How do digital clocks work? All about them


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Digital clocks have replaced analog clocks in many ways and places, as most of them not only come with more features but are more convenient time- tellers. But, since they have become a part of our daily lives, a question that often rises out of curiosity is how do they work, So without further ado lets dive right into answering just that

Just like the Analog clock, digital clocks also require batteries to run along with an oscillator and more or less works in the same fashion as them. The oscillator in a digital clock is usually in the form of a crystal that is made up of glass. And as the electric charge passes and goes through the crystal, it will cause a lot of vibrations and make a sound. This sound is then converted into an electronic signal. Which, through using a counter is converted to oscillations of 1 Hz oscillations. This is done through the work of various counters. The very first of which would count 10 oscillations as one. And another one present alongside with it would count 60 as one ( or six 10 ones )

Diving into a bit more depth

This basically becomes the base of hertz being one oscillation for one second. Each counter is connected with an electronic chip that then goes on to signal displays that goes on to signal the display and which then uses light to display the present time of the moment

The display is either an LED or LCD light display which is also referred to as the “7-segment display”. The number seven here comes because there are exactly seven segments that can light up for displaying a number. To elaborate on this, the digit “8” uses all of these seven segments to display. These lights are located on the display in such a way that they can easily display two sets of 2-digit numbers. The electronic innards of a digital clock are derived in a way that they go and change each four of the digits when an hour is up. And keep on going with a sequence and flow

A bit more about how they function

All of these movements seek to achieve perpetual ( smooth motion ). The oscillators that make the gears move are powered by either direct electrical appliances or batteries. Batteries are the most common way of supplying power to these time-telling machines. But when clocks were still a bit new, people also used to use a direct connection with electricity to supply clocks with power

Digital clocks mostly use a 50 or 65-hertz oscillation of AC power or in other words a 32,768-hertz crystal oscillator as in a quartz clock to tell time.

Most of the digital clocks out there come with a 24-hour a day format. But some also come with a 12-hour option like in the analog clocks ( in this case, they show an A.M. or P.M. and many come with an option to work both ways. Let’s dive into a bit more detail

Digital clocks have highly advanced in their evolution in recent times they are quite commonly used nowadays in forms of alarm clocks and sometimes also for decorative purposes. Now lets look at some of the most interesting and advanced digital clocks

Some Advanced digital clocks

Clocky Alarm Clock on Wheels (Original)Opens in a new tab.

This is one of the most fun clocks out there. It not only is a great alarm clock but if your kid is a sleepy head and doesn’t wake up on time, this might be one of the best clocks. What it does is that it jumps and keeps running around whilst buzzing the alarm so the person in the room would have to get up physically and run after the clock, catch it to turn the alarm off, sounds interesting right

A picture of  clocky to better answer "How do digital clocks work?"

Moreover, it can jump up to 3 feet in height and can jump off of a nightstand. It also comes with a beeping sound and a super loud alarm. It is a great and helpful gift for deep sleepers. This clock costs $46 on Amazon as of now and is well worth its price. So do give the heading a click if you are interested in knowing more about it

Philip’s wake up lightOpens in a new tab.

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A picture of philip's wake up light to better answer the question:"How do digital clocks work?"

This clock comes with a very great and unique way to gently wake you up. This might be your thing if buzzing alarms are not your way to go

It comes with five pleasant nature sounds and also has a stunning sunlight simulation. This is what separates it from all of the other alarm clocks out there. How does it work you ask? Well, it starts with slowly stimulating the sunrise 30 to 40 minutes before your actual alarm time, while slowly shifting from soft dawn to glistening sunshine that is sure to tell you that its time to wake you up. Many people have proclaimed that this has actually changed their waking up schedule. The light it comes with has 10 different intensities and this clock can also be used as a lamp. Lastly, it just looks great and improves the overall look of your room.

However, its biggest drawback without a doubt, of this clock is its price. It might just seem too costly as it is available for $85.52 on Amazon. Which is quite lower than before but still might be too much for an alarm clock. And another con about this clock is that it has buttons that are poorly positioned.

Now let’s look into how some of the other clocks work too

How Do Analog (The Common Clocks) Work?

When most of the people ask the question that how does a clock work? they are mostly referring to how does the analog ( quartz ) clock work as that is the most common clock. And the first one that comes to mind when we think of a clock. So here is how an analog ( quartz ) clock work?

Clocks basically use oscillators to keep the gears moving. And the movement of the gears prompts the minute hand to move which then turns and makes the hour hand move.

( Looking in a bit more depth into Analog clock )

  1. So basically what happens is that the battery or the power source provides to the microchip circuit within the clock
  2. Then this current makes the quartz crystals that are precisely cut and placed within the clock to vibrate at a speed of 32768 times a second.
  3. The Microchip circuit detects the crystal’s vibrations and turns them into regular electric pulses, at a speed of one per second. This is what we actually need as we want the clock to move forward after every second.
  4. These electric pulses then turn to mechanical power and move the gears
  5. The one gear that moves makes the other gear move. Hence, making the clock tick every second. Till the appliance of the power remains intact

Insides of an Analog clock

Three of the most fundamental parts of every clock out there are :

  • A TimeKeeping Mechanism: This is a way that the clock keeps an accurate account of the time passing by
  • An energy source: This is a way to provide energy to the motion of the clock, this could be a battery, solar power, an electric appliance, springs, or anything of that sort
  • Display: Finally, this is the part that everyone sees. This can come in quite various designs. It could be a cartoon character or an antique-looking wooden lady, entirely depending on the maker and what he/she wants his/her work to look like

All of these movements seek to achieve perpetual ( smooth motion ). The oscillators that make the gears move are powered by either direct electrical appliances or batteries. Batteries are the most common way of supplying power to these time-telling machines. But when clocks were still a bit new, people also used to use a direct connection with electricity to supply clocks with power

This was all about how the Analog clock ( the most commonly used clock ) work. Now let’s look into how some other how other types of clocks work

Atomic clocks are the most advanced clocks that have secretly revolutionized our normal life without us even knowing it, so lets dive into how them for a bit now

How does an Atomic clock work?

You probably have heard of atomic clocks as not are they the most accurate way of measuring time. But it is also used scientifically in various ways. The authenticity of it being the most accurate clock can be inferred by the fact that it looses 1 second after every 138 million years. That’s a big figure. An example of a famous place it is used at is CERN, NASA, and many others.

What are these actually?

Atomic clocks are clocks that measure the oscillations (movement) of atoms. This is pretty complicated stuff but the basic concept is that all atoms of a given element vibrate or tick the same number of times per second. To elaborate, there are 9,192,631,770 ticks in one second. And though this number seems a bit weird it is quite important. Since today the international standard for what a second is based on that many vibrations/ticks of a cesium atom

A picture of a miniature atomic clock to better answer the question "How do digital clocks work?"
A picture of an atomic clock

But why are these atomic clocks so important. And why do we even need clocks this accurate?

Fun fact:

The clock that the U.S. uses to calibrate its time is accurate to a second in a 100 million years. So if you had put one of these clocks in the medieval ages they will still tell the same time in this day and age.

Data transmission on the internet, as well as the GPS navigational system and cell phone towers and even the high grid, depends on this clock. In conclusion, our high-speed interconnected world works because we can use different pieces of technology using accurate time. So, you take that out of the way, and say good buy to the internet? And isn’t that just sad?

Moreover, whenever we build a new clock, engineers find some good way to use it. So, in the future, if we develop even more accurate clocks, who knows where they will lead us

Why is it important for technologies like the internet?
A picture of a question mark to  to better answer the question "What are atomic clocks? All about them"
What are atomic clocks?

Well, as we have already discussed, atomic clocks have a big impact on our world as a whole. How? is a question that you might be wondering as of now.

Let’s start with the internet, where exact timings are critical. And atomic clocks as we know by now is what helps with that accuracy. Moreover, for GPS satellites to work out your precise position, your timing of the signals it sends and receives has to be super accurate. The signals travel at the speed of light, which means that an error of even a single microsecond error translates to an error of 300 meters on the ground. The timing has to be so precise that even tiny effects like relativity need to be tracked. So we do have Einstein to thank for that because if we didn’t have his equations we wouldn’t have a GPS.

To be exact with each and every microsecond GPS satellites have to carry atomic clocks. The more accurate the clock is, the more accurate GPS can calculate your location

if you want to know more about atomic clocks, we have an elaborate article written on it, so do give it a look if you are interested “What are atomic clocks? All about themOpens in a new tab.

Hopefully this article was helpful in answering a few questions that you might have had. Lastly, if you want to know “why do pendulum clocks stop during an earthquakeOpens in a new tab.“. And stay tuned to ohmyclock for more interesting articles on clocks

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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