You know how cool you felt when you were the only you knew with a working Nixie clock? For better or worse, this technology has become more and more prevalent in the hacker community — leading those that prefer to live on the cutting edge to discover yet another retro-frontier. Fortunately, there are many obsolete and niche display technologies, including VFD, or vacuum fluorescent displays, which look like Nixie tubes, but emit soft bluish-green characters.
The VFD Clock II by Howard Constantine — which has smashed its modest $500 Kickstarter funding goal — allows you to use this type of display without starting from scratch. In fact, this display doesn’t just show you the time and date, but is able to establish its own WiFi network that enables you to log on to send text messages that scroll over its six tubes. Because it can work with IV-17 tubes that feature 16 segments, it can clearly display alphabetic characters as well as the numbers you would expect from a normal clock.
Besides what appears to be an ESP8266 module that establishes a WiFi connection, processing power for the clock/display is provided by PIC18F26K20 and PIC12F683 chips. A Microchip HV5812 decoder is also used control the VFDs.
A demo of the clock in action as well as sending it text information with a smartphone is seen in the videos below.