Mystery Nixie Clock From 2001: A Space Odyssey, And Pulsar

Every now and then something old comes along which we’re surprised has never been on Hackaday. That’s especially the case here since it includes nixie tubes and is a clock, two things beloved here by many. Then again, it’s not a hack, but it just should be (hint hint).

This clock’s origins are a bit of a mystery. As detailed in [Asto_Vidatu]’s Reddit post, he found it when cleaning out his mother’s garage. Larger photos of the clock internals are on his imgur page and are sure to delight and intrigue you. It looks very much like a clock widely thought to be the one which the Hamilton Watch Company made for Stanley Kubrick. In 1966, Kubrick commissioned Hamilton to make a futuristic looking clock and watches for his upcoming movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. The watches appear in the movie on the wrists of the astronauts but the clock was left on the cutting room floor. After the movie was made, Kubrick gave the clock back to Hamilton, and it ended up in the possession of [Asto_Vidatu]’s grandfather, who worked on the team which made the clock.

All this might lead you to think that this is the clock made for the movie, instead of the one with the name Hamilton on it but the name Pulsar is thought to have been dreamed up around the time the movie came out. So where did it come from? Was it a hack by [Asto_Vidatu]’s grandfather or others at Hamilton? Was it a product which Hamilton had worked on, or perhaps a marketing gimmick for the Pulsar watch?

There’s one thing we do know, this is crying out for a modern remake. If you can find some nixie tubes then perhaps these driver boards will help. Or maybe do it with nixie tube lookalikes, such as these edge-lit acrylic digits.

ESP-Powered Nixie Clock Knows the Time

We see more than our fair share of nixie clocks here at Hackaday, and it’s nice to encounter one that packs some clever features. [VGC] designed his nixie tube clock to use minimal energy to operate: it needs only 5V via USB to work, and draws a mere 200 mA. Nixies require Soviet-approved 180v to trigger, so [VGC] used dynamic indication and a step-up voltage converter to run them, with a 74141 nixie decoder doing the heavy lifting.

The brains of the project is an ESP8266, which connects to his house’s WiFi automatically. The clock simply dials into an NTP server and sets its own time, so no RTC is needed. It also can communicate with the cloud via Telegram, allowing the clock to send alerts to [VGC]’s devices. The ESP’s firmware may likewise be updated over WiFi. The 3D-printed case and flashing second indicators are nice touches on top of the clock functionality.

As we said, everything from wrist watches to dashboard tachometers uses nixies for displays — we love those old-skool tubes!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: IoT Nixie Clocks

Nixie clocks are the in thing right now, and they have been for at least a decade. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [mladen] is bringing things into the 21st century with a USB-powered, IoT Nixie clock. It displays the time, temperature, the current cryptocurrency price in fiat, your current number of Twitter followers, the number of updoots on your latest reddit meme, or anything else that can be expressed as four digits.

This Nixie clock uses four IN-12B tubes, with the dot, which are more or less standard when it comes to small Nixie clocks. These tubes are mounted directly to a PCB, which is in turn mounted at 90 degrees to the main board, providing a slim form factor for the machined wood or aluminum enclosure.

The control electronics are built around the ESP8266, with a handy USB connection providing the power and a serial connection. A BQ3200 real time clock keeps the time with the help of a supercapacitor. The killer feature here is a piezo sensor to detect taps on the enclosure. Hit the clock once, and it displays the time. Hit it two times, and the current balance of your bitcoin wallet is displayed. It’s a great project, and [mladen] is hoping to turn this project into a product and put it up on Crowdsupply soon. All in all, a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

Slimline Nixie Clocks

Everyone needs to build a Nixie clock at some point. It’s a fantastic learning opportunity; not only do you get to play around with high voltages and tooobs, but there’s also the joy of sourcing obsolete components and figuring out the mechanical side of electronic design as well. [wouterdevinck] recently took up the challenge of building a Nixie clock. Instead of building a clock with a huge base, garish RGB LEDs, and other unnecessary accouterments, [wouter] is building a minimalist clock. It’s slimline, and a work of art.

The circuit for this Nixie clock is more or less what you would expect for a neon display project designed in the last few years. The microcontroller is an ATMega328, with a Maxim DS3231 real time clock providing the time. The tubes are standard Russian IN-14 Nixies with two IN-3 neon bulbs for the colons. The drivers are two HV5622 high voltage shift registers, and the power supply is a standard, off-the-shelf DC to DC module that converts 5 V from a USB connector into the 170 V DC the tubes require.

The trick here is the design. The electronics for this clock were designed to fit in a thin base crafted out of sheets of bamboo plywood. The base is a stackup of three 3.2mm thick sheets of plywood and a single 1.6 mm piece that is machined on a small desktop CNC.

Discounting the wristwatch, this is one of the thinnest Nixie clocks we’ve ever seen and looks absolutely fantastic. You can check out the video of the clock in action below, or peruse the circuit design and code for the clock here.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Obsolete Time Lite

There are very few constants in the world of home-made electronics. Things that you might have found on the bench of a mid-1960s engineer working with germanium PNP transistors just as much as you might find on the bench of one in 2017 working on 32-bit microcontrollers. One of these constants is the humble Altoids tin. The ubiquitous mint container is as handy a size for the transistor circuits of previous decades as it is for the highly integrated circuits of today, and has become something of a standard form factor.

One thing you might not expect in an Altoids tin though is a vacuum tube, even one protruding through the lid. [opeRaptor] though has done just that, though, with a very nicely executed design for a NIXIE clock in your favorite mint container. We’re writing this up as a Hackaday Prize entry so at this stage in the competition the boards are still in design for the prototype, but the difficult power supply to make 180 V DC from a single cell is already proven to work, as it the clock circuitry. The final clock will be a very compact device given the size of the tin, and will contain an ESP8266 board for wireless network connectivity.

For a project at this early stage, there is frustratingly little real work to go on aside from some renders, but there is at least a video showing the PSU working driving a NIXIE, which we’ve put below the break.

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Hackaday Links: September 20, 2015

Here’s an offer from Intel and the guy behind all of reality TV [Mark Burnett]: win a million dollars for making something. Pitch an idea for wearable electronics to the producers by October 2, and you might be on a reality TV show about building electronics which they’re calling America’s Greatest Makers. With this, Intel is promoting the Curie module a tiny, tiny SoC with Bluetooth, IMU, and DSP functions. We’re of the opinion that a Hackaday reader should win this contest, or at the very least be featured prominently in the show. No, it’s not Junkyard Wars, but it’s still a million dollar prize.

[Jeremy] builds bombs clocks, and he has a Kickstarter for an interesting Nixie clock. Most Nixie tubes have digits, but [Jeremy] is using the IN-9 ‘bar’ tubes for the hour and minute hand.

The Luka EV is a semifinalist for the Hackaday Prize, and a completely open, road legal electric vehicle powered by hub motors. It also looks really, really cool.  Now, they’re selling them. It’s €20,000 for a complete car. Did I mention how cool it looks?

Boca Bearings is having a ‘Show Us Your Workshop’ contest, with the best (or should it be worst?) workshop winning tool cabinets, tool kits, a work mat, and calipers.

The EMU Drumulator is a classic drum machine that featured dirty 12-bit drum sounds in ROM. Now, it’s a single chip thanks to [Jan]. He’s done a lot of great work putting synths in single chips, and it’s great to see him move on to classic drum machines.

Offered without comment, here’s a ride through a PCB.

Unusual Nixie Tubes Lead to Unique Clock

There’s no doubting the appeal of Nixie tubes. The play of the orange plasma around the cathodes through the mesh anode and onto the glass envelope can be enchanting, and the stacking of the symbols in the tube gives a depth to the display that is unlike any other technology. So when [Ian] found a set of six tubes on eBay at a fire sale price, he couldn’t resist picking them up and incorporating them into a unique but difficult to read Nixie clock.

It turns out the set of tubes [Ian] ordered were more likely destined for a test instrument than a clock, displaying symbols such a “Hz”, “V” and “Ω”. Initially disappointed with his seemingly useless purchase, [Ian] put his buyer’s remorse aside and built his clock anyway. Laser-cut acrylic, blue LEDs under the tube for a glow effect, a battery-backed RTC talking to an ATmega328, and the appropriate high-voltage section lead to a good-looking and functional clock, even if [Ian] himself needs a cross-reference chart to read the time. You’ll be able to figure out at the whole character set after watching the video after the break; spoiler alert: sensibly enough, Ω maps to 0.

We’ve seen lots of Nixie projects before, but few as unique as [Ian]’s clock.

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