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Getting Started with Arduino! – Chapter Five

This is part of a series titled “Getting Started with Arduino!” – A tutorial on the Arduino microcontrollers. The first chapter is here, and the complete index here.

Welcome back fellow arduidans!

Hello once again to our weekly Arduino instalment. This week are up to all sorts of things, including: more shiftiness with shift registers, more maths, 7-segment displays, arduinise a remote control car, and finally make our own electronic game! Wow – let’s get cracking…

In the last chapter we started using a 74HC595 shift register to control eight output pins with only three pins on the Arduino. That was all very interesting and useful – but there is more! You can link two or more shift registers together to control more pins! How? First of all, there is pin we haven’t looked at yet – pin 9 on the ‘595. This is “data out”. If we connect this to the data in pin (14) on another ‘595, the the first shift register can shift a byte of data to the next shift register, and so on.

Recall from our exercise 4.1, this part of the sketch:

If we add another shiftOut(); command after the first one, we are sending two bytes of data to the registers. In this situation the first byte is accepted by the first shift register (the one with its data in pin [14] connected to the Arduino), and when the next byte is sent down the data line, it “pushes” the byte in the first shift register into the second shift register, leaving the second byte in the first shift register.

So now we are controlling SIXTEEN output pins with only three Arduino output pins. And yes – you can have a third, fourth … if anyone sends me a link to a Youtube clip showing this in action with 8 x 74HC595s, I will send them a prize. So, how do we do it? The code is easy, here is the sketch. On the hardware side, it is also quite simple. If you love blinking LEDs this will make your day. It is the same as exercise 4.1, but you have another 74HC595 connected to another 8 LEDS. The clock and latch pins of both ‘595s are linked together, and there is a link between pin 9 of the first register and pin 14 of the second. Below is a photo of my layout:


and a video:

Can you think of anything that has seven or eight LEDs? Hopefully this photo will refresh your memory:


Quickie – if you want to find out the remainder from a quotient, use modulo – “%”. For example:

a = 10 % 3;

returns a value of 1; as 10 divided by 3 is 3 remainder 1.


If you need to convert a floating-point number to an integer, it is easy. Use int();. It does not round up or down, only removes the fraction and leaves the integer.

Anyhow, now we can consider controlling these numeric displays with our arduino via the 74HC595. It is tempting to always use an LCD, but if you only need to display a few digits, or need a very high visibility, LED displays are the best option. Furthermore, they use a lot less current than a backlit LCD, and can be read from quite a distance away. A 7-segment display consists of eight LEDs arrange to form the digit eight, with a decimal point. Here is an example pinout digram:


Note that pinouts can vary, always get the data sheet if possible.

Displays can either be conmmon-anode, or common-cathode. That is, either all the LED segment anodes are common, or all the cathodes are common. Normally we will use common-cathode, as we are “sourcing” current from our shift register through a resistor (560 ohm), through the LED then to ground. If you use a common-anode, you need to “sink” current from +5v, through the resistor and LED, then into the controller IC. Now you can imagine how to display digits using this type of display – we just need to shiftout(); a byte to our shift register that is equavalent to the binary representation of the number you want to display.


Let’s say we want to display the number ‘8’ on the display. You will need to light up all the pins except for the decimal point. Unfortunately not all 7-segment displays are the same, so you need to work out which pinout is for each segment (see your data sheet) and then find the appropriate binary number to represent the pins needed, then convert that to a base-10 number to send to the display. I have created a table to make this easier:


And here is a blank one for you to print out and use: blank pin table.pdf.

Now let’s wire up one 7-segment display to our Arduino and see it work. Instead of the eight LEDs used in exercise 4.1 there is the display module. For reference the pinouts for my module were (7,6,4,2,1,9,10,5,3,8) = (a,b,c,d,e,f,g,DP, C, C) where DP is the decimal point and C is a cathode (which goes to GND). The sketch: example 5.2. Note in the sketch that the decimal point is also used; it’s byte value in this example is 128. If you add 128 to the value of loopy[] in the sketch, the decimal point will be used with the numbers.


and the video:

There you go – easily done. Now it is time for you to do some work!

Exercise 5.1

Produce a circuit to count from 0 to 99 and back, using two displays and shift-registers. It isn’t that difficult, the hardware is basically the same as example 5.1 but using 7-segment displays.

You will need:

  • Your standard Arduino setup (computer, cable, Uno or compatible)
  • Two 7-segment, common-cathode displays
  • Two 74HC595 shift registers
  • 16 x 560 ohm 0.25 W resistors. For use as current limiters between the LED display segments and ground
  • a breadboard and some connecting wire
  • some water

You are probably wondering how on earth to separate the digits once the count hits 10… a hint: 34 modulo 10 = 4. 34 divided by 10 = 3.4 … but 3.4 isn’t an integer. While you are thinking, here is the shot of my layout:


and the ubiquitous video:

And here is the sketch for my interpretation of the answer.

I hope you have gained more of an understanding of the possibilities available with shift registers. We will continue with more in the next tutorial.
Exercise 5.2

Once again it is your turn to create something. We have discussed binary numbers, shift registers, analogue and digital inputs and outputs, creating our own functions, how to use various displays, and much more. So our task now is to build a binary quiz game. This is a device that will:

  • display a number between 0 and 255 in binary (using 8 LEDs)
  • you will turn a potentiometer (variable resistor) to select a number between 0 and 255, and this number is displayed using three 7-segment displays
  • You then press a button to lock in your answer. The game will tell you if you are correct or incorrect
  • Basically a “Binary quiz” machine of some sort!

I realise this could be a lot easier using an LCD, but that is not part of the exercise. Try and use some imagination with regards to the user interface and the difficulty of the game. At first it does sound difficult, but can be done if you think about it. At first you should make a plan, or algorithm, of how it should behave. Just write in concise instructions what you want it to do and when. Then try and break your plan down into tasks that you can offload into their own functions. Some functions may even be broken down into small functions – there is nothing wrong with that – it helps with planning and keeps everything neat and tidy. You may even find yourself writing a few test sketches, to see how a sensor works and how to integrate it into your main sketch. Then put it all together and see!

You will need: (to recreate my example below)

  • Your standard Arduino setup (computer, cable, Uno or compatible)
  • Three 7-segment, common-cathode displays
  • eight LEDs (for binary number display)
  • Four 74HC595 shift registers
  • 32 x 560 ohm 0.25 W resistors. For use as current limiters between the LED display segments and ground
  • a breadboard and some connecting wire
  • 10k linear potentiometer (variable resistor)
  • some water

For inspiration here is a photo of my layout:


and a video of the game in operation. Upon turning on the power, the game says hello. You press the button to start the game. It will show a number in binary using the LEDs, and you select the base-10 equivalent using the potentiometer as a dial. When you select your answer, press the button  – the quiz will tell you if you are correct and show your score; or if you are incorrect, it will show you the right answer and then your score.

I have set it to only ask a few questions per game for the sake of the demonstration:

And yes – here is the sketch for my answer to the exercise. Now this chapter is over. Hope you had fun! Now move on to Chapter Six.


Posted in 74hc595, arduino, education, hardware hacking, lesson, microcontrollers, tutorial17 Comments

Getting Started with Arduino! – Chapter Four

This is part of a series titled “Getting Started with Arduino!” – A tutorial on the Arduino microcontrollers. The first chapter is here, and the complete index is here.

In this chapter will be looking at getting more outputs from less pins, listening to some tunes, saying hooray to arrays, and even build a self-contained data logger.

More pins from less – sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? No, it is true and we can learn how to do this in conjunction with a special little IC, the 74HC595 Serial In/Parallel Out 8-bit Shift Register. Let’s say hello:


Before we get too carried away, we need to understand a little about bits, bytes and binary numbers.

A binary number can only uses zeros and ones to represent a value. Thus binary is also known as “base-2”, as it can only use two digits. Our most commonly used number types are base-10 (as it uses zero through to nine; hexadecimal is base-16 as it uses 0 to 9 and A to F). How can a binary number with only the use of two digits represent a larger number? It uses a lot of ones and zeros. Let’s examine a binary number, say 10101010. As this is a base-2 number, each digit represents 2 to the power of x, from x=0 onwards.


See how each digit of the binary number can represent a base-10 number. So the binary number above represents 85 in base-10 – the value 85 is the sum of the base-10 values. Another example – 11111111 in binary equals 255 in base 10.


Now each digit in that binary number uses one ‘bit’ of memory, and eight bits make a byte. A byte is a special amount of data, as it matches perfectly with the number of output pins that the 74HC595 chip controls. (See, this wasn’t going to be a maths lesson after all). If we use our Arduino to send a number in base-10 out through a digital pin to the ‘595, it will convert it to binary and set the matching output pins high or low.

So if you send the number 255 to the ‘595, all of the output pins will go high. If you send it 01100110, only pins 1,2,5, and 6 will go high. Now can you imagine how this gives you extra digital output pins? The numbers between 0 and 255 can represent every possible combination of outputs on the ‘595. Furthermore, each byte has a “least significant bit” and “most significant bit” – these are the left-most and right-most bits respectively.

Now to the doing part of things. Let’s look at the pinout of the 74HC595: (from NXP 74HC595 datasheet)


Pins Q0~Q7 are the output pins that we want to control. The Q7′ pin is unused, for now. ‘595 pin 14 is the data pin, 12 is the latch pin and 11 is the clock pin. The data pin connects to a digital output pin on the Arduino. The latch pin is like a switch, when it is low the ‘595 will accept data, when it is high, the ‘595 goes deaf. The clock pin is toggled once the data has been received. So the procedure to get the data into a ‘595 is this:

1) set the latch pin low (pin 12)

2) send the byte of data to the ‘595 (pin 14)

3) toggle the clock pin (pin 11)

4) set the latch pin high (pin 12)

Pin 10 (reset) is always connected to the +5V, pin 13 (output enable) is always connected to ground.

Thankfully there is a command that has parts 2 and 3 in one; you can use digitalWrite(); to take care of the latch duties. The command shiftOut(); is the key. The syntax is:


a = the digital output pin that connects to the ‘595 data pin (14);

b = the digital output pin that connects to the ‘595 clock pin (11);

c can be either LSBFIRST or MSBFIRST. MSBFIRST means the ‘595 will interpret the binary number from left to right; LSBFIRST will make it go right to left;

d = the actual number (0~255) that you want represented by the ‘595 in binary output pins.

So if you wanted to switch on pins 1,2,5 and 6, with the rest low, you would execute the following:

Now, what can you do with those ‘595 output pins? More than you could imagine! Just remember the most current you can sink or source through each output pin is 35 milliamps.

For example:

  • an LED and a current-limiting resisor to earth… you could control many LEDs than normally possible with your Arduino;
  • an NPN transistor and something that draws more current like a motor or a larger lamp
  • an NPN transistor controlling a relay (remember?)

With two or more ‘595s you can control a matrix of LEDs, 7-segment displays, and more – but that will be in the coming weeks.

For now, you have a good exercise to build familiarity with the shift-register process.

Exercise 4.1

Construct a simple circuit, that counts from 0~255 and displays the number in binary using LEDs. You will require the following:

  • Your standard Arduino setup (computer, cable, Uno or compatible)
  • 8 LEDs of your choosing
  • One 74HC595 shift register
  • 8 x 560 ohm 0.25 W resistors. For use as current limiters between the LEDs and ground.
  • a breadboard and some connecting wire

The hardware is quite easy. Just remember that the anodes of the LEDs connect with the ‘595, and the cathodes connect to the resistors which connect to ground. You can use the Arduino 5V and GND.

Here is what my layout looked like:


and of course a video – I have increased the speed of mine for the sake of the demonstration.

How did you go? Here is the sketch if you need some ideas.

Next on the agenda today is another form of output – audio.

Of course you already knew that, but until now we have not looked at (or should I say, listened to) the audio features of the Arduino system. The easiest way to get some noise is to use a piezo buzzer. An example of this is on the left hand side of the image below:


These are very simple to use and can be very loud and annoying. To get buzzing, just connect their positive lead to a digital output pin, and their negative lead to ground. Then you only have to change the digital pin to HIGH when you need a buzz. For example:

You won’t be subjected to a recording of it, as thankfully (!) my camera does not record audio…

However, you will want more than a buzz. Arduino has a tone(); command, which can generate a tone with a particular frequency for a duration. The syntax is:

where pin is the digital output pin the speaker is connected to, frequency in Hertz, duration in milliseconds. Easy! If you omit the duration variable, the tone will be continuous, and can be stopped with notone();. Furthermore, the use of tone(); will interfere with PWM on pins 3 and 11, unless you are using an Arduino Mega.

Now, good choice for a speaker is one of those small 0.25w 8 ohm ones. My example is on the right in the photo above, taken from a musical plush toy. It has a 100 ohm resistor between the digital output pin and the speaker. Anyhow, let’s make some more annoying noise – hmm – a siren! (download)

Phew! You can only take so much of that.

Array! Hooray? No… Arrays.

What is an array?

Let’s use an analogy from my old comp sci textbook. Firstly, you know what a variable is (you should by now). Think of this as an index card, with a piece of data written on it. For example, the number 8. Let’s get a few more index cards, and write one number on each one. 6, 7, 5, 3, 0, 9. So now you have seven pieces of data, or seven variables. They relate to each other in some way or another, and they could change, so we need a way to keep them together as a group for easier reference. So we put those cards in a small filing box, and we give that box a name, e.g. “Jenny”.

An array is that small filing box. It holds a series of variables of any type possible with arduino. To create an array, you need to define it like any other variable. For example, an array of 10 integers called jenny would be defined as:

And like any other variable, you can predefine the values. For example:

Before we get too excited, there is a limit to how much data we can store. With the Arduino Duemilanove, we have 2 kilobytes for variables. See the hardware specifications for more information on memory and so on. To use more we would need to interface with an external RAM IC… that’s for another chapter down the track.

Now to change the contents of an array is also easy, for example

will change our array to

Oh, but that was the fourth element! Yes, true. Arrays are zero-indexed, so the first element is element zero, not one. So in the above example, jenny[4] = 6. Easy.

You can also use variables when dealing with arrays. For example:

Will change alter our array to become

A quick way set set a lot of digital pins to output could be:

Interesting… very interesting. Imagine if you had a large array, an analogue input sensor, a for loop, and a delay. You could make a data logger. In fact, let’s do that now.

Exercise 4.2

Build a temperature logger. It shall read the temperature once every period of time, for 24 hours. Once it has completed the measurements, it will display the values measured, the minimum, maximum, and average of the temperature data. You can set the time period to be of your own choosing. So let’s have a think about our algorithm. We will need 24 spaces to place our readings (hmm… an array?)

  • Loop around 24 times, feeding the temperature into the array, then waiting a period of time
  • Once the 24 loops have completed, calculate and display the results on an LCD and (if connected) a personal computer using the Arduino IDE serial monitor.

I know you can do it, this project is just the sum of previously-learned knowledge. If you need help, feel free to email me or post a comment at the end of this instalment.

To complete this exercise, you will need the following:

  • Your standard Arduino setup (computer, cable, Uno or compatible)
  • Water (you need to stay hydrated)
  • Analog Devices TMP36 temperature sensor (element-14 part number 143-8760)
  • 1 little push button
  • 1 x 10k 0.25 W resistor. For use with the button to the arduino
  • a breadboard and some connecting wire
  • one LCD display module

And off you go!

Today I decided to construct it using the Electronic Bricks for a change, and it worked out nicely. Here is a photo of my setup:


a shot of my serial output on the personal computer:

and of course the ubiquitous video. For the purposes of the demonstration there is a much smaller delay between samples…

(The video clip below may refer to itself as exercise 4.1, this is an error. It is definitely exercise 4.2)

And here is the sketch if you would like to take a peek. High resolution photos are available in flickr. Another chapter over! I’m already excited about writing the next instalment… Chapter Five.


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Posted in 74hc595, arduino, education, lesson, microcontrollers, tronixstuff, tutorial17 Comments

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