BOSTON -- LEDs and other display devices are all very nice, but there's something unique about Nixie Tubes that is guaranteed to capture the attention of most any engineer and make more than a few of them "Oooh" and "Ahhh"!
At next week's DESIGN East conference (Sept. 17-20, #designeast) at Boston’s Hynes Convention Center, the ever-popular Gadget Freak column from Design News will be presenting a live show called “Gadget Freak DIY.”
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Gadget Freak DIY is dedicated to presenting do-it-yourself projects to the design community. The presentations on Sept. 19 will provide an opportunity for innovators to describe how devices were conceived and implemented and, most importantly, to show them off to fellow engineers.
Sponsored by Allied Electronics, the Gadget Freak DIY session will kick off at 3 p.m. at the DESIGN East Theater (there will be some giveaways for lucky participants). The presenters each have five minutes to wow the audience with their projects.
This year's collection of do-it-yourself designs includes everything from cyberpunk helmets with LED visor illumination and chromium accents (I want one!) to a cloud-based remote control system that allows the operator to guide a ping pong ball from anywhere in the world.
The project that really has us jazzed is the Nixie Tube Clock, created by John Day and Sean Cappy of Microchip. The project’s design and implementation provides so much instructional value that Day and Cappy have been invited to give an in-depth presentation at 1 p.m. on Sept. 19.
Behold, Nixie Tubes!
This project employs a tri-colored LED mounted under each Nixie Tube. The LEDs can be
individually controlled to display any color, can transition from color to color and augment the main display with a variety of effects to complement whatever data is being presented.
The clock also contains an integrated temperature sensor. The display alternates between time and temperature. It also renders a 1-second random sequence every time it transitions between the time and temperature.
The Microchip presentation will also discuss various design considerations, tool use and implementation details. The clock can be programmed using a TV remote controller while an integrated PIR motion detector activates the display when someone enters the room and then powers down the Nixie Tubes when the room is empty.
Forty-four I/O pins drive the tube cathodes, including 12 for the PWMs driving the LEDs. If a single microprocessor was used, a 100-pin device would be needed. The DIY solution was to assign a separate PIC16F1509 microcontroller to manage each tube, then use a master PIC16F1825 microcontroller to control the entire system, with everything being linked by an I2C bus.
The Nixie Tube design.