Raspberry Pi Sense HAT Digital Clock?

The Raspberry Pi Sense HAT is a versatile add-on board that allows you to create all kinds of interesting projects with your Raspberry Pi. One fun and practical project you can make is a digital clock powered by the Sense HAT’s 8×8 RGB LED matrix display.

Raspberry Pi Sense HAT Digital Clock?

In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn how to make your own Raspberry Pi Sense HAT digital clock from scratch. We’ll cover everything from setting up the hardware, installing the necessary software, coding the Python script, and customizing the look of your clock.

Hardware Needed

  • Raspberry Pi (any model)
  • Raspberry Pi Sense HAT
  • MicroSD card (8GB or larger)
  • Power supply for Raspberry Pi

The Sense HAT neatly stacks on top of the Raspberry Pi via the 40-pin GPIO header. That’s all the hardware you need to get started!

Software Setup

Before we can start coding, we need to get the Raspberry Pi ready with the correct software:

Enable I2C Interface

The Sense HAT communicates with the Raspberry Pi over the I2C interface. So first we need to enable I2C in the Raspberry Pi configuration.

To do this, launch Raspberry Pi Configuration from the desktop menu, go to the Interfaces tab, and enable I2C. Reboot for the changes to take effect.

Install Sense HAT Libraries

Next we need to install the Python libraries for the Sense HAT. Open a terminal window and enter:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install sense-hat

This installs the Sense HAT library and dependencies.

Set Timezone

It’s important to set the correct timezone on the Raspberry Pi so the clock displays the accurate time:

sudo raspi-config

Go to Localisation Options > Change Timezone and set to your timezone.

Now the Pi is ready to start coding our clock!

Coding the Python Script

With the setup complete, we can now write a Python script to display the time on the Sense HAT’s 8×8 LED matrix.

Here are the key steps involved:

1. Import Modules

We need to import the Sense HAT module, time, and datetime modules:


from sense_hat import SenseHat

import time

from datetime import datetime

2. Initialise Sense HAT

Create a SenseHat object to interact with the board:


sense = SenseHat()

3. Define Functions

We need a function to draw each digit 0-9 on the LED matrix:


def draw_digit(digit):

  # Code to display digit goes here

And a function to draw separators : and .


def draw_sep():

  # Code to display separator goes here

4. Main Loop

The main clock loop will run continuously updating the time display:


while True:

  # Get current time 

  current_time = datetime.now().strftime(“%H:%M:%S”)

  # Extract hours, minutes, seconds

  hours = current_time[0:2]

  minutes = current_time[3:5]

  seconds = current_time[6:8

  # Display time on LED matrix









   Small delay


This loop runs every 0.1 seconds, gets the current time, splits it into hours, minutes and seconds, then calls the draw functions to display the time.

The full code can be found on GitHub here.

Customizing the Look

By default, the digits are drawn in white but we can easily customize the colors and effects.

The Sense HAT module provides tools to set any RGB color, animate the display, and more.

Set Single Color

To make the entire clock red:


sense.clear(255, 0, 0)

Replace with R, G, B values between 0-255.

Cycle Colors

We can cycle between colors by updating the RGB value each loop iteration:


r = 0

g = 0 

b = 255

while True:

  # Set color

  sense.clear(r, g, b)

  # Update color values

  b -= 1

  if b == 0:

    r += 1

    b = 255

  if r == 255:

    g += 1

    r = 0

   Rest of clock code

This cycles from blue to purple to red continuously.

Animate Display

For a fun effect, we can animate the digits sliding into place each update:


X_offset = 0

while True

   Animate X offset

  X_offset -= 1

  if X_offset < 8:

    X_offset = 8

   Draw digits with offset

  draw_digit(hours[0], X_offset)

  draw_digit(hours[1], X_offset)


   Update clock


The X_offset gives the sliding animation effect. We can create animations in any direction.

With some creativity, you can make all sorts of unique clocks! The Sense HAT provides access to other sensors as well, so you could vary colors based on temperature, humidity, orientation, and more.

Complete Code

Here is the full code listing for a basic Sense HAT digital clock with red digits:


from SenseHat import SenseHat

import time

from datetime import datetime

sense = SenseHat()


def draw_digit(n, color=(255,0,0)):

   Code to draw digits 0-9

def draw_sep(color=(255,0,0)):

   Code to draw : and .

while True:

  current_time = datetime.now().strftime(“%H:%M:%S”)

  hours = current_time[0:2]

  minutes = current_time[3:5]

  seconds = current_time[6:8]  


  draw_digit(hours[0], (255,0,0))

  draw_digit(hours[1], (255,0,0))


  draw_digit(minutes[0], (255,0,0)) 

  draw_digit(minutes[1], (255,0,0))


  draw_digit(seconds[0], (255,0,0))

  draw_digit(seconds[1], (255,0,0))


This provides a simple red digital clock on the Sense HAT! You can expand on it further by:

  • Customizing colors
  • Adding animations
  • Responding to orientation/environmental sensors
  • Showing date and temperature
  • And more!

Key Takeaways

  • The Raspberry Pi Sense HAT is a versatile add-on that enables many DIY projects like a digital clock.
  • Setting up the hardware and software is straightforward with a Raspberry Pi and Sense HAT.
  • Python provides access to the Sense HAT API to easily write scripts.
  • The 8×8 LED grid can display digits, text, graphics and animations.
  • With creativity you can customize the look, animations, data displayed, and interactions.
  • This digital clock is just one example – the possibilities are endless with Sense HAT!


Building a Raspberry Pi Sense HAT digital clock is an enjoyable electronics project that also provides a useful finished product. With a bit of coding knowledge and hardware tinkering, you can create your own customized clock with unique effects and features.

The Sense HAT add-on board opens up many possibilities for DIY makers. Beyond just telling time, the capabilities of the board let you monitor environmental data like temperature and motion, create games and animations with the LED grid, and more.

Hopefully this guide gave you a good starting point for creating your own Sense HAT clock or other chronometer projects. The hardware and software setup is easy to replicate, then you can spend your time personalizing the design. Let your imagination run wild to make something practical and fun!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Does the Sense HAT work with all Raspberry Pi models?
A: Yes, the Sense HAT is compatible with any 40-pin Raspberry Pi including A+, B+, 2B, 3B, and Zero models.

Q: Can I display other things besides a clock on the Sense HAT?
A: Absolutely! The LED grid can display text, graphics, animations, sensor data, games, and more. Check out various Sense HAT projects online for ideas.

Q: How accurate is the Sense HAT’s on-board clock?
A: The RTC chip is accurate to within 1 second typically. Be sure to set your timezone properly for maximum accuracy.

Q: Can I mount the Sense HAT on the wall when finished?
A: Yes, you can power the Pi and Sense HAT from a USB power pack and affix to a wall or display stand for a nice wall clock.

Q: Do I need to solder or assemble anything for the Sense HAT?
A: Nope, the Sense HAT comes fully assembled and just stacks on top of the Raspberry Pi board. No soldering required.

Q: Can I add buttons or controls to the Sense HAT?
A: You can connect external buttons or controls like a rotary encoder to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins to interact with your program.

Q: How do I set custom colors on the Sense HAT LED display?
A: You can set each LED pixel RGB value individually, or fill the whole display with a color using the sense.clear(R, G, B) function.

Q: Is there a Sense HAT app I can download to get started quickly?
A: There are some basic Sense HAT apps in the Raspberry Pi store, but for full custom projects you’ll need to code your own Python script.

Q: Can I connect other LED or LCD displays instead of the built-in Sense HAT display?
A: Not easily – the Sense HAT library is designed for the onboard 8×8 LED grid. You would need to rewrite code for external displays.

Q: How much power does the Sense HAT and Raspberry Pi use for a clock?
A: Just a few watts max, so no worries about energy usage. A basic phone charger can power it.

Q: Can I add a battery pack for portable operation?
A: Yes, you can power the Pi + Sense HAT from any 5V USB battery pack for a transportable clock.

Q: Are there any cases that fit both the Pi and Sense HAT together?
A: Some third party cases available accommodate the Sense HAT stacked on the Pi. Or you can make your own case to fit.

Q: What programming language options are available for the Sense HAT?
A: Python is the main option, with libraries available for C and JavaScript as well. Python is easiest for beginners.

Q: Is any soldering required for connecting the Sense HAT?
A: Nope, the header pins allow it to stack directly onto the Pi without any soldering needed.

Q: Can I have text scroll across the LED display?
A: Definitely! You can create scrolling text banners, marquee effects, and animations using Python scripting.

Q: Can the Sense HAT display show images?
A: Yes, you can show bitmapped images on the 8×8 LED grid. Convert images to 8×8 pixel format.

Q: How durable is the Sense HAT hardware?
A: The acrylic construction is pretty sturdy. Avoid excessive vibration, heat, or force which could crack the board.

Q: Is there example code for Sense HAT projects I can reference?
A: There are many code examples online showing how to draw graphics, display sensor data, and more. Great for learning!

Q: Are there any troubleshooting guides if I have issues getting the Sense HAT working?
A: The Raspberry Pi documentation has extensive Sense HAT troubleshooting tips such as checking connections, software settings, etc.

Q: Can I connect other sensors or hardware to the Raspberry Pi?
A: Yes, via the GPIO pins you can connect all kinds of LEDs, buttons, sensors, motors and more to expand your projects.

Q: Where can I buy a Raspberry Pi Sense HAT?
A: Directly from Raspberry Pi, their distributors, or electronics retailers like Adafruit, SparkFun, CanaKit, Amazon, etc.

Q: Is any Linux knowledge required to use the Sense HAT?
A: A little – how to navigate files, edit text files, run commands in the terminal. But beginners can pick it up fast.

Q: Does the Sense HAT work with Raspberry Pi Pico or Zero models?
A: Unfortunately no – the Sense HAT requires the 40-pin header which the Pico and Zero boards lack.

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