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Alarm clocks are shit. I want to build one that actually works at a cost that isn't absurd.

No, I do not want to use my phone. I forget to plug it in.



  • Does not rely on being irritating.
    • Should be designed for gradual wakeup.
    • That means no "find the puzzle piece I ejected into orbit" solutions.
  • Uses the time signal to set itself, should be aware of DST as a result.
  • Stores settings on flash so they're not lost in power cuts.
  • Has a programmable wake-up sequence.
  • Settings for week and weekend.
  • Mains powered, but relatively low power.


  • Dawn light, use a full-spectrum bulb. Turns on at the start of the wakeup sequence, gradually gets brighter.
    • Allow for plugging in an external lamp instead of a built in lamp?
      • I have a cheap IR bayonet dimmer that looks hackable
  • Alarm starts to make noise at start of wakeup sequence, gradually getting louder. Possibly with breaks.
  • "Cut off" time, at which point the thing goes mental and forces you to get up if you've not turned it off.
    • Does this even need a snooze if you go for gradual wakeup?
  • A wireless off button that lives in another room.
    • Maybe unnecessary if it's designed for gradual-wakeup?
    • Maybe just for "Cut off" mode.
  • Programmable noises for wakeup sequence. USB upload? SD card?
  • Detect if someone is actually in the bed, and cancel the alarm if not. No more irritating the neighbors when you go away.
  • Some form of sleep cycle monitoring.
    • Track lights-out time via a photodetector, both to get more dataporn and to let the clock know how forceful to be (in other works, adjust the vigour of the wakeup depending on how long it is since you actually went to bed).
    • Let the clock notice spontaneous wakeup (when you open the curtains on your own). It can disable its own alarm, and it can record when you actually woke for better logging.
    • Change the alarm to start going off at the correct point in your cycle.
    • Preferably via a method that doesn't require something in the bed with you, or a wristband. Possibly a PIR type sensor, or a camera.
    • the Ti EZ-430 Chronos watch kit (50 quid) will give you accelerometer signals (and temperature) wirelessly if you can stand to wear a watch to bed.
    • This also depends on when you went to sleep - a more vigorous/sneaky wake-up might be needed if you're an hour away from waking up.
    • For bonus points, allow data export for data porn. Maybe save to the SD card with the sound files on.
      • If we have data export, I'd love to get the data about the time between alarm activation and shutoff over time.
        • And if we're doing data logging over time, add temperature logging in the room. Especially if you can associate that with the quality of the sleep cycle.
        • -
    • track natural sleep patterns over an extended period of time. you can do this by "training" the alarm clock every time you wake up. sleep cycles can then be shared using an alarm clock social network. this would be interesting as you could train your own sleeping cycles with other people's. i would like to try Keith Richard's sleep cycle myself. he must be doing something right if he's lived this long. (@smallcaps)
  • Multiple alarms that can be set on a day-by-day basis
  • Configurable via a web-interface (using buttons and shit is painful)
  • Sources alarm times from an .ics file (Google calendar etc.)
  • Wake up to the sound of random, interesting facts.
    • Gives you something to look forward to every day.
      • Isn't this called "Radio 4"?
    • The BBC World Service publishes a 5-minute news bulletin on the hour, and a 2-minute one on the half hour.
    • Messages from the previous night ("tickets to see x go on sale at 9, so don't be late" or "remember your brolly")
  • Scrambles the time display when you're normally asleep so you don't obsess over the time if you have insomnia.

Less desirable ideas

  • A beers-made - along the lines of a teas-made but with beer instead of tea; and therefore a fridge instead of a kettle.
  • A bees-made - along the lines of a beers-made but releases a swarm of angry bees instead of beer; and therefore a hive instead of a fridge.
  • A cheese-made - along the lines of a bees-made but with a large rubber hand that wafts strong smelling cheese under your nose instead of a hive.
  • A fleas-made - along the lines of a cheese-made but releases a swarm of fleas instead of a strong smell; and therefore a box instead of a cheese.
  • A freeze-made - along the lines of a fleas-made but releases liquid hydrogen all over the bed, forcing you to move quickly; therefore a tank instead of a box.
  • An oil-made - along the lines of freeze-made but sprays scalding oil over the bed, forcing your to fry; therefore hob and pan instead of tank.
  • A pees-made - along the lines of an oil-made but sprays body temperature urine all over the bed, forcing you out of the bed after thinking you've just pissed yourself.
  • A knees-made - threatens the sleeper with kneecapping in the voice of Armando Iannucci's East End Thug character.
  • A bears-made - along the lines of a knees-made but with a live bear scaring you awake; and therefore a cage instead of a speaker.
  • A please-mate - along the lines of a bears-made but instead whines at you obsequiously until you hit the snivelling little creep; and therefore a creep instead of a cage.
  • A tears-made - the packaging gives no information on whether this is the crying or ripping sort of tears. It may be both.
  • A fees-made - sends bailiffs in to repossess the sleeper's goods if they don't wake up. NB somewhat dangerous as a lawyer is required.
  • A tase-made - also along the lines of a please-mate, but uses a bolt designed to induce neuromuscular incapacitation; and therefore 1200 volts instead of a creep.
  • A midge-made - along the lines of a fleas-made but releases a whining midge to buzz in your ear; and therefore a tank of stagnant water instead of a cheese.
  • A midget-made - along the lines of the midge-made but releases a single whining midget; cage instead of tank of stagnant water.
  • A french-maid - along the lines of a midget-made, but catering to a different fetish; a short dress instead of short legs.
  • A brides-made - along the lines of a french-maid, but for drunken uncles.
  • A tease-made - generic term for the previous two, the aim being to lure the dozer out of bed.
    • this entry is incorrectly classified as 'less desirable'.
  • A Tees-made - you wake to a CCTV with a loudspeaker singing Boro chants and reminiscing about drunken nights in Yarm.
  • A ghee's-made - pours clarified butter over the sleeper until deactivated.
  • A brie's-made - hurls soft cheese at the sleeper.
  • A Glee's-made - sings popular music at the sleeper in a show-choir style until deactivated WITH FIRE AND THE SWORD.
  • A squees-made - welcomes you into the day with the cutest selection of pictures of small fluffy animals
  • Big Shower Button - The button to turn off the alarm is located in the shower which is running with cold water. The button has to be held down for 30 seconds or the alarm will restart.
  • Irritable Radio - Wakes you up by playing songs from tag radio. Starts with the "pop" tag and iterates through tags until it reaches "Bieber"
    • isn't the same effect achieved by using a normal radio alarm tuned to any regional commercial radio station
      • no, they mostly start with bieber and, although it's beyond belief, proceed to something even worse such as rap or some whiny R&B.

Ways of determining the current time

  • NPL (was MSF) radio signal. Symtrik module is the popular option, available from [PV Electronics]. Simple to decode, but very difficult to get a good signal with the supplied kit. I can just barely get a signal in Cambridge and none at all in the hackspace. It is very sensitive to supply voltage smoothness.
  • DCF77 should also be receivable in the UK.
  • DAB. The Venice 5 module is commonly cited, but not generally available (forums recommend buying cheap complete DAB radios and breaking them apart). See Elliot's section below. If this can be made to work, it has the obvious bonus of better radio stations.
  • GSM. No idea if this can be done cheaply enough.
  • GPS. Receivers can be bought cheaply, but require an outdoor or close to outdoor antenna.
  • Mains frequency and BBC longwave radio both offer relative time signals, but are not enough to determine the absolute time.
  • RTC module from Proto-Pic - not a radio controlled time module but a tiny module which quotes a minimum life of 9 years with the built-in battery. In a production setting this could be set to the right time at the factory.



Status: Fully working dimmer, there is a very slight flicker but I suspect this is unavoidable with the technique I am using. My next step will be to introduce buttons and an analogue control to the basic circuit, and to continue work on an enclosure.

I am currently working on an initial prototype of the dawn light functionality, the following features are intended in this version:

  1. Dawn light (light switches on automatically over a period of ~30 minutes at a specified time)
  2. Reverse sunlight matching (when this mode enabled the light turns off gradually at sunrise, and turns on gradually at sunset)
  3. Instant on/off
  4. Instant dawn/dusk (switches the light on/off over a period of ~30 minutes)
  5. Adjustable brightness via a potentiometer (sets the current brightness in mode 3; sets the maximum brightness in modes 1, 2, and 4)

The prototype will use an incandescent light bulb and Arduino, with the lamp controlled by a optocoupler TRIAC driver.



I'm thinking of working on the radio side of things to make this an alarm clock radio. Added bonus is that with a DAB tuner (maybe RDS too) we can also get time information to set the alarm clock automagically. Ultimately I think it'd be nice to have an 'Alarmduino' platform so that people can easily build custom alarm clock radios.

Some things that I've been looking at: