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Levitating Nixie Clock

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First and Only Gravity-defying Nixie Clock

In the digital world that we live in, a lot of devices are turning to analog-type displays to create a cool factor. This is specially true of watches where the analog display has been turned inside out in so many ways, to show time in countless non-digital ways. This approach in design has led to Levitating Nixie Clock.

Nixie tubes were a product of the 1950s and were in production until the 1990s. In recent years, there has been a surge in the use of nixie tubes by hobbyists, and for steampunk design devices. These are mostly do-it-yourselfers who like the aesthetics of the analog device for digital display.

From Scotland, Tony “Lasermad”Adams, created the Levitating Nixie Clock. This nifty piece of equipment is a magic steampunk device which should be in every geek’s wish list. It tells time via a nixie clock, and it floats. This is not just a conversation piece, it is the centerpiece for a mantle, or any desk. It is eye-catching, beautiful, and when you turn the lights off in your room, it turns into a night light.

Summary

The Levitating Nixie Clock is not just a hobbyist project. It takes a lot of new technology to pull it off. The only old parts are the nixie tubes. These are no longer in production, and the prices are going up for whatever is left in inventory. As an aside, in 2012, Dalibor Farny of the Czech Republic started producing nixie tubes by hand. So far, he has been the only new manufacturer since the last nixie tube factory closed in the 1990s.

Since the technology has been around since the 1950’s there is almost nothing new for designers to do. In more than two decades, DIY hobbyists have been making nixie tube clocks. A few have ventured into selling their creations on the internet.

Pros
• Kits are great for projects
• Cool conversation pieces
• Not just for geeks
Cons
• Might not appeal for everyone

Levitating Nixie Clock Technical

What is new about this device is that it floats, hence the name. The Levitating Nixie Tube Clock does float thanks to a powerful magnet located at the base unit. The base unit also powers the clock, and sends it the time to display. The time can be set with the use of buttons on the base or via an app. Powerful electromagnets make the clock float above the unit.

A note about nixie tubes. Technically, these are cold cathode ray tubes, which are closer to neon lights rather than to true CRTs. To explain further, CRTs shoots electrons at a phosphor screen creating images. The nixie tube has a mesh or grid inside the tube which is lit via electrical impulses. CRTs require a lot of power (up to 20,000 volts) to show an image. It also gets very hot sometimes. On the other hand, nixie displays are colder, and do not require as much power. You don’t need to heat up the lighting element, you only need to use enough power to make it glow.

Like the LED, nixie tubes do not need to have power the whole time. An LED is powered for only a fraction of the time. In essence the electric current is turned on for about a tenth of a second, and then turned off, and the LED retains its display for about a second. This process is repeated once every second, and the user does not notice it. The nixie clock is different however. It does not need to use more power to light it up. More power to the tube creates a brighter light. It also results in a longer latency before the lighting element turns turns dark. The current is just enough to make the numbers glow, and then fade before the next number is shown. With the nixie tubes having a low power requirement, this is ably delivered with the use of inductive coupling which requires no wiring.

Time is sent from the base via an IR transmitter, which is received by the clock with a corresponding IR receiver. This means that if you move the clock away from the base, it will stop telling time, and the display will also stop. Besides the controls and magnet, the base unit also has a backup battery, just in case the power is interrupted. The display will stay in place and keep on working for up to 30 hours even without power.

There are two models to choose from: the single large tube Beacon model; and the 5 tube Relay model. The Beacon’s single nixie shows the time as a series of numbers for the hour, minute, and second. The Relay constantly displays the hour and the minutes in a more traditional format. The Beacon

The price for the Levitating Nixie Clock ranges from around $460 (Relay) to $520 (Beacon). These are also sold as kits for less. The kits would appeal to hobbyists, enthusiasts, and to other DIYers. It can also be great for educational purposes.

 

Verdict

The Levitating Nixie Clock is a different take on the electric clock. It has only one function: to tell the time. Even in the dark, you would see what time it is. Not everyone has this, and not everyone would have heard of it either. In fact, millennials might not even know what a vacuum tube is, much less a nixie tube. As a steampunk appliance, or an example of technology, this is a great piece of work.

However, at those prices, not everyone would see the value in it. More people would rather have the Apple Watch than have their own nixie clock.

This is an instance where the technological artisan creates a piece of work, which is technologically sound, represents state of the art in electronics (save for the nixie tubes) and is very pleasing to the eye. Even those who are not familiar with nixies or steampunk would like its design. It would not be a stretch to say that this design is timeless.

Official: Lasermad

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