The Hackaday Prize is all about Building Hope. We want to see hardware creators change the world with microcontrollers and breadboards. That’s a noble goal, but it also doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. That’s exactly what [Yann] is doing with a pile of surplus Soviet components, a bunch of bodge wire, and exactly zero transistors. He’s building a hexadecimal display module using only relays and diodes. It’s absurd, but still very very cool.
The inspiration for this build comes from homebrew computing. With this, there’s a recurring problem of displaying the status of a bus. Sure, a bank of LEDs will work, but then you have to count to F. The better solution to this is a hexadecimal display. The best solution to this problem is using Numitrons — seven segment Nixies, basically — and doing it all with relays and diode steering.
This module accepts four bits as an input and uses a clever arrangement of diodes to turn those four signals into the digits 0-F. Yes, it’s hexadecimal, but that’s just what you do when you’re building your own computer.
Right now, [Yann] has one module on a slim-profile protoboard that should stack easily enough for an 8 or even a 16-bit wide bus. That’s four tubes and hundreds of diodes for the 16-bit version, but the good news is all of these modules are identical, vastly simplifying the construction of the display panel of a homebrew computer.
Steampunk is beautiful. There is something about the exposed metal and primitive looking artifacts that visually appeal to the brain of a maker and engineer alike. Makers have been busy the last decade building clocks with this theme because hey, everyone needs a clock. [Fuselage] has put together a Steam Punk Clock that releases actual steam(actually steam oil smoke) for its hourly chime. How cool is that?
The clock is designed around the Conrad C-Control Unit (translated) which has the Motorola 68HC08 and [Fuselage] uses BASIC to write the routines for the system. Unlike a lot of steampunk clocks that use Nixie Tubes, this one uses 4 Numitron displays for the hours and minutes display. An analog dial panel display is employed for the seconds’ and is driven by a PWM signal. The absence of the RTC module was not obvious until we saw that the BOM includes a DCF77 receiver. For the uninitiated, DCF77 is a longwave time signal and standard-frequency radio station in Mainflingen, Germany. If you are anywhere within a 2000 km range of that location, you can pick up a 24-hr time signal for free which is excellent if you plan to make say… a radio clock.
The steam/smoke generator is a subproject of sorts. The custom machine is designed to have a separate oil reservoir and pump in addition to the actual generator so that the system does not run out of fuel as quickly. Clearly [Fuselage] did his homework which is explained in brief in his project logs. The final design has a brass tube as the main heating and also serves as the outlet chamber. The oil is pumped from under the heating filament in the brass tube, and excess fluid drains off back into the reservoir. A piece of nichrome wire serves as the filament that vaporizes the liquid to gaseous form. Sensors make sure of the oil levels in the reservoir as well as the steam tube. Servo motors and fans add the effect of the opening the exhaust rain cap, and a small LED helps illuminate the exhaust to complete the impression of real steam.
The project is a great example of a simple but effective implementation and for those who are wondering about Numitron Tubes, check out this tutorial on the subject. Of course, there is the Giant Electro-mechanical Clock for those looking at more sizable works of art.
Continue reading “Smell That? It’s time.”
There’s a lot to be said for nice, tidy projects where everything lines up and looks pretty. Seeing straight lines and pleasing proportions speaks to our obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and tends to soothe the mind and calm the spirit. But disorder is not without its charm, and mixing it up a little from time to time, such as with this mixed-media digital clock, can be a good idea.
Now, we know what you’re thinking — yet another Nixie clock. True, but that’s only half the story — or more accurately, one-sixth. There’s but a single Nixie in [Fuselage]’s circus-punk themed clock, used for the least significant digit in the hours part of the display. The other digits are displayed with four seven-segment devices — a Numitron, a vacuum fluorescent display, and an LED dot display — plus a real oddball, an old electromechanical display with individual slides for each character and a rear-screen projector. The RTC part of the project is standard Arduino fare, but as you can imagine the power supply needed for such a diversity of displays is pretty complex and has to provide everything from +5 to -270 volts. Each display needs its own driver, too, making this more of a zoo than a circus. The mixed up look just works with the circus theme, too. We’d really like more information on the projector display, though.
Looking for a real statement for your next clock build? Check out the rare as hens’ teeth NIMO tube.
Continue reading “Celebrate Display Diversity for a Circuit Circus Clock”
LED filaments started showing up in light bulbs a few months back. [Mike] discovered that the strips are available in bulk from ebay and Alibaba. Always keen to work with new LED technologies, [Mike] ordered a few for experimenting and posted the results on his [mikeselectricstuff] YouTube channel. He also added the information to his website.
The filaments consist of 28 LEDs connected in series. The blue LEDs are covered by the typical yellow phosphors to make them glow white. It’s interesting to note that some of the filaments use a removable silicone sleeve to hold the phosphor coating, while others are coated with a resin material. The LEDs themselves are bare dies mounted to a metal strip and joined by bond wires. The entire strip can be bent, but be careful, or you’ll break the fragile bond wires.
The strips do require a fair bit of voltage to operate. The entire strip runs best at around 75 and 10~15 mA, while putting out about 1 Watt of light. [Mike] tested a strip to destruction by pumping 40 mA through it. Predictably the strip went out when the bond wires melted. The surprising part was that the strip blinked back on as the wires cooled and re-connected. The strip and wires were working as a temperature controlled switch, similar to the bimetalic strip found in old fashioned “twinkling” incandescent Christmas lights.
Not satisfied with simple tests, [Mike] went on to build a clock using the filaments as elements of a seven segment display. Inspired by numitron and minitron displays, [Mike] built a single sided PCB which held the clock circuit on the bottom and the LED filaments on top. The filaments are spaced off the board by tall wire wrap sockets, which proved to be difficult to keep from shorting out. Texas Instruments TPIC6B595 chips were used to control the LED filaments. Logically the chip functions the same as a 75LS595, which means it can be driven with a SPI bus. The open drain outputs can handle 50 volts – which makes them perfect for this application. The clock is tremendously bright, but there is still a bit of room for improvement. [Mike] notes that the phosphor of un-powered filaments tend to glow a bit due to light absorbed from nearby illuminated filaments. He’s experimenting with color filters to reduce this effect. At full power though, [Mike] says this clock would easily be daylight readable, and we don’t doubt it!
[Mike’s] final test was a bit whimsical – he built a cube entirely from the LED filaments. The cube looks awesome, but we can’t wait to see who will move things into the 4th dimension and build a tesseract!
Continue reading “[Mike] Illuminates us on LED Filaments”
Hackers and makers alike often use whatever’s readily available. Sometimes this is done out of necessity, other times because of the desire to make something work without waiting for parts to ship or some store to open. And many times, we use what we already have simply because it presents a challenge. A couple of years ago, [Alan] made a beautiful clock that combines the lessons he learned from building a word clock with the challenges presented by some IV-9 and IV-16 Numitron tubes he acquired.
This build expanded [Alan]’s horizons while extending the use of his existing tools. The timekeeping is done with a word clock board he had designed previously that can utilize any of three kinds of RTC modules. Further flexibility is evident in the top board, which is designed with double footprints to accommodate through-hole or SMD shift registers and resistors. His current board iteration allows for chaining if you like your time displays long and specific. If the vintage
blue reddish-orange glow of VFDs Numitron tubes offends your eyes for some reason, there’s a dual-footprint for a single-color LED under each tube.
It’s worth mentioning that these are not Nixie tubes, they are
vacuum fluorescent displays (VFD)s Numitron tubes. If you already have or plan to acquire some but don’t know how to drive them, check out this Numitron tutorial we covered a few years back.
Edit: D’oh. As you have pointed out, these are Numitron tubes, not VFDs or Nixies. That is what multitasking will get you. We applaud your vigilance.
[Johannes] wanted to develop an unusual way to display time on a custom wristwatch. LED’s were too common, and mechanical indicators with small engines were too expansive, but Nixie tubes were just right. His design for the Numitron Geekwatch utilized two boards that were soldered together at a right angle, with a 3D printed enclosure made of semi-transparent PLA.
Future designs of this will improve on the button functionality as well as the housing of the wristwatch to protect the fragile tubes from external forces.
After the break is a video (in German) with [Johannes] going through the steps needed to make one of these of your very own:
Continue reading “The Numitron Geekwatch”
The above may look like a Nixie tube, but it’s a Numitron: the Nixie’s lower-voltage friend, and part of [pinomelean’s] single-digit Numitron clock. If you’re unfamiliar with Numitrons, we suggest you take a look at our post from a few years ago, which includes a helpful tutorial to catch you up to speed.
[pinomelean] built this little device to capture a steampunk-ish look on the cheap for a clock small enough to fit on a wrist. The build uses a PIC16F84A uC and a 4MHz crystal on a custom PCB. A small button on the side lets the wearer set the time. Similar to the Vibrating Timepiece from last month, the Numitron clock isn’t perfect, though it is more accurate: gaining only one minute every 3 days.
Check out the video after the break to see it being set and keeping track of the time. It may take a moment to understand how to read the clock, though. Each of the four LEDs indicates where the number in the Numitron tube belongs. The LEDs light in sequence from left to right, displaying the clock one digit at a time.
Continue reading “Single Digit Numitron Clock”