The Nixie Tube Killer That Never Was

With the wealth of Nixie projects out there, there are points at which Hackaday is at risk of becoming Nixieaday. Nixie clocks, Nixie calculators, Nixie weather stations, and Nixie power meters have all graced our pages. And with good reason – Nixie tubes have a great retro look, and the skills needed to build a driver are a cut above calculating the right value for a series resistor for an LED display.

But not everyone loved Nixies back in the day, and some manufacturers did their best to unseat the venerable cold cathode tubes. [Fran Blanche] came across one of these contenders, a tiny cathode ray tube called the Nimo, and after a long hiatus in storage, she decided to put the tube to the test. After detailing some of the history of the Nimo and its somewhat puzzling marketing — its manufacturer, IEE, was already making displays to compete with Nixies, and seven-segment LEDs were on the rise at the time — [Fran] goes into the dangerous details of driving the display. With multiple supply voltages required, including a whopping 1,700 V DC for the anode, the Nimo was anything but trivial to integrate into products, which probably goes a long way to explaining why it never really caught on.

If you happen to have one of these little bits of solid unobtanium, [Fran]’s video below will go a long way to bringing back its ghostly green glow. You might say that [Fran] has a thing for oddball technologies of the late 60s — after all, she’s recreating the Apollo DSKY electroluminescent display, and she recently helped a model Sputnik regain its voice.

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Ben Franklin’s Weak Motor and Other Forgotten Locomotion

Most of the electric motors we see these days are of the electromagnetic variety, and for good reason: they’re powerful. But there’s a type of motor that was invented before the electromagnetic one, and of which there are many variations. Those are motors that run on high voltage, and the attraction and repulsion of charge, commonly known as electrostatic motors.

Ben Franklin — whose electric experiments are most frequently associated with flying a kite in a thunderstorm — built and tested one such high-voltage motor. It wasn’t very powerful, but was good enough for him to envision using it as a rotisserie hack. Food is a powerful motivator.

What follows is a walk through the development of various types of these motors, from the earliest ion propelled ones to the induction motors which most have never heard of before, even an HV hacker such as yours truly.

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Portable Jacob’s Ladder for When…You Know… You Need a Portable Jacob’s Ladder

When do you need a portable Jacob’s Ladder? We don’t know, but apparently [mitxela] doesn’t want to leave home (or the laboratory) without one. So he built a portable unit that works for a few minutes on a battery. In the video (see below), he says he wouldn’t presume to claim it was the smallest Jacob’s Ladder ever, but he thought it might be a contender.

The battery is a LiPo cell and although it might last up to four minutes, [mitxela] points out that the transistors probably wouldn’t survive that much on time, despite the heat sinks he put in place. The whole device is 45mm square and 17mm thick. Of course, the wires add some height (about 150mm total).

We were hoping to see more of the insides, but we presume this uses one of the cheap high voltage modules you can procure from the usual Far East sources–or, at least–it could. The rest is just laser cutting and workmanship.

If you haven’t encountered them before (outside of old monster movies), a Jacob’s Ladder lets high voltage ionize the air down at the bottom of the narrow gap. The ionized air is hot and rises, and the current flows through it, despite the electrodes getting further apart. Of course, that means you shouldn’t put on in your zero-gee space station.

You might think a portable Jacob’s ladders is unique. Turns out, it isn’t. If you want something easy (and perhaps not as portable), you can’t get much easier than this one.

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BAMF: Hard Drive Platter Launcher Among All-Time Favorites

The hard drive platter launcher that [Krux] built has been among my all-time favorite builds and I am so excited that he is showing it off at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire. At its core the concept is quite simple; dump a large amount of current through a coil all at once, and the magnetic current generated spontaneously repels the aluminum hard drive platter. The devil is in the details and this is where [Krux’s] work really shines.

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Little eBay Tesla Coil Gets an Upgrade

Like so many of the projects we feature, this one started with a cheap eBay module purchase. In this case, it was a little Tesla coil that made decent sized arcs but wasn’t quite good enough. The result was a super-sized solid state Tesla coil with better results and room to grow.

As [GreatScott!] discovered, the little eBay Tesla coil has a pretty neat design. The exciter is a Slayer circuit, a super simple one-transistor design. His reverse engineering revealed that the primary coil is simply a loop trace on the PCB under the secondary coil. Sadly, his attempt to replace the primary and reproduce the Slayer exciter resulted in anemic performance. What’s a hacker to do in that case except build a bigger coil? Much bigger — like “build your own winding jig” bigger. Twelve hundred secondary turns and an appropriately menacing-looking primary later, the results were — still anemic. It turns out the Slayer is just not up to the task. He turned to an inverter circuit that was previously used in a wireless energy transfer circuit, and we finally get to see a little of the Tesla coil magic. But wait! There’s more to come, as future videos will tweak the circuit and optimize the coil for better performance.

It’s no surprise that Tesla coils are a popular project around here, especially the musical kinds, from the tiny to the large. Music doesn’t seem to be on [GreatScott!]’s mind, though, and we’ll be watching with interest to see where he takes this build.

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Laser Surgery: Expanding the Bed of a Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

Don’t you just hate it when you spend less than $400 on a 40-watt laser cutter and it turns out to have a work area the size of a sheet of copy paper? [Kostas Filosofou] sure did, but rather than stick with that limited work envelope, he modified his cheap K40 laser cutter so it has almost five times the original space.

The K40 doesn’t make any pretenses — it’s a cheap laser cutter and engraver from China. But with new units going for $344 on eBay now, it’s almost a no-brainer. Even with its limitations, you’re still getting a 40-watt CO2 laser and decent motion control hardware to play with. [Kostas] began the embiggening by removing the high-voltage power supply from its original space-hogging home to the right of the work area. With that living in a new outboard enclosure, a new X-Y gantry of extruded aluminum rails and 3D-printed parts was built, and a better exhaust fan was installed. Custom mirror assemblies were turned, better fans were added to the radiator, and oh yeah — he added a Z-axis to the bed too.

We’re sure [Kostas] ran the tab up a little on this build, but when you’re spending so little to start with, it’s easy to get carried away. Speaking of which, if you feel the need for an even bigger cutter, an enormous 100-watt unit might be more your style.

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Wirelessly Charge Your Phone From High Voltage Power Lines

Using nothing more than an antenna, a spark plug, a flyback transformer, a diode, and a car phone charger, [Kreosan] have implemented the world’s most dangerous cell-phone charger: wirelessly charging their phone from high voltage power lines. This is a demonstration of a hack that we thought was just an urban legend, but it’s probably best to leave this as just a demo — this one is probably illegal and definitely dangerous.

The charger works by holding an old TV aerial fairly close to high voltage overhead cables, and passing the resulting tiny current through a spark plug and a flyback transformer to ground. To charge the phone, they tapped the transformer, rectified it through a diode, and fed it into a car-plug phone charger. [Kreosan] claims to harvest enough “free” electricity to charge the phone. (Where by “free”, we mean stolen from the electric grid.)

If you regularly find yourself running out of charge and like a bit of danger why not make a power bank that looks like a bomb instead. Sure we don’t advise you take it on a plane but it seems like a much safer option than using overhead power lines.

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