Nixies and Raspis for a Modern Vintage Calculator

There are a few very rare and very expensive calculators with Nixie tube displays scattered about calculator history, but so far we haven’t seen someone build a truly useful Nixie calculator from scratch. [Scott] did just that. It’s a complete, fully-functional electronic calculator with all the functions you would expect from a standard scientific calculator.

The calculator uses IN-12 Nixies, the standard for anyone wanting to build a clock or other numerical neon discharge display. Each Nixie is controlled by a K155D driver chip, with the driver chip controlled by an I2C IO expander.

The keypad is where this gets interesting; electronics are one thing, but electromechanicals and buttons are a completely new source of headaches. [Scott] ended up using Cherry MX Blue switches, one of the more common switches for mechanical keyboards. By using a standard keyboard switch [Scott] was able to get custom keycaps made for each of the buttons on his calculator.

The brains of the calculator is a Raspberry Pi, with the I2C pins going off to listen in on the several IO expanders on the device. A Raspi might be a little overkill, but an Internet-connected calculator does allow [Scott] to send calculations off to WolframAlpha, or even the copy of Mathematica included in every Pi.

[Scott] has put his project up on Kickstarter. Videos below.

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World’s Largest “Nixie” Clock at World Maker Faire

World Maker Faire was host to some incredible projects. Among the favorites was Nixie Rex [YouTube Link]. Nixie Rex is actually a Panaplex display, since it’s glow comes from 7 planer segments rather than 10 stacked wire digits. One thing that can’t be contested is the fact that Rex is BIG. Each digit is nearly 18 inches tall!

Nixie Rex was created by [Wayne Strattman]. Through his company Strattman Design, [Wayne] supplies lighting effects such as plasma globes and lightning tubes to the museums and corporations. Nixie Rex’s high voltage drive electronics were created by [Walker Chan], a PHD student at MIT. Believe it tor not the entire clock runs on an ATmega328P based Arduino. The digits are daisy chained from the arduino using common Ethernet cables and RJ45 connectors. A Sparkfun DS1307 based real-time clock module ensures the Arduino keeps accurate time.

[Wayne] and Rex were located in “The Dark Room” at Maker Faire, home to many LED and low light projects. The dim lighting certainly helped with the aesthetics, but it did make getting good photos of the clock difficult. Long time Hackaday tipster [Parker] graciously provided us with a size reference up above.

Click past the break to see a closeup of that awesome cathode glow, and a video of the Nixie Rex  in action.

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The State-Based Nixie Multimeter

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Instead of numbers the IN-15A Nixie tube has symbols, specifically n, μ, P, -, +, m, M, k, Π, and %. The related IN-15B Nixie has letters: A, F, H, Hz, Ω, S, V, and W. These should look familiar to you. [kittan] decided it would be really cool to have a Nixie-equipped multimeter, and since he’s going retro fabulous anyway, he might as well make his multimeter controllerless, with discrete logic and comparator ICs. It’s a state-based Nixie multimeter, and it’s going to be freakin’ awesome.

The basic plan of the multimeter is a precision 1V voltage reference, a bunch of opamps, and a ton of resistors to form a ladder All the opamps in each decade are XOR’d together, so when one of the ten comparators for each decade stage is tripped, only one number will display on the (numeric) Nixie tube.

With a reasonable plan for measuring a voltage, it’s not too hard to expand the design for other measurements. V=IR, so with a constant current, V=R. The same equation can be used with a fixed resistance to determine current. Capacitance can be measured by comparing the change in charge of a known capacitor. Inductance, conductance, power, and frequency are all planned for this monster of a multimeter.

The initial PCB design is completed (and shown above) and it’s theoretically possible to do on a single-sided board with a minimum of jumpers. An amazing project, and even though you could probably find a similar, ancient meter in a trash heap or on a collector’s shelf, this is by far one of the best Nixie projects we’ve ever seen.

 

Custom Nixie Tube PSU is a Lesson in Good PCB Design

Nixie HVPSU

[Jan Rychter] was sick and tired of not being able to find the right power supply for his Nixie tube projects, so he decided to design his own. [Jan] started out designing around the MAX1771 (PDF) DC-DC controller, but quickly discovered he was having stability problems. Even after seven board revisions, he was still experiencing uncontrolled behavior. He ended up abandoning the MAX1171 and switching to the Texas Instruments TPS40210. After three more board designs, he finally has something that works for him. [Jan] admits that his design is likely not perfect (could have fooled us!), but he wanted to release it to the world as Open-Source Hardware to give back to the community.

The end result of [Jan’s] hard work is a 5cm x 5cm board that generates four separate output voltages from a single 12V source. These include both a 3.3V and 5V output for digital logic as well as a 220V out put for Nixie tubes and a 440V maximum output for dekatrons. The circuit also features several safety features including over-current protection, thermal shutdown, and slow-start. Be sure to check out [Jan’s] webpage to view out the schematics and technical information for this awesome circuit.

Need some Nixie tubes to go with that circuit? We know some resources for you to check out. Or you could always just build your own. How can you use this board in your next project?

EL Wire Nixie Tube is in your Reach

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Nixie tubes are awesome, but sometimes a little out of reach for some makers, whether it is a matter of obtaining them, or figuring out how to drive them. The hackerspace over at H3 Laboratories decided to try making a fun alternative — EL wire nixie tubes.

[Marty] leads us through the build in a very detailed Instructable, which makes use of CoolNeon EL wire. He’s using an Arduino Uno with a CoolNeon shield to control it. The trickiest part of this build is forming the numbers to minimize the overlap — to figure this out he modeled it in Blender. He created a test jig and formed the numbers using coat hanger wire first before playing around with the EL wire.

EL wire can be soldered together — it’s just a bit of a fine art, which is explained in another detailed Instructable. To black out parts of the number and the trailing wires, [Marty] made use of black plastic dip. The numbers are mounted on a Styrofoam cylinder which fits into the bottom of a large masonry jar. It’s a great build and a fun project to get into Nixies … without actually getting into Nixies.

Stick around for a video of it in operation.

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Nixie-ify Me Necklace

big-nixie

[Armilar] wanted to cheer up his friend who was going through a rough spot at the time — she really likes Dieselpunk, so he decided to improvise a Dieselpunk themed photo shoot for her. We’re assuming they had other costumes and props, but [Armilar] had this idea to make a nixie tube pendant for a while, he’d just have to expedite the build process to have it ready!

What he managed to whip up the day of the shoot looks amazing considering the time involved, if not just a little bit ill-advised. There may or may not be 200VAC running around his friend’s neck.

He’s using an electroluminescent driver rated for 5VDC to 100VAC, over-powered to 12VDC, resulting in about 200VAC, which is just enough to make the nixie glow a nice warm orange. In an effort to minimize the size of the pendant, he had to keep the battery and driver hanging off the back of the necklace.

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Retro Modern Nixie Clock

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[Reboots] is a humble hacker who enjoys nixie tubes. So when he saw an old General Electric battery charger for sale at a hamfest, he thought: “that case would make a nice clock…”

He was first exposed to nixie tube clocks a few years ago when his brother gave him a DIY nixie clock kit from [Peter Jensen’s] website TubeClock.com — it was an easy build, and worked very well. It also introduced him to a unique driver for nixie tubes, an HV5622 high-voltage shift register made by Supertex inc. Compared to the traditional (and rare) 74141 nixie driver chips or discrete transistor drivers, the HV5622 is much smaller, requires less microcontroller I/O’s, and is not as picky when it comes to powering it.

The nixie tubes he chose for the project came from a lot sale on eBay, Russian surplus IN-12 tubes. He even managed to find an english datasheet for them!

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