Nixie tubes have experienced something of a resurgence in popularity in recent times, as the charm of combining new and old technologies continues to draw in retro-minded designers. ThinkGeek's DIY Nixie Tube Desk clock and the Nixie tube chess set are examples of this, but in applying the smart treatment to the gas-filled display tubes, electrical engineer Tyler Nehowig has truly given them a modern technological makeover.
The Smart Nixie Tube follows the same do-it-yourself approach as the Desk Clock, but offers increased flexibility. With an ATMEGA328p microcontroller running at 16 MHz and using the unmodified Arduino IDE (Integrated Development Environment), the IN-14 nixie tubes can be programmed to serve a variety of purposes. In addition, with the tubes able to connect to one another, users can create a display consisting of as many digits as their project requires.
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The display is powered by a 9 V 3.5 A supply and programmed through an included FTDI adapter which connects to the left-most tube. The data is then passed from left to right through a header which is soldered onto the top PCB (Printed Circuit Board) to connect each digit. Alternatively, a Bluetooth module can be purchased separately to allow for wireless control.
Each tube consumes a maximum of 300 mA at 9 VDC and contains a cathode RGB LED, which allows each one to produce variety of colors. Furthermore, users have full control over the digit, both decimal points and the tube's brightness.
The Nixie Smart tube display could form a clock with or without seconds, stock price monitor, display the temperature outside or keep track of sports scores, with its potential only limited by the imagination and skill level its programmer.
With the product currently the subject of a Kickstarter campaign, pledges of US$60 are available which include the necessary parts to create a Smart Nixie Tube display. The $5,000 goal is yet to be reached, but the campaign still has almost a month to run. If all goes well, deliveries should begin in March.
You can see how the tubes fit together and some examples of different uses in the video below.