Nixie Tube RPN Calculator Project

If you like Nixie tubes and/or DIY calculators, checkout this interesting talk from the HP Handheld Conference in Orlando last month by [Eric Smith] from Brouhaha and [John Doran] from Time Fracture. For 20-some years, [Eric] and the late [Richard Ottosen] have been incrementally developing various DIY calculators — this paper from the 2005 HHC conference is an excellent overview of the early project. [John] got one of those early DIY calculators and set about modifying it to use Nixie tubes. However, he got distracted by other things and set it aside — until reviving it earlier this year and enlisting [Eric]’s aid.

This presentation goes over the hardware aspects of the design. Unlike the earlier PIC-based DIY calculators, they decided to use a WCH RISC-V processor this time around. The calculator’s architecture is intentionally modular, with the display and keyboard housed in completely separate enclosures communicating by a serial interface. If the bulkiness alone doesn’t exclude it from being pocket-sized, the 170 VDC power supply and 1/2 W per digit power consumption certainly does. This modularity does lend itself to DIYers replacing the display, or the keyboard, with something different. [Eric] wants to build a mechanical flip-digit display for his unit. As for the software, [Eric] reviews the firmware approach and some future upgrades, such as making it programmable and emulating other flavors of HP calculators.

If you’re embarking on a similar project yourself, check out this talk and take notes — there are a lot of interesting tidbits on using Nixie tubes in the 21st century. If [Eric]’s name sounds familiar, you may know him from the Nonpareil calculator software used on many emulators and DIY calculator projects, one of which we covered some years ago. [John] is also a long-time tinkerer, and we wrote about his gorgeous D16/M HCMOS computer system back in 2012. Thanks to [Stephen Walters] for sending in the tip.