Tag Archive | "use"

Kit review – ogi lumen Nixie Tube system

Hello readers

Time to finish off the month with a fascinating kit review  – the ogi lumen nixie tube system. The younger readers amongst us may be thinking “what is a nixie tube?” Here is an example of four in a row:


If you cast your mind back to before the time of LCDs, and before LEDs… to the mid-1950s. Nixie tubes were used to display data in various forms on electrical devices, from test equipment, scales, elevator indicators, possible doomsday machines, clocks – anything that required visual output would be a candidate. Although nixie tubes are now totally out of date, as with many things there is a growing trend to use them again, for cool retro-style, nostalgia and those people who enjoy living in the past.

How nixie tubes work is quite simple, an element is within a vacuum tube full of gas, such as neon. When a high-voltage (~190 volts DC) current flows through the element, it glows. For more information, here is a great explanation. You will note that they are similar to in look but different in design to the vacuum-fluorescent displays, as used in the ice tube clock reviewed a few months previously. The tubes used in this kit are the Soviet model IN-12A:


The IN-12A tube can display the digits zero to nine, with a nice orange glow.  For the uninitiated, sourcing and making nixie tubes can be quite difficult. Apart from procuring the tubes themselves, you need a suitable power supply and logic ICs that can handle the higher voltage to control the tubes. Thankfully Ogi Lumen have put together a system of kits to make using these nixie tubes simple and interesting. There are three components to the system, the first being the power supply:


Note that the power supply is preassembled. This supply can generate the necessary 150 to 220 volts DC to energise our nixie tubes. Yes – up to 220 volts! For example:


However the current required is quite small – one power supply can handle up to twenty-four IN12A nixie tubes. My example in the photograph above is drawing 110~120 milliamps from a 12V DC supply. For those of you assembling these kits, please be careful. It can be easy to physically move the kit about whilst in operation, and touching the live HV pads will hurt a lot. After bumping the HV line on the PCB, my whole left arm went into a spasm and hurt for the time it took to see my doctor. So be careful.

The second item required is the driver kit. This is a board that takes care of the shift-registers and power for two of the nixie tubes. Driver kits can be slotted together to form a row of nixie tubes. The third and final item is the nixie duo kit. This contains two IN-12A tubes, matching sockets and a PCB to muont them. This PCB then slots into the driver kit PCB. You can buy the driver and duo kit as a set for a discount.

From a hardware perspective, assembling the kits is relatively simple. There isn’t any tricky soldering or SMD to worry about, however you will need a lot of solder. The contents of the duo and driver kits are as follows:


Before you start soldering, please download and take note of the instructional .pdf files available for the duo and driver board kits. Assembling the driver kit (on the right) is very straight forward. However – please read the instructions! An interesting part of note is the K155ИД1IC:


This is the Russian equivalent of the 74141. This is a BCD-decimal decoder IC that can handle the high voltages required for nixie tubes. When soldering the resistors, take care with R2 – it will need to be positioned horizontally so as to not rub against the duo board:


When it is time to assemble the duo board, you will need time and patience. At a first glance, one would imagine that the sockets drop into the PCB, and the nixie tubes will happily be seated into the sockets. This is not so, don’t solder in the sockets first! The pins on the bottom of the socket also form part of the socket for the tube legs – which can alter the positioning of the socket legs. Make sure you have the socket with pin 1 at the top of the PCB. After some trial and error, the best way to insert the tubes is to first partially place the sockets into the PCB:


… then fully insert the tubes into their sockets. Make sure the tube is the right way up – check that the digit 3 in the tube is the right way up. Then push the whole lot into the PCB. At this point you should check to make sure the sockets are in line with each other:


(Notice how thick the PCB is…) At which point you can solder them in, followed by the row of connector pins:


By this stage you will need some fresh air from all that soldering. The PCB holes for the socket pins really take a lot. Now you can connect the power supply to the driver board and give the tubes a test-toast:


All the tubes should have their elements glowing. This is a good start. The next step is to connect the appropriate microcontroller and start displaying. As noted in the instructions, the 74141 BCD-decimal ICs are controlled by standard 74HC595 shift-register ICs, so your microcontroller needs to send out a data, clock and latch line. My following examples have been created using the Ardiuno system and a compatible board.

The first example is a method of displaying integers. It uses the Nixie library which you can download here.

That was just an arbitrary demonstration to get some numbers displayed. Here is a short video clip of it in action:

Now for another, more useful example. By using a DS1307 real-time clock IC with the Arduino, we can make a nice clock that displays the time and date. For more information on using the DS1307 with Arduino, please visit this tutorial. You can download the example nixie clock .pde file from here. And finally, here is the clock in action:

The problem with these tubes is that you will never have enough. Already I have thought of a few things to make that require a lot more tubes, so in the next month or so stay tuned to tronixstuff.com as there will be more projects with these kits.

In conclusion, this was a great kit and anyone looking to use some numerical nixie tubes will do very well with the Ogi Lumen products. Furthermore the designs are released under Creative Commons by-sa-nc, and the files are available to download from the product pages. And finally, it is a lot of fun – people will generally ask you about the tubes as they may have never seen them before.

Remember, if you have any questions about these modules please contact Ogi Lumen via their website. Higher resolution images available on flickr.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – the kit assembled in this article was received from Ogi Lumen for review purposes]

Posted in arduino, kit review, learning electronics, nixie, ogilumenComments (11)

Tutorial: Arduino and the DS touch screen

Use inexpensive touch-screens with Arduino in chapter twenty-three of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A tutorial on the Arduino universe.  The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

[Updated 19/01/2013]

Today we are going to spend some time with a touch screen very similar to the ones found in a Nintendo DS gaming unit. In doing so, we can take advantage of a more interesting and somewhat futuristic way of gathering user input. Please note that in order to use the screen without going completely insane, you will need the matching breakout board, as shown in the following image:


The flimsy flexible PCB runner is inserted into the plastic socket on the breakout board – be careful not to crease the PCB nor damage it as it can be rather easy to do so. (The screen can be easy to break as well…) However don’t let that put you off. You will most likely want to solder in some header pins for breadboard use, or sockets to insert wires. For this article it is being used with pins for a breadboard.

Before we start to use the screen, let’s have a quick investigation into how they actually work. Instead of me trying to paraphrase something else, there is a very good explanation in the manufacturer’s data sheet. So please read the data sheet then return. Theoretically we can consider the X and Y axes to be two potentiometers (variable resistors) that can be read with the analogRead() function. So all we need to do is use two analog inputs, one to read the X-axis value and one for the Y-axis value.

However, as always, life isn’t that simple. Although there are only four wires to the screen, the wires’ purpose alters depending on whether we are measuring the X- or Y-axis. Which sounds complex but is not. Using the following example, we can see how it all works.

Example 23.1

In this example, we will read the X- and Y-axis values returned from the touch screen and display them on an LCD module. (Or you could easily send the values to the serial monitor window instead). From a hardware perspective, you will need:

  • Arduino Uno or 100% compatible board
  • DS touch screen and breakout board ready for use
  • Solderless breadboard and some jumper wires
  • Arduino-ready LCD setup. If you are unsure about using LCDs, please revisit chapter 24 of my tutorials.

Connection of the touch screen to the Arduino board is simple, Arduino analog (yes, analog – more on this later) pins A0 to Y1, A1 to X2, A2 to Y2 and A3 to X1 – as below:


Mounting the rest for demonstration purposes is also a simple job. Hopefully by now you have a test LCD module for easy mounting 🙂


I have mounted  the touch screen onto the breadboard with some spare header pins, they hold it in nicely for testing purposes. Also notice that the touch screen has been flipped over, the sensitive side is now facing up. Furthermore, don’t forget to remove the protective plastic coating from the screen before use.

From a software (sketch) perspective we have to do three things – read the X-axis value, the Y-axis value, then display them on the LCD. As we (should) know from the data sheet, to read the X-axis value, we need to set X1 as 5V, X2 as 0V (that is, GND) and read the value from Y2. As described above, we use the analog pins to do this. (You can use analog pins as input/output lines in a similar method to digital pins – more information here. Pin numbering continues from 13, so analog 0 is considered to be pin 14, and so on). In our sketch (below) we have created a function to do this and then return the X-axis value.

The Y-axis reading is generated in the same method, and is quite self-explanatory. The delay in each function is necessary to allow time for the analog I/O pins to adjust to their new roles as inputs or outputs or analog to digital converters. Here is our sketch:

Next, let’s have a look at this example in action. The numbers on the LCD may be not what you expected…

The accuracy of the screen is not all that great – however first take into account the price of the hardware before being too critical. Note that there are values returned even when the screen is not being pressed, we could perhaps call these “idle values”. Later on you will learn tell your sketch to ignore these values if waiting for user input, as they will note that nothing has been pressed. Furthermore, the extremities of the screen will return odd values, so remember to take this into account when designing bezels or mounting hardware for your screen.

Each touch screen will have different values for each X and Y position, and that is why most consumer hardware with touch screens has calibration functions to improve accuracy. We can now use the X and Y values in sketches to determine which part of the screen is being touched, and act on that touch.

In order to program our sketches to understand which part of the screen is being touched, it will help to create a “map” of the possible values available. You can determine the values using the sketch from example 23.1, then use the returned values as a reference for designing the layout of your touch interface. For example, the following is a map of my touch screen:


Example 23.2

For the next example, I would like to have four “zones” on my touch screen, to use as virtual buttons for various things. The first thing to do is draw a numerical “map” of my touch screen, in order to know the minimum and maximum values for both axes for each zone on the screen:


At this point in the article I must admit to breaking the screen. Upon receiving the new one I remeasured the X and Y points for this example and followed the  process for defining the numerical boundaries for each zone is completed by finding average mid-points along the axes and allowing some tolerance for zone boundaries.

Now that the values are known, it is a simple matter of using mathematical comparison and Boolean operators (such as >, <, &&, etc)  in a sketch to determine which zone a touch falls into, and to act accordingly. So for this example, we will monitor the screen and display on the LCD screen which area has been pressed. The hardware is identical to example 23.1, and our touch screen map will be the one above. So now we just have to create the sketch.

After reading the values of the touch screen and storing them into variables x and y, a long if…then…else if loop occurs to determine the location of the touch. Upon determining the zone, the sketch calls a function to display the zone type on the LCD. Or if the screen is returning the idle values, the display is cleared. So have a look for yourself with the example sketch:

And see it in operation:

So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Now you should have the ability to use a touch screen in many situations – you just need to decide how to work with the resulting values from the screen and go from there.


Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, BOB-09170, education, hardware hacking, LCD-08977, lesson, microcontrollers, nintendo ds, touch screen, tutorialComments (14)

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