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Sunset Reflections Clock

My submission to the Flutter Clock Challenge, winner of the Novelty of Idea award: a cold cathode display clock (aka nixie clock) with a subtle reflection of a beautiful view in Spain: el Mirador de San NicolΓ‘s. The reflection shows the current position of the moon and the sun in the place where the picture of the view was taken.

long demo

A high quality version of this video can be seen on YouTube.

Description

Sunset reflections is a face clock implemented for the Flutter Clock Challenge that emulates the behaviour of cold cathode displays. These displays were a variant of neon lamps that resembled vacuum tubes and became popular between the sixties and the seventies. Shortly later they were superseded by LEDs and vacuum fluorescent displays. Recently, there is a new trend that has revived this kind of clocks and new models can be acquired at many popular online stores.

The clock face shows a perspective view that allows to observe the content of the tube displays: a set of stacked digits made with a thin tube filled with gas that glows when voltage is applied. The stacked digits are surrounded with a metallic hexagonal grid.

The glass tube shows a subtle reflection of a window to the Mirador de San Nicolas. This is one of the most iconic viewpoints in my hometown, Granada (Spain), which offers its visitors a fantastic view to the two most emblematic symbols of this beautiful town: the Alhambra, a wonderful palace and fortress complex, and the Veleta, the second highest peak in the mountain range of Sierra Nevada. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton once coined it β€œthe most breathtaking sunset in the world".

Mirador de San NicolΓ‘s

Features

3D rendering

One of the most challenging parts during the development of this clock was achieving a realistic effect for the glass tubes. Somehow, I ended up developing a basic 3D rendering engine, able to represent triangle meshes (the glass tube, the tube stand and the table) and canvas paths (the grid and the digits) according to the position of a virtual camera (see lib/basic3d).

Triangle meshes have been created with openScad (see docs/tube.scad) and exported to STL format (see assets/3d). A binary STL parser has been implemented.

Paths have been created programmatically (in the case of the grid) or with the help of inkScape and exported to SVG format (in the case of digits). A very basic SVG parser has been implemented with the help of path_drawing.

The project took a lot of maths and headaches: calculations of the impact of the light on objects (textures.dart), mapping to image textures (uvmappers.dart) or translation from clip coordinates to canvas coordinates (clip_coordinates.dart).

Light and dark themes

The clock includes both light and dark themes. In fact, it is prepared to include multiple themes where different settings might be changed with little effort (see lib/themes.dart).

  • The light theme is more colourful and shows a clock whose digits have Google-ish colors on a light wood table.

light theme

  • The dark theme is a more old-fashioned style with more realistic colors for the digits on the top of a dark wood table.

dark theme

The sun and the moon

The sun and the moon appear in the reflection depending on the time and day. I've chosen to paint them using unrealistic big proportions for a more artistic effect, but their positions are indeed computed according to their real locations in real time at the place where the pictures were taken. This is done with the help of flutter_suncalc. The celestial coordinates are then mapped to the picture provided a reference line of the horizon, the azimuth and the east and west of the ecliptic. This information is included in a json asset file (see desc.json) in order to include other pictures in the future.

I did not consider the possibility of using the geo-position of the clock itself, since it seems that Lenovo Smart Clocks do not have a GPS and network calls were not allowed according to contest rules.

a full moon

The phase of the moon is computed and displayed as well. This is again possible thanks to flutter_suncalc, a port of suncalc to Dart.

a sunrise

I have included a test mode that splits the screen into two parts showing the clock and the sight, and enables going back and forth in time using swipe gestures. This feature has been included merely to show the operation of the clock. I'm aware it is something not to be considered in the evaluation of the work presented. To use it, just modify the value of the boolean constant testMode in lib/main.dart.

The class ChangeNotifierProvider, which takes care of notifying widgets of time changes, includes an optional parameter to make time run faster. During the tests I used to have the time running 1 minute every other second. For this, just change the value of the constant timesFaster (for instance, to 30) in the file (libs/main.dart).

The sky and the city lights

The sky illumination and its colors depend on the position of the sun, providing a fluent transition between night, day, sunrise and sunsets.

The illumination of the city and the Alhambra, the fortress that can be seen in the view, is the result of the combination of two pictures taken from the same spot at day and night, where they sky has been removed to be replaced by canvas gradients (see the gimp file san-nicolas.xcf and the file sight.dart).

city lights

Accessibility and internationalization

Semantic nodes have been added. The top one describes the time with a short label as description. Four additional ones provide information of each vacuum tube. Their position correspond to the projection of each 3D object in the canvas:

semantics.png

Those labels are internationalized with the help of the intl package, though only English variations of the text have been included.

Customizations

The clock is prepared to enable some additional customizations (see lib/themes.dart):

  • The colors of the digits
  • The size of some elements
  • The materials of the table and tubes stands
  • The position of the camera
  • ...

The following picture shows an eccentric perspective and a very straight one for light and dark themes respectively: Different perspectives

Performance

This was challenging indeed! I've managed to keep GPU + UI time around 16/17-ish ms per frame (during the animation of the cathodes turning on and off) with the exception of some puntual peaks. These peaks are caused by the refreshing of the reflection image. For this reason, this action is delayed to happen a few seconds after a change of minute / hour. This way, it does not interfere with the animation of the cathodes and everything runs smoothly.

performance

Performance tests have been done on an IPhone 6.

Flickering cathodes

The material used in the making of this clock is old technology. For this reason, the illuminated digits flicker occasioanlly. Don't worry, they are still completely reliable πŸ˜€.

Cathodes turning on and off use an ease-in cubic animation to achieve a realistic effect. But randomly, the standard animation is replaced by a flickering effect. The effect is hardly noticeable in the animated images, but it can be seen very clearly when running the application on an actual device.

12-hour / 24-hour format

For sure! That was not hard.

License and author

All the source code and assets have been written by the author and are released under the APACHE 2.0 license with the exception of:

Building instructions

cd sunset_reflections_clock
flutter create .
flutter run

Future improvements

This was my very first project using Flutter and Dart. It was a lot of fun but time flew faster than I expected. So, some of the initial ideas had to be discarded to deliver in time, but they could be added in a future:

  • Weather conditions! The idea was to add clouds, storm, fog and rain effects to the reflected image depending on the weather condition.
  • Additional sights: I would love to add pictures from famous places. It just requires taking a good picture from the very same spot at night and day (and some tweaking with Gimp). I look forward to contributions from people around the world in the future. I'd love to include a picture of Manhattan from the Brooklyn Bridge!
  • Shadows and better lightning.
  • UV Maps, reflection maps and some more advanced texture techniques could be implemented. Possibly adding the capability of importing some more advanced formats like OBJ so that the hard part of the rendering could be done in external tools like Blender.
  • Code cleaning and reorganization. Indeed, the code needs documentation and it could use a good reorganization. I have started the reengineering of the 3D engine but did not make it on time for the contest.
  • A windows with a view : a friend of mine recenctly asked me to display the view as a window behind the clock. I wanted to keep the display simple so I wanted the reflection to be just a subtle detail, despite all the efforts invested in displaying the sun, the moon and light conditions. However, this might become an option in the future.

About

Google's Flutter Clock Challenge Novelty πŸš€ of Idea Award πŸ† winner (https://flutter.dev/clock)

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