Hackaday Prize Entry: A Programmable Calculator With Nixie Tubes

For [Robert]’s entry into The Hackaday Prize, he’s starting off with some basic questions. What’s better than a Nixie tube? More Nixies. What’s better than a calculator? An RPN calculator. What do you get when you combine the two? A calculator that is absurdly large, even by 1970s desk calculator standards, uses a lot of power, and takes up too much space. Sounds good to us.

Nixies, at least when there are a lot of them, are tricky devices. They only draw about 50mA of current, but they only light up when above 150V. That’s only about seven watts, and it’s easy enough for the Arduino-heads out there to build a circuit to drive a few Nixies for a clock. Driving dozens of Nixies is a bit harder. For [Robert]’s RPN calculator, he’s estimating a little under 50W of power being dumped into this calculator.

With the considerable power considerations taken care of, [Robert] turned his attention to the display board. This is going to be a very impressive build, with 80 IN-12B tubes organized in four stack levels of twenty tubes each. The tubes will be controlled with the Maxim MAX6922 VFD driver. This chip has a serial interface, which means it’s relatively easy to have any microcontroller blink these tubes. And of course, it does double-duty as a clock.

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Nixie Timer is Easy to Read Across the Kitchen

Nixie clocks. Nixie power meters. Nixie thermometers, speedometers, and even Nixies for personal adornment. Is there anything that hasn’t been Nixie-fied? How about a Nixie kitchen timer? Beyond the Nixie tube, this is a great build. Check out the video below the break.

As so often happens with Nixie aficionados, [Kouichi Kuroi] started with tubes and searched for a project to use them on. A wonky kitchen timer provided the thinly veiled excuse for the build – after all, anyone can drop a couple of yen on a commercial replacement, right? The timer features four IN-12 tubes and a large numeric keypad up front on a laser-cut acrylic case. For those who quibble with the keypad’s aesthetics and the wisdom of a Nixie project in the kitchen environment, [Ko] points out that an IP65 keypad would have more than doubled the price of the build, and a little common sense goes a long way to keeping the high-voltage side from meeting anything wet. In addition to countdown capability, the timer can also act as a stopwatch and display the time of day, and the Nixie tubes provide great visibility compared to seven-segment LCD timers.

As for the aforementioned Nixie projects, here’s a clock, power meter, thermometer, speedometer and necklace that we’ve featured before. What’s next for Nixies? We don’t know, but we’re keen to see what you come up with.

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Powering A Lot Of Nixie Tubes

[Limpkin] has an idea for a project that uses a lot of IN-9 Nixie tubes. Where a Nixie tube clock would only use four or six tubes, [Limpkin] is looking at fifty IN-9 bar graph Nixie tubes. These tubes only light up above 100 Volts and draw about half an amp. That’s 64 Watts, according to the math on the project page, so how does [Limpkin] plan on powering these tubes? With a big high voltage power supply.

The power supply [Limpkin] designed is more or less what you would expect to find in any power supply. There’s a transformer, a bunch of caps, and a rectifier. Going with a standard laminated core transformer would mean this power supply would be huge and heavy, but once again eBay comes to the rescue with a small, 150 Watt toroidal transformer. The largest output on the transformer was two 24 V outputs. Combining those outputs gets [Limpkin] to 48V AC, or 68V peak to peak. A full wave voltage doubler with two caps and two diodes gives [Limpkin] the 136V DC that will power the tubes.

Combine the high voltage circuit with a 9V AC tap, a small bridge rectifier, and a few more caps, and [Limpkin] had a supply that would power the tubes and the rest of the electronics in his multiple Nixie tube project. A few passes with a CNC mill gave the power supply a nice case topped off with a foreboding toroidal transformer ready to power a beautiful neon project.

Nixie Thermometer Destined for Custom PC Case

There’s no denying the retro appeal of the warm glow of a set of Nixies, and when a friend was looking for a unique touch for the case of his new liquid-cooled PC, [Luca] pitched in with this sweet Nixie thermometer.

From the look of [Luca]’s detailed blog entries, he’s been at this build since the New Year. He starts with a list of requirements, including the oddly specific need for a round PC board. For the thermometer, three Nixies are enlisted for the display, two for the temperature and one for the units. Everything was prototyped on perf board before committing to a PCB design, but even with careful planning, the Nixie sockets on the final PCB came out a tiny bit too close together. Luckily the tubes still fit, even if they are snuggled together some. And yes, the tube bases all include the hated RGB LEDs – hey, it’s what the customer wanted. The specs are for the colors to change at the touch of a button; we’d like to see a color gradient linked to the temperature – blue for “nice and cool”, red for “leave the room.” You can see the finished thermometer in action below the break.

The recent run of Nixie projects continues unabated, and this one has a nice look that’s sure to complement the finished case. We’ve asked [Luca] to keep us up-to-date on the project, so hopefully we’ll get a look at why a round PCB is needed. While we wait for that, check out an earlier Nixie thermometer build with a bar graph twist.

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Finally, a Power Meter Without Nixies

We’ve had quite a spate of home-brew energy meters on the tip line these days, and that probably reflects a deep inner desire that hackers seem to have to quantify their worlds. Functionally, these meters have all differed, but we’ve noticed a distinct stylistic trend toward the “Nixies and wood” look. Ironically, it is refreshing to see an energy meter with nothing but a spartan web interface for a change.

Clearly, [Tomasz Salwach] had raw data in mind as a design goal, and his Raspberry Pi-based meter delivers. After harvesting current sensing transformers from a bucket of defunct power meter PC boards, [Tomasz] calibrated them with a DIY oscilloscope and wired them and the voltage sensors up to an STM32 Nucleo development board. Data from the MCU goes to the Pi for processing and display as snazzy charts and GUI elements served internally. [Tomasz] was kind enough to include a link to his meter in his tip line post, but asked that we not share it publicly lest HaD readers love the Pi to death. But we can assure you that it works, and it’s kind of fun to peek in on the power usage of a house in Poland in real time.

It’s a nice project that does exactly what it set out to do. But if you missed the recent spate of Nixie-based displays, check out this front hallway meter or this one for a solar-power company CEO’s desk.

Nixie Tubes Adorn Steampunk Solar Power Meter

The appeal of adding Nixie tube displays to a project seems to know no end. First it was Nixie clocks, now it’s Nixie power meters, with the latest addition being this Nixie-Steampunk hybrid solar power monitor.

We’re suckers for a project with a vintage look, and this one pushes all the buttons. Built on commission for a solar power company CEO’s office, [Paul Parry]’s build is based on a Depression-era Metropolitan-Vickers combined voltmeter and ammeter. The huge meters with mirrored scales and the rich wood of the case – our guess is that it’s mahogany – made a great starting point, and after some careful hole drilling, nine IN-18 Nixies were sprouting from the case. A strip of RGB LEDs below decks added the requisite backlighting of the envelopes, and a Raspberry Pi was enlisted to interpret data from the company’s solar farm and drive the tubes and the meters. The project was capped off with a new finish on the case and a couple of fancy brass plaques.

[Paul] sent us the tip for his build after seeing the last power meter we covered, and we have to say they’re both great looking and functional projects. Keep the Nixie projects coming!

Nixie Tube Energy Meter Dresses up Front Hall

When you move into a new house, there’s always something that needs fixing up. A bit of paint and some new drapes may help freshen up the place and put your mark on it, but things like exposed wiring and a very utilitarian looking electrical panel in your front hall are altogether different. Unwilling to live with the mess, [John Whittington] decided to enclose his utility panel and add a Nixie tube IoT watt meter to dress things up while monitoring energy usage.

IMG_8991-e1451227735242Looking at the “before” pictures on [John]’s blog, we can see why he’d want to invest the effort – not exactly an attractive way to greet guests at the front door. A simple wooden box to replace the previous cover would have sufficed, but why pass up the opportunity to add value? [John] opted for a Nixie tube display to complement the glass of the electric meter. The Nixie modules were a bit on the pricey side, though, so with only a pair of tubes to work with, [John] came up with a clever system to indicate the scale of the display. We doubt he’ll ever see megawatt-level instantaneous power draw, but the meter is also capable of totalling energy use, and as a bonus an ESP-8266 gives lets him stream data to the web.

We’ve featured tons of Nixie projects before – everything from clocks to cufflinks. We have to agree that [John]’s Nixie project turned out great, and it’s sure to be a conversation starter with arriving guests.

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