Solution for field time display wanted

We held an event and due to the way we had the space spread out we were not able to have time shown on each field.

I’m looking for a low cost display that we could mount on the corner of each field to display or on the top of the tower for each team to watch.

I hate to invest $300 in a netbook to use for timekeeping (I’d rather give them to teams to use as programming laptops).


How about $75? Search for “USB VGA adapter” on the Web. When I helped out at the TSA/VEX championship last year we used several of these plugged into a powered USB hub to provide a bunch of different video outputs from a single score-keeping computer (my notebook). This worked great in conjunction with 50-foot VGA cables.

Tyler - Thanks for suggestion, but…

If Foster and I are thinking alike, he is yearning to spend $50 or less for the entire “solution”. Not $50 for for a device that then puts non-trivial graphics-capabilities demands on the computer it attaches to, uses an expensive VGA cable, and also uses a $150-250 computer flat panel.

The entire solution would include cables, the display itself, and a mounting bracket. I’ll leave engergizing the display out of my $50 budget, but device with a long power cord would be a definite bonus.

The data/control cable could be ethernet (or 4-wire household phone cord) adapted to this purpose. The signals would probably be Preset_1, Start_1, Preset_2, Start_2, etc.

The display could be something no more sophisticated than a large bright alarm clock display adapted to this purpose. It would have some embedded “smarts” at wristwatch levels of sophistication for storing a few countdown/countup values.

The mounting bracket could be a simple chunk of metal that attaches to the field or could be a set of legs about the size of a highway traffic cone. The device would also sit upright on a chair or other flat surface.

Mass-produced it could be really cheap. Custom-made by a big company they would be expensive because of low-volumes. Custom-made by in a DIY setting they might be reasonably cheap. When I looked for these sorts of devices in the past, most used arrays of individually driven LEDs, and everything I found was outrageously expensive.


PS: Maybe someone can gin up a design that has a Vex PIC microcontroller at its heart, and uses Vex LEDs to show a thermometer-style indication of time left in a match?

“PS: Maybe someone can gin up a design that has a Vex PIC micro controller at its heart, and uses Vex LED’s to show a thermometer-style indication of time left in a match?”

Actually, It is easier than that …

Just build a VEX Pic controlled display and use the Ethernet cable from the tower to signal it. There are 2 separate switch closures to detect - one for autonomous/driver, one for enable/disable. (make a Y-adapter so the cable can still be used by the drivers).

Connect those to the pic digital inputs, and have the PIC drive a 7 segment display from your favorite surplus company based on those inputs and you are done. (It would count down from 20 if it saw the autonomous&enable signal, 120 if it sees the Operator&enable signal).

I like this idea - May have to make one …

You assume that I have a favorite surplus company :confused: But, I knew that several someones should be able to take the suggestion and run with it.

If you do make one, I’m guessing that you can recommend both a BIG and a medium-sized 3-digit, 7 segment display we can use.

Send pictures and part #'s if you make one!


Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see how your solution ties into the Tournament Manager. You already have a tool that knows about autonomous, generates sound effects, and can start and stop the timer using tools that are already sitting on the Scorekeeper’s table. A plus for a lot of events is that using the Scorekeeping PC means you have one fewer piece of electronics to power and maintain.

“Non-trivial graphics-capabilities” – I can’t see this as much of a problem. I ran four (or five?) of these on the graphics card in a mid-line Dell notebook, and the tournament manager AND media player (for music) both ran fine. Unless you are trying to stream video or something equally demanding at the same time I doubt it will have any real effect on the PC.

I don’t think of flat panel monitors as being a resource that is either expensive or in short supply. I grab a couple from home when I do a tournament. I wouldn’t buy one just for one or two events a year. Even if you DID want to buy one, Newegg will sell you a 15" LCD panel for $90.

RickF’s suggestion is clever, but it does use a $150 VEX controller. Doesn’t that count towards costs?

I’m looking for something small and cheap. The video solution is:
*$90 for the monitor
*$55 for the USB to VGA adapter
*$100 for 50’ VGA shielded cable
So I’m at $240. I could get netbooks off of Woot for that.

A 4 digit LED display is about $20. A VEX controller is $150. So it’s down to $170.

I can get an Arudunio board for $30 and the display and now I’m looking at $50.

I’ll wait for Quazar to join in, to see what he thinks. I’m guessing bare PIC chips at $6 and some small circuit boards.

Of course VEX could take all those PIC’s they are getting in on trade in, hot glue the displays on them and send them out to event partners :rolleyes:

You can get a Vex controller off eBay for $50, for what it’s worth, assuming no one is willing to lend extras. At least a few teams must have upgraded to Cortex’s…

why not have the field manager say out the time elapsed in 15 second increments, thats free… on the other hand, i do not know if the field manager is capable of this

Just FYI, when you’re looking for cheap cables (HDMI, VGA, USB, etc etc), I can’t say enough good things about Monoprice. I’ve gotten a bunch of stuff from them and it’s always been great.

They have a 50’ VGA cable for $13:

Their prices are almost unbelievable, but the products work. I have a 75’ HDMI cable from them that works great (and we’ll be using it at our VEX event in 2 weeks).

As for the rest of your list, can’t help much there other than to echo Rick Tyler’s comment about borrowing… every event I’ve been involved with has just borrowed monitors (even the World Championship), either personal ones for from work. If you can’t get your hands on a loaner for a weekend then I guess the next place I’d look would be on eBay or Craigslist or something for an old laptop or even a desktop PC. And there’s no requirement for an LCD either - a tube monitor could be placed on a short stand near a field and work fine. I’ve seen monitors like that being given away a lot lately.

As far as custom solutions, I’ve have 4 of these sitting on my workbench for a couple years:
My goal was to design a driver board with an XBee for wireless connection to a laptop for timing (though certainly a serial connection would work too), but I haven’t pursued it much further since it would probably be difficult to make such a timer for much less than $50. Also, it seemed to me to be getting easier every year to find laptops to borrow for field displays to the point where it wasn’t worth it, especially when you factor in that the field displays can provide other information that would not be available on a 7-segment timer.

Reading all the different viewpoints in this thread, I am once again reminded that there are at least two types of people in the world.

This thread might be evidence that there are at least five types.


The first 3-4 times I borrowed flat panels, big TVs and laptops from work it was kind-of cool. The next 10 have simply been a giant chore every time. Hauling those big (and bigger) boxes around; carrying heavy, slippery laptops; constantly worrying about damage in transit and during the event; constantly worrying about what folks might install or reconfigure when I wasn’t looking; getting permission to do it; gathering up all of the equipment; etc.

Offer me a lightweight, thin/compact, and inexpensive appliance that is sturdy enough and small enough for 3 or 4 to be packed in an empty printer-paper box, and I’ll call the modest cost money well spent.

My recent attempt at satisfying my own request was buying a bunch of refurb’ed NetBooks for $200 apiece. Not exactly chump change, but inexpensive enough that losing one or two won’t be the end of the world. However, to really be effective they will need an external monitor. I’m going to try living with just the small Netbook screen, but I know I’ll be annoyed by its size.

PS: Any time tournament prep gets too hard, I definitely fall back on using the wet-ware approach Mike_from_Cambie brought up. You can do wonders with a stopwatch, a loud voice, and a couple of whiteboards.


Well then, I’ll offer the way we really do it – we use one of the school’s LCD projectors and display the time on a screen that the school has in the gym. The drive team coaches then turn their heads to see the time remaining. Cost - $free, simplicity - nearly infinite. And I don’t have to store any of it until next time. I personally don’t like putting anything in between the audience and the game, so I don’t put monitors on the field wall. The only time I’ve done that was when I was helping with someone else’s event.

after reading the new posts and thinking, i realize that if the field controller were to alert drivers in regards to time elapsed or time reamaning (i hope we all can do math to find the other) would make a world of difference for drives and coaches playing the game. is this possible with the field software?

Having been at the event in Downingtown last week, I can agree that the screen configuration was nowhere near sufficient. People crave data in situations like this, and unfortunately there wasn’t enough.

The key to having displays really is just using school equipment. A pair of projectors - one for each “division” would have drastically simplified things. As it was, by about the thirtieth match, my mother (your HS scorekeeper) was thoroughly annoyed rotating the one monitor between the two fields. School equipment or not, I remember seeing Steve’s netbook wandering around the room. That netbook, and it’s VGA output, could have been used much better.

For the event at Delaware County Christian School in October, we ended up running 6 laptops and three projectors - all belonging to the school - for a total of 7 public displays. Also, one of the computers was dedicated to the more mundane tasks, such as printing, to avoid interference with the tournament in progress.

As to the suggestions of building a timer, I can conclusively say that such a device would not be supported by the Tournament Manager Software. The closest you could get would involve writing a locally-hosted web-app that reads data sent via the Web Publishing feature, however that system does not include match timing data anyway, so it still wouldn’t work. Short of decompiling the program or using a microcontroller as suggested previously, there’s no way to integrate a custom-built countdown with the Tournament Software. Just ask your school’s IT folks for the most basic thing with a screen and a network card.

As to inverting the countdown, No, the software cannot do that. It is simple math, but the program is given as-is, and is meant to stay as-is. Besides, experienced drive teams are used to planning their end games based on a clock that counts down. I imagine the confusion could cause people enough aggravation to lose, and thus enough anger to make your event unfortunate.

Thanks for the reply and say “Thank You” again to your mother for helping out. Our parent volunteers make things work.

Your key phrase is “using school equipment” and asking “the schools IT folks” for items does not work for us. Downingtown Area Robotics is not an official school club, there are not any teachers involved in an official capacity in either the 105 roboteer VEX group, or the 35 roboteer FRC group. We are all parents of roboteers or in the case of Steve and I, deranged believers in competition robotics being good for students (we don’t have roboteers in the program) .

We rent the school, we rent the custodial services. So there isn’t school equipment to use. When the VEX year started we had 50 roboteers and 8 robots, with plans to buy netbooks. When the school year started we had an influx of 50 more roboteers (105 total) and decided to field 7 more robots than buy computers. If we had $2000 we would buy netbooks for the roboteers to program on.

The request for a countdown counter was based on my experience with electronics (Hi I’m K3FXS) and I’m looking for something that I can mount on the fiellds. Netbooks don’t work, you need to drag ethernet cables and power to the field (TM and wireless are not happy mates). A monitor is fine, the USB idea works, but it also needs a VGA cable and power.

A battery powered, LED/LCD display that uses the field controls for signals is the best option. The field knows when it’s in Auto and Driver modes.

In my case STEMRobotics drag the fields to 7 events a year in our area. We don’t charge for doing that and we volunteer our time. (With a little luck I’ll put in 2000 hours in calendar year 2010) Paying $1600 for displays isn’t how I want to spend STEMRobotics money when I can use that to start 3 more teams. What I want is a $45 display that does the same thing.

So put on your EE design caps, pull out your Digikey catalog, fire up your irons and design and build countdown clocks. There is a small market of 500 that you can sell. I’ll take the first 6 at $45 each. I bet the other teams that have fields will snap the rest up for practice sessions and their events.


(I need to add in the spirit of full disclosure that while we are not an offical club, the Downingtown School Board, on the recommendation of the Superintendent, have given us a 1 year lease on 17,000 sq ft of office/warehouse space to build robots in. So I’m not going to go back and whine about needing $2000 more for timer displays. )

I did not know that about your program. In the future, let me know ahead of time, and I can bring a machine or two of my own, plus possibly a few from DC.

Next events are:

Dockbots 11

Souderton Vexperiment

Eastern PA regional

And the first event of the new year. Bridgewater has been the host of this in years past, but Radnor has put their hand up for a new event, so there may be two in May.

The Philadelphia region offers more VRC events (12) vs FTC (2). Our teams with their cooperation of bringing other schools into their alliances means that more of our area teams will compete at the worlds. Our concept of “You are already qualified, help someone else qualify” is paying off. Through 4 events, over 15 unique teams are going to worlds. We are looking forward to our Power Teams signing up new teams, your (DC Knights) teams pulling new teams and even teams like “The Joneses” (677), tossing away “winning is most important” away to take on the “everyone goes to Disney” plan.

While China and New Zealand will be the most represented, I want to see Philly teams at Disney. I want to stand next to Rick TYler and Blake at Worlds and go “Hey, are we making a difference?” and get nods and smiles back.

DC Knights have gone from “who?” to “Whoooooo!” in a very short time, you guys rock.

But I still want my $45 display :rolleyes:

The DC teams (and thus, my computers and I) will not be at Abington. (Our formal Christmas Banquet is the night before.) I can’t speak on events after worlds, as I’ll be busy with things like graduating, but we’re currently planning on the other events you listed.

Sorry I’m late!

I’m partial to Atmel’s rather than PICs. I’d probably build something with the Arduino bootloader for easy hacking.

So, what are the specs?
*]Four 2¼" Tall digits ok?

*]Battery powered (standard Vex batteries)
*]How much runtime between battery changes?

*]Programmable presets and modes (up/down, MM:SS, M:SS.S, SSS.S, etc…)

*]What additional indicators? (e.g., Auto -vs- Driver)

*]How critical is wireless (probably the most expensive feature)

  • Dean

My thoughts (ready to be combined with a few more sources to create a good spec) Maybe we need a spreadsheet where candidate features are listed and each ordinary voter gets to vote for no more than half the features. Voters willing to pre-order the devices get extra votes. :slight_smile:

Time Display

  • Digit size = I’m thinking of 6" (4" minimum)
  • Digit brightness - Visible in full, direct sunlight (coming into a building through a window, or at a county fair outdoor exhibit).
  • Digit count = 3 places that show seconds is fine. Minutes or fractions of a second aren’t very exciting to me. 999 sec > 15 minutes. Adding a 4th digit would give you 150 minutes (enough for lunch breaks).

Power = AC Power if necessary, but getting rid of the need to run a power cord out to each field would be a definite bonus. Perhaps some sort of Power-Over-Ethernet would be sexy, so long as there was “no” chance of damaging equipment that uses similar connectors (when the cables get swapped up). Maybe Power-(and Control-Signals)-Over-Phone cord? Battery Power sounds OK but might be at odds with some of my other desires.

  • POE, or my POPC, would still require a computer or some similar device as the energy source. Maybe Battery or AC power are the two right choices after all.

Function = Being able to interpret (perhaps with human assistance in unusual (Field Reset) circumstances) the Tournament Manager signals is important but not absolutely required by me.

  • Using about 4 discrete lines to create a reference and 3 bits of commands would probably be perfectly adequate.
    – A few year ago a PC-based serial interface would be a good way for a serious hacker to control one of these. It might still be the way for a Vex microcontroller to control one (those Vex microcontrollers are certainly more expensive than the bare PICs and Atmels; but they are plentiful at a VRC tournament and they can be reprogrammed/patched/upgraded using skills and equipment that is also plentiful at a VRC tournament or club meeting).
    – I’m guessing that some sort of USB-to-“discretes” is the current favorite for connecting appliances to computers now.
  • Countdown is far more important than Count up.
  • Plugging into the 5th or 6th ports on a Field Controller’s Player plug-in tower (thoroughly isolated to prevent interference) would be very nice (until VRC creates a 6-player game (then we would need a splitter)).
  • Operating when the field is controlled only by a manual switch (no computer, no TM), and in that circumstance becoming the field controller (enabling disabling transmitters) is very important to me.
    – This request makes me a requirements creep; but field control and a time display that a ref can activate and reset using nothing more complicated than 3-4 built-in buttons (or a VEXNet switch) means 100% independence from the complications that often encrust running exhibits and tournament fields. This is really, really attractive to me.

Other User-interactions:

  • Auto vs Driver seems unimportant during the countdown, but would be useful to see before the countdown starts to ensure you launch the correct timer.
  • I kind-of like the thermometer indicator for time as a supplement to the digits; but I predict that the digits are far more useful.
    – I can imagine that a thermometer (or Cylon eye) capability could be used along with automated scoring to show scores, or show score differences. But the scoring-possibilities are pretty unimportant right now.
  • Playing a sound a specific times, or at intervals, or both would be useful. Beeps that grow more frequent as the countdown get closer to 0 come to mind.

Mounting & other physical:

  • Be able to bolt onto existing VRC field panels (including the 8’ x 8’ fields made for the TSA competition). Be able to easily bolt onto a stick of 80/20 brand extruded aluminum
  • Be able to easily bolt on (or replace) a piece of Polycarb protecting the device from clumsy robots.