About this project
Assembly Guide [coming soon]
Meet the Smart Nixie Tube
The Smart Nixie Tube is the most open source, flexible Nixie Tube display in the world. It is fully programmable using the unmodified Arduino IDE, and appears as an Arduino Uno running at 16MHz/5V. The Smart Nixie Tube was created to fill the gap that all other Nixie Tube displays create by allowing unlimited digit length -- from one digit to as many as your project requires. Adding more digits is as easy as connecting headers together. You can chain Smart Nixie Tubes together and control them from anything with a Serial Port. Examples include connecting it to a Raspberry Pi to pull in sports scores, the current temperature, or the current time and date.
Includes Arduino Uno Compatible Hardware
Not only does the Smart Nixie Tube include all of the hardware necessary to control the IN-14 Nixie Tube, it also includes an ATMEGA328p microcontroller running at 16MHz. The Smart Nixie Tube even comes with a status LED on pin 13, meaning you can download the ubiquitous 'blink' sketch to get started! Using the included FTDI programming adapter, you can program the Smart Nixie Tube using the standard Arduino Development Environment. Use the example code provided or create something brand new, it's extremely easy to program since you can treat it exactly like an Arduino Uno.
Expands to as many digits as you want
The Smart Nixie Tube comes with headers that can be soldered to the top PCB allowing you to chain as many Smart Nixie Tubes together as you want! Each Smart Nixie Tube consumes a maximum of 300mA at 9VDC. The example code provided treats the data as a First In First Out (FIFO) buffer, meaning you just have to connect the FTDI adapter to the leftmost digit. Data is then passed from left to right, from Smart Nixie Tube to Smart Nixie Tube until all digits have data. You can even connect a Bluetooth Mate board to make controlling your chain of Smart Nixie Tubes wireless!
Simple, Open Source Command Protocol
Controlling the Smart Nixie Tube is as easy as opening a COM port and sending a string of ASCII characters. The format allows full control of the digit, both decimal points, Nixie Tube brightness, along with 24 bit RGB color of the LED accent lighting. The command is a fixed length protocol, meaning you must pad the brightness, red, green and blue values to be 3 characters long.
$[DIGIT],[LEFT D.P.],[RIGHT D.P.],[BRIGHTNESS],[RED],[GREEN],[BLUE]
[DIGIT] can be 0 - 9 (ASCII)
[LEFT D.P.] can be Y or N (ASCII)
[RIGHT D.P.] can be Y or N (ASCII)
[BRIGHTNESS] can be 000 - 255 (ASCII) *MUST BE 3 CHARACTERS LONG*
[RED] can be 000 - 255 (ASCII) *MUST BE 3 CHARACTERS LONG*
[GREEN] can be 000 - 255 (ASCII) *MUST BE 3 CHARACTERS LONG*
[BLUE] can be 000 - 255 (ASCII) *MUST BE 3 CHARACTERS LONG*
Below is an example command that writes an 8 with neither decimal points on, full Nixie Tube brightness, and purple LED accent lighting:
Once you have sent the data you want to display on your Smart Nixie Tube(s), simply send a ! to latch the data into the Smart Nixie Tube(s). By implementing the latch command, you can load all of your Smart Nixie Tubes with data and then update the displays simultaneously.
Fully Controllable RGB LED Accent Lighting
The Smart Nixie Tube includes a common cathode RGB LED allowing you to give the warm neon glow of the IN-14 Nixie Tube a cool accent color. The LED can be controlled using 24 bit color and all of the PWM is taken care of by the Smart Nixie Tube. You can even use the LED accent lighting as an indicator! When your favorite team scores a point, flash the LEDs white to indicate an update to the scoreboard. If there is a chance of rain in today's forecast, turn the LEDs green while still displaying the current temperature on the Nixie digits -- the ideas are endless!
Here's where you come in
I need to reach $5,000 in order to hit the quantity breaks necessary to make the Smart Nixie Tube affordable. With the funding goal met, I can order the PCBs, components and FTDI adapters. I'll also be able to gauge how many fully assembled Smart Nixie Tubes need to be made in order to get quotes from assembly shops. I am fully confident that I will be able to fulfill all backer rewards by the dates noted in the rewards, and I can't wait to see what sort of applications the Smart Nixie Tube gets used for!
Timeline from the day funding is secured for the Smart Nixie Tube:
PCBs and components will be ordered immediately after the project is successful (1 day from campaign ending date).
PCBs typically take 2 weeks to turn around.
Once PCBs are received from board house, I will ship all PCB only orders in chronological order based on backing date (2 to 3 weeks from campaign ending date).
Concurrently, I will be putting together the kits for the $50 and $60 rewards. These will ship in chronological order based on backing date (2 to 3 weeks from campaign ending date).
Depending on the number of fully assembled Smart Nixie Tubes, I will either contract an assembly house or assemble the units myself and ship all fully assembled Smart Nixie Tubes in chronological order based on backing date (2 to 4 weeks from campaign ending date).
Risks and challenges
After successfully funding and fulfilling all rewards to backers for the Open Source Nixie Tube Shield, I was able to take a few key points from the campaign.
First: always triple check your PCB layout (and even have another set of eyes look it over as well) so that you don't end up with 300+ PCBs with a mistake. Not only does it take away from your profit, but it wastes valuable days waiting for the re-order from the PCB house.
Second: get shipping quotes before setting your goal, as this can be much more expensive than expected. International shipping is expensive, so either build it into your cost or require an additional fee for international backers.
Third (and last): Soldering a large number of boards doesn't seem too bad, but it is. Do a test run and see how long it takes you to solder a single board, and then extrapolate that into how many boards you plan to solder. Keep in mind that after 2-3 hours of non-stop soldering, you're going to want a break.
Keeping these three lessons from the Open Source Nixie Tube Shield in mind, I plan to make the Smart Nixie Tube project much more lean throughout the manufacturing process. I've started to contact PCB assembly houses to get quotes on how much the Smart Nixie Tube will cost to assemble, along with determining how much they charge to kit the uhm... kit version of the Smart Nixie Tube as well.
The PCB design is solid, I've had the prototype running for weeks with no problems, and I continue to add more features to the demo software. I feel like this is the best Open Source Nixie Tube design out there, and since everything you need to plug it in and start playing is included, it's extremely fun and easy! The Smart Nixie Tube will open the doors to an unlimited number of ideas for its uses.
As always, working with high voltage can be dangerous. Avoid touching the Smart Nixie Tube when it is being powered. If you do need to touch it, do so with one hand in your pocket. With these tips in mind, you can avoid getting an unpleasant shock from the 170V required to turn on the Nixie Tube.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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