Makers Can Build a Nixie Clock with this Arduino Shield

Robin Sterling is running crowdfunding campaign for his shield that will control Nixie tubes.

Robin Sterling is an engineer with a passion for building. Among his many interests are IN-9 Nixie bargraph tubes from the 1960s. He found that the decades old technology can be difficult to control using twenty first century electronics, and set out to correct that issue. His solution is an Arduino shield that will allow users to build an IN-9 Nixie bargraph display and the project is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.

This campaign focuses on making a Nixie clock but Sterling points out that the beauty of these bar graph tubes is flexibility. The neon gas discharge tubes glow to different heights so many different variables can be displayed – time, temperature, atmospheric pressure and internet speed are theorized on the campaign page. Users need to provide a single board computer and 12 Volt power supply to power the system. Arduino Uno boards were used to build the first units, but Robin says that Raspberry Pi, Adafruit Feathers, BBC Micro:Bit, BeagleBone Black, and STM32 Nucleo boards will also work if the user connects the pulse width modulation pins and grounds the system. The system also requires a CR1220 coin cell battery to run its onboard DS1307 real-time clock. Conservative calculations for the life of the tubes is 1000 hours.

Sterling has developed a great maker tool with a very specific use and developed the Arduino sketches to run the clock, but also encourages users to take advantage of the tool and use it for their own purposes. My first instinct was that the pool of people who wanted Arduino-driven Nixie tubes is limited, but the project has already passed its modest £1000 goal and there are dozens of maker projects involving Nixie tubes on crowdfunding, open source, and maker sites. The crowdfunding campaign ends on May 18, 2018 and the campaign’s estimate for shipping first units is June 2018.

(Sterling’s completely built steampunk clock is shown on the campaign page, and it looks amazing.)