It’s easy to see why LEDs largely won out over neon bulbs for pilot light applications. But for all the practical utility of LEDs, they’re found largely lacking in at least one regard over their older indicator cousins: charm. Where LEDs are cold and flat, the gentle orange glow of a neon lamp brings a lot to the aesthetics party, especially in retro builds.
But looks aren’t the only thing these tiny glow lamps have going for them, and [David Lovett] shows off some of the surprising alternate uses for neon lamps in his new video. He starts with an exploration of the venerable NE-2 bulb, which has been around forever, detailing some of its interesting electrical properties, like the difference between the voltage needed to start the neon discharge and the voltage needed to maintain it. He also shows off some cool neon lamp tricks, like using them for all sorts of multi-vibrator circuits without anything but a few resistors and capacitors added in. The real fun begins when he breaks out the MTX90 tube, which is essentially a cold cathode thyratron. The addition of a simple control grid makes for some interesting circuits, like single-tube multi-vibrators.
The upshot of all these experiments is pretty clear to anyone who’s been following [David]’s channel, which is chock full of non-conventional uses for vacuum tubes. His efforts to build a “hollow state” computer would be greatly aided by neon lamp circuits such as these — not to mention how cool they’d make everything look.
Continue reading “Neon Lamps — Not Just For Pilot Lights”
[WJCarpenter]’s gas water heater uses a small pilot light that needs to stay burning permanently to ignite the main burners as required. Four or five times a year, the pilot light goes out and needs to be manually lit. This involves an expedition from the upstairs bathroom to the basement, always in the early morning, after having spent a few fruitless minutes waiting for hot water. Having grown tired of this exercise, [WJCarpenter] built Water Watcher, a pilot light monitoring system with some ESPs and a light sensor.
Water Watcher consists of an ESP8266 connected to a light sensor taped to the inspection window of the water heater. It reports the status of the pilot light over MQTT to an ESP32-based M5 Atom Matrix in the main bedroom, which displays it using a 5×5 RGB matrix, as demonstrated after the break. Both ESPs run ESPHome, so programming is as easy as giving it a YAML config file. [WJCarpenter] tested a few different light sensors, until he found the TSL2591, which is sensitive to the right wavelengths and has enough dynamic range for watching a pilot light.
This might not be a complicated hack, but we do not doubt that it reduces frustration a bit on those fateful mornings. Be sure to check out the Water Watcher project page, it’s an entertaining read! Continue reading “Keeping An Eye On The Water Heater Pilot Light”
A naked flame is a complex soup of ionised gases, that possesses an unexpected property. As you might expect with that much ionisation there is some level of electrical conductivity, but the unusual property comes in that a flame can be made to conduct in only one direction. In other words, it can become a diode of sorts, in a manner reminiscent of a vacuum tube diode.
[Paul Stoffregen] has made use of this phenomenon in a flame detector that he’s built to be installed on a Burning Man flame-based art installation. It forms part of a response to a problem with traditional pilot lights: when the wind blows a pilot light out, a cloud of unignited gas can accumulate. The sensor allows the pilot light to be automatically re-ignited if the flame is no longer present.
The circuit is a surprisingly simple one, with a PNP transistor being turned on by the flame diode being placed in its base circuit. This allows the intensity of the flame to be measured as well as whether or not it is present, and all at the expense of a microscopic current consumption. A capacitor is charged by the transistor, and the charge time is measured by a Teensy that uses it to estimate flame intensity and trigger the pilot light if necessary. Interestingly it comes from a patent that expired in 2013, it’s always worth including that particular line of research in your investigations.
All the construction details are in the page linked above, and you can see the system under test in the video below the break.
Continue reading “A Flame Diode Pilot Light Sensor For A Burning Man Installation”