin. In practice, using strobe/multiplexing, the duty cycle is much less: 1/7 or 1/5 depending if you drive by rows (7) or columns (5) respectively. The 5 current limiting series resistors are 470 Ohms (¼ Watt). My preference is to use carbon composition resistors (e.g. Allen Bradley). I love the “retro look” of them and I think they compliment the vintage LEDs.

I had already written Arduino code for testing some TIL-305 matrix displays, so it was relatively simple to transpose the pins in my sketch for this configuration. The test code permits animations of up to 150 different alphanumeric characters/symbols, and (of course) some animated sprites inspired by retro video games.

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