The Nixie Tube Story: The Neon Display Tech That Engineers Can’t Quit

How the neon-filled glow lamps came to hold a special place in enthusiasts’ hearts

12 min read
Photo of a clock featuring modern-day Nixie tubes made by Dalibor Farny.

Nixies Reborn: This clock features modern-day Nixie tubes made by Dalibor Farny. The Czech engineer has revived the manufacture of the distinctive display devices, which had their heyday in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Photo: Dalibor Farny

On a cold December morning in the Czech village of Březolupy, a man stops his truck in front of a 17th-century castle. He puts on some heavy gloves, steps out of the truck, and opens the back hatch. Carefully, almost lovingly, he unloads crate after crate of heavy equipment and supplies—an industrial glass lathe, a turbomolecular vacuum pump, and glass. Lots and lots of glass.

The man is Dalibor Farny. In 2012, Farny began working to revive the manufacture of a display technology called the Nixie tube, the last commercial examples of which were produced when he was still a child.

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2022—The Year the Hydrogen Economy Launched?

The Inflation Reduction Act and the war in Ukraine pump billions into clean hydrogen R&D

5 min read
A man in a blue lab coat looks at equipment in a lab

A technician at Plug Power in Concord, Mass., secures a connector before a test of a hydrogen electrolyzer on 5 July 2022.

Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Among the technological visions that seem perpetually futuristic (think commercial nuclear fusion and maglev trains), the hydrogen economy has always been tantalizing. Hydrogen produced from renewable energy or nuclear power, with minimal greenhouse-gas emissions, could be piped or transported pretty much anywhere, using mostly existing infrastructure. It could power trucks, cars, planes, and ships and generate electricity, either in fuel cells or combustion turbines. In short, it could do anything fossil fuels do now, but with substantially reduced climate impact.

Now, after decades of false starts and overly optimistic projections, several factors are giving an unprecedented lift to clean hydrogen. In the United States, sweeping legislation capped a series of moves by the country’s Department of Energy (DOE) over the past year to drive down the cost of low-carbon hydrogen and stimulate demand for the fuel. And in Europe, a looming fossil-fuel crisis has sent officials scrambling to find alternatives to the 155 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas that EU countries imported in 2021.

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Q&A: Marc Raibert on the Boston Dynamics AI Institute

Boston Dynamics’s founder thinks creatively with $400 million AI Institute

12 min read
Marc Raibert, an older white man with a bald head and a short white beard and glasses, gestures as he speaks on a stage. He is wearing formal pants and a flower-print short sleeve shirt.

Marc Raibert, founder and chairman of Boston Dynamics, speaks at a Hyundai Motor Group news conference during CES 2022 in Las Vegas.

Steve Marcus/Reuters/Alamy

Last week, Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics announced an initial investment of over US $400 million to launch the new Boston Dynamics AI Institute. The Institute was conceptualized (and will be led) by Marc Raibert, the founder of Boston Dynamics, with the goal of “solving the most important and difficult challenges facing the creation of advanced robots.” That sounds hugely promising, but of course we had questions—namely, what are those challenges, how is this new institute going to solve them, and what are these to-be-created advanced robots actually going to do? And fortunately, IEEE Spectrum was able to speak with Marc Raibert himself to get a better understanding of what the Institute will be all about.

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