Nixie suduku and on-die LEDs

The best booths at Maker Faire draw you in with something unbelievably cool or ridiculously absurd, and bring out a state-of-the-art technology just as your curiosity for the main feature starts to wane. [John Sarik]’s booth for a class he’s TAing at Columbia – Modern Display Science and Technology – is one of these booths.

The main feature of the booth is a suduku board filled with 81 Nixie tubes. As shown in the video below, you control the cursor (the decimal point of the Nixies) with a pair of pots. After moving the cursor to the desired location, there’s a keypad to change the number at any one of the 81 locations on a suduku puzzle.

[John]’s presentation then continued to what he’s working on up at Columbia: he’s working on a project to put arrays of LEDs onto silicon, just like any other integrated circuit. He demoed a small LED display built in to a DIP-40 package with a glass (or maybe quartz) window. Yes, it’s a really tiny LED matrix display with a pixel pitch probably much smaller than a traditional LCD display.

Video of the suduku machine after the break, as well as a gallery of the LED matrix on a chip. The matrix was very hard to photograph, so if [John] would be so kind as to send a few more pics in, we’ll be happy to put them up. There’s also a proper video from [John]’s YouTube showing off the Nixie Suduku puzzle solving itself with a recursive algorithm.

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It was only a matter of time before we saw Nixie modules for the Arduino

The Nixie tube, a neon-filled tube with a series of 10 cathodes shaped like numerals, is a classic display for any build wanting a unique, vintage, or steampunk aesthetic. We shouldn’t be surprised a factory in China is now turning out Arduino-compatable Nixie modules (English translation, but don’t get your hopes up), but there it is.

The modules are based on the QS30-1 Nixie tube capable of displaying the digits 0 through 9, and include an RGB LED behind the tube for some nice additional illumination. According to the manual, the modules themselves are based on a pair of 74HC595 shift registers, and are ‘stackable.’ By applying 12 volts to a pair of pins and connecting another 5 wires to an Arduino, it’s possible to drive as many of these Nixie modules as you’d like.

[Paul Craven] got his hands on a quartet of these modules and is planning on building a steampunk style alarm clock as a personal project. [Paul] was able to get the modules up and running fairly quickly, as seen after the break.

While they’re most certainly not the cheapest option, if you’re planning a build with Nixies, this probably is the easiest way to get a vintagey, steampunkey numerical display.

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How about a nice game of Nixie chess?

[Tony] sent in a Nixie tube chess set he’s been working on, and we’re just floored with the quality of this build. The chess pieces glow without any visible wires, the board is extremely elegant with touches of gilding and brass, and extremely well designed using (mostly) materials and components contemporary to the old Russian Nixie tubes.

Instead of numeric Nixies, [Tony] chose IN-7 and IN-7A tubes originally made to display scientific symbols such as A, V, and ~. To power the these tubes, [Tony] used 64 air-core transformers underneath each square on the chess board, allowing these Nixie tubes to be powered just like an induction charger.

Even though his blog posts are a little thin on details, we’ve got to hand it to [Tony] for an amazing build. He says there will be a kit available that includes a gigantic PCB, but we wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how much that will cost.

You can check out a pair of videos of the Nixie chess set in action after the break.

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Closing in on Nixie cuff links

It’s not Nixie cuff links yet, but we’re seeing a lot of potential for a few very classy accoutrements with [thouton]’s Nixie tube necklace.

The build was inspired by this much clunkier necklace that found its way onto the MAKE blog. Unlike the previous necklace, [thouton] used a much smaller Mullard ZM1021 indicator bulb. Instead of the normal 0-9 digits in a Nixie, this tube displays only A V Ω + - % and ~, betraying its pedigree as part of the display from an ancient multimeter.

To power the bulb, [thouton] is using a single AA battery and a boost converter salvaged from a camera flash unit. All the circuitry is on a little piece of perfboard encased in a handsome aluminum tube. Power is delivered through two terminals with a bit of audio cable standing in as the chain of the necklace. We suppose this could be re-engineered to use a coin cell battery; although a coin cell doesn’t offer as many amp hours as a AA cell, [thouton] is confident the AA will last for a few days. A coin cell would be more than enough for a night on the town, though.

Edge-lit Nixie tube is sheer brilliance

It’s not often that we see something so brilliantly simple we’re left reaching for our checkbooks while wondering exactly how we never though of that before. [Jürgen]’s edge-lit Nixie display is one of those builds.

[Jürgen]’s modern take on a Nixie display uses ten laser-engraved pieces of acrylic to emulate a Nixie numerical display. In the base of the display are 10 LEDs, each shining onto the side of a piece of acrylic. When an LED lights up, you can clearly see the corresponding number. Edge-lit displays are old hat, but talking about the possibility of an RGB Nixie-style display is really neat.

The build was inspired by an antique edge-lit display that performed the same function as the ever-popular Nixie tube with 10 miniature light bulbs and light pipes. The ancient edge-lit displays came in a rectangular enclosure that worked very well for panel-mount uses, but [Jürgen] stuck to a more traditional cylindrical orientation. All we want to know is when a manufacturer in China is going to start building these. Check out the demo of the edge-lit Nixie after the break.

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Nixie clock exhibits well fabricated metal bezel

[Matt Evans] achieves a total win with his Nixie clock. Not only does he have the benefit of the retro display hardware, but he really catches our eye with the enclosure he built for it.

The project had its genesis when he came across a set of the Nixie Tubes in a surplus store. This was back in 2007, and with parts in hand he built the high-voltage driver circuit and a control board. The thing kept time, but was housed in a temporary case that was a bit rough looking. There it sat, waiting to become the focus of his attention once again.

When it did finally come time to build a proper case [Matt] started with a small sheet of recycled copper. He made the cutouts and bends by hand. He mentions that it’s a little uneven; maybe, but we don’t think it detracts from the design. Some black screen (like would be used on a porch door) covers the openings, giving texture and contrast to the facade.

We love the look, and the ATmega48 with a clock crystal for the RTC functions should make this a reliable time source.

Millivolt meter Nixie clock

Surprisingly, up until a year ago, [Jimmy] hadn’t seen a Nixie tube. Awful we know, but he has come around to the beauty of glowing numbers in a tube. He recently found an old millivolt meter in a junk pile that used Nixie tubes. The wondrous orange glow beckoned him, so [Jimmy] decided to build a clock.

Just about all of the Nixie clocks we’ve seen (including non-clock builds) rely on building a controller for the Nixie tubes. The controllers range from Nixie Arduino shields to the good ‘ol 74141 IC. [Jimmy] realized he didn’t need to bother with controlling the tubes in an already functional millivolt meter – he only needed to send the right voltage.

For his clock build, [Jimmy] used an Arduino to output a voltage through a bunch of resistor dividers. For example, if the time is 12:30, the output voltage will be 12.30mV. Using this technique, the values for the needed resistors don’t exist, so a little bit of PWM means the Arduino keeps fairly good time.

There’s one added bonus of [Jimmy]’s clock – because the voltage varies around 0.01mV, the finished project acts like a digital version of Lord Vetinari’s clock. It may not be perfect, but at least a nice piece of equipment was saved from the trash.