Time Is on Your (Garage’s) Side
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 ...”
—Megan Mansell Williams
Photograph by John Miktuk