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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ravenous Clock Runs Backward, Scares Children

By Lucas Graves Email

Ravenous clock runs backward, scares children.
Photo: James Day

At first glance, it doesn't look like a clock. There's the giant fanged insect on top. And instead of hands, it uses glowing blue LEDs to tell the time. Called the Corpus Clock—it's installed at Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, England—the timepiece was designed by John Taylor, an alumnus, clock collector, and lifelong inventor who wanted to blend 18th-century tech with a hypermodern aesthetic. The bug is called a Chronophage, or time-eater, and it's actually a scarier version of the grasshopper escapement, a 1720s breakthrough that transformed clock making. But in this case the pendulum-driven heart is wedded to a silicon brain, which lets the device do surprisingly un-clocklike things—slow down, stop, even run backward. "I wanted a clock that would play with you," Taylor says. How steampunkeriffic.

How It Works

1// Clock face
Five feet across and plated in gold, the face was molded from a single sheet of stainless steel using controlled explosions. The hours, minutes, and seconds are displayed on the three concentric rings. Here it's 2:49:11.

2// Chronophage
Articulated hinges and weights let the Chronophage rock back and forth to regulate the spring-driven escape wheel, causing it to advance once per second.

3// LEDs
Inside the Corpus Clock are 2,736 LEDs arranged into strips that line up with the apertures in the clock face. These LEDs don't blink on and off—instead, three independently rotating steel rings, all driven by the escape wheel, block and unblock the LEDs.

4// Pendulum
By marrying a spring's power to a pendulum's swing, the Corpus Clock runs on a basic innovation first hit on by Galileo. But the clock's digital brain plays with the amplitude of the pendulum's swing, making time appear to stop or even run backward. Then the Chronophage rushes forward to catch up.