Archive | millis

Project – Single button combination lock

Time for something different  – a single button combination lock. Allow me to explain…

Updated 18/03/2013

Normally a combination lock would require the entry of a series of unique numbers in order to unlock something or start an action. For example:


(image information)

A more contemporary type of lock could be controlled electronically, for example by a keypad where the user enters a series of digits to cause something to happen. Such as the keypad on this dodgy $30 safe from Officeworks:

As you can see there is a button for each digit. You would think that this would be a good idea –  however people can watch you enter the digits, or users can be silly enough to write down the combination somewhere. In some cases the more cunning monkeys have even placed cameras that can observe keypads to record people entering the combination. There must be a better way. Possibly! However in the meanwhile you can consider my idea instead – just have one button. Only one button – and the combination is made up of the time that elapses between presses of the button. There are many uses for such an odd lock:

  • A type of combination lock that controls an electric door strike, or activates a device of some sort;
  • A way of testing mind-hand coordination for skill, or the base of a painfully frustrating game;
  • Perhaps an interlock on motor vehicle to prevent drink driving. After a few drinks there’s no way you could get the timing right. Then again, after a double espresso or two you might have problems as well.
How does it work? Consider the following:

We measure the duration of time between each press of the button (in this case – delay 1~4). These delay times are then compared against values stored in the program that controls the lock. It is also prudent to allow for some tolerance in the user’s press delay – say plus or minus ten to fifteen percent. We are not concerned with the duration of each button press, however it is certainly feasible.

To create this piece of hardware is quite easy, and once again we will use the Arduino way of doing things. For prototyping and experimenting it is simple enough to create with a typical board such as a Uno or Eleven and a solderless breadboard – however to create a final product you could minimise it by using a bare-bones solution (as described here). Now let’s get started…

For demonstration purposes we have a normally-open button connected to digital pin 2 on our Arduino-compatible board using the 10k ohm pull down resistor as such:


The next thing to do is determine our delay time values. Our example will use five presses, so we measure four delays. With the following sketch, you can generate the delay data by pushing the button yourself – the sketch will return the delay times on the serial monitor:

So what’s going on the this sketch? Each time the button is pressed a reading of millis() is taken and stored in an array. [More on millis() in the tutorial]. Once the button has been pressed five times, the difference in time between each press is calculated and stored in the array del[]. Note the use of a 500 ms delay in the function dataCapture(), this is to prevent the button bouncing and will need to be altered to suit your particular button. Finally the delay data is then displayed on the serial monitor. For example:

The example was an attempt to count one second between each press. This example also illustrates the need to incorporate some tolerance in the actual lock sketch. With a tolerance of +/- 10% and delay values of one second, the lock would activate. With 5% – no. Etcetera.

Now for the lock sketch. Again it measures the millis() value on each button press and after five presses calculates the duration between each press. Finally in the function checkCombination() the durations are compared against the stored delay values (generated using the first sketch) which are stored in the array del[]. In our example lock sketch we have values of one second between each button press. The tolerance is stored as a decimal fraction in the variable tolerance; for example to have a tolerance of ten percent, use 0.1:

When choosing your time delays, ensure they are larger than the value used for button debounce (the delay() function call) in the dataCapture() function. Notice the two functions success() and failure() – these will contain the results of what happens when the user successfully enters the combination or does not. For a demonstration of the final product, I have connected an LCD to display the outcomes of the entry attempts. You can download the sketch from here. The key used in this example is 1,2,3,4 seconds:

Although there are four buttons on the board used in the video, only one is used. Well I hope someone out there found this interesting or slightly useful…

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly 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, combination lock, education, learning electronics, lesson, microcontrollers, millis, projects, tutorial, twitter6 Comments

Tutorial: Arduino timing methods with millis()

This is chapter thirty-seven of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – in what feels like an endless series of articles on the Arduino universe. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here. Any files from tutorials will be found here.

[Updated 20/01/2013]

In this article we introduce the millis(); function and put it to use to create various timing examples.

Millis? Nothing to do with lip-syncers… hopefully you recognised milli as being the numerical prefix for one-thousandths; that is multiplying a unit of measure by 0.001 (or ten to the power of negative 3). Interestingly our Arduino systems will count the number of milliseconds (thousands of a second) from the start of a sketch running until the count reaches the maximum number capable of being stored in the variable type unsigned long (a 32-bit [four byte] integer – that ranges from zero to (2^32)-1.

(2^32)-1, or 4294967295 milliseconds converts to 49.71027-odd days. The counter resets when the Arduino is reset, it reaches the maximum value or a new sketch is uploaded. To get the value of the counter at a particular juncture, just call the function – for example:

Where start is an unsigned long variable. Here is a very simple example to show you millis() in action:

The sketch stores the current millis count in start, then waits one second, then stores the value of millis again in finished. Finally it calculates the elapsed time of the delay.  In the following screen dump of the serial monitor, you can see that the duration was not always exactly 1000 milliseconds:

To put it simply, the millis function makes use of an internal counter within the ATmega microcontroller at the heart of your Arduino. This counter increments every clock cycle – which happens (in standard Arduino and compatibles) at a clock speed of 16 Mhz. This speed is controlled by the crystal on the Arduino board (the silver thing with T16.000 stamped on it):

Crystal accuracy can vary depending on external temperature, and the tolerance of the crystal itself. This in turn will affect the accuracy of your millis result. Anecdotal experience has reported the drift in timing accuracy can be around three or four seconds per twenty-four hour period. If you are using a board or your own version that is using a ceramic resonator instead of a crystal, note that they are not as accurate and will introduce the possibility of higher drift levels. If you need a much higher level of timing accuracy, consider specific timer ICs such as the Maxim DS3232.

Now we can make use of the millis  for various timing functions. As demonstrated in the previous example sketch, we can calculate elapsed time. To take this idea forward, let’s make a simple stopwatch. Doing so can be as simple or as complex as necessary, but for this case we will veer towards simple. On the hardware perspective, we will have two buttons – Start and Stop – with the 10k ohm pull-down resistors connected to digital pins 2 and 3 respectively.

When the user presses start the sketch will note the value for millis – then after stop is pressed, the sketch will again note the value for millis, calculate and display the elapsed time. The user can then press start to repeat the process, or stop for updated data. Here is the sketch:

The calls to delay() are used to debounce the switches – these are optional and their use will depend on your hardware. Below is an example of the sketch’s serial monitor output – the stopwatch has started, and then button two pressed six times across periods of time:

If you had a sensor at the start and end of a fixed distance, speed could be calculated: speed = distance ÷ time.

You can also make a speedometer for a wheeled form of motion, for example a bicycle. At the present time I do not have a bicycle to mess about with, however we can describe the process to do so – it is quite simple. (Disclaimer – do so at your own risk etc.)  First of all, let’s review the necessary maths. You will need to know the circumference of the wheel. Hardware – you will need a sensor. For example – a reed switch and magnet. Consider the reed switch to be a normally-open button, and connect as usual with a 10k ohm pull-down resistor. Others may use a hall-effect sensor – each to their own). Remember from maths class:

(image licence)

To calculate the circumference – use the formula:

circumference = 2πr 

where r is the radius of the circle. Now that you have the wheel circumference, this value can be considered as our ‘fixed distance’, and therefore the speed can be calculated by measuring the elapsed time between of a full rotation.

Your sensor – once fitted – should act in the same method as a normally-open button that is pushed every rotation. Our sketch will measure the time elapsed between every pulse from the sensor. To do this, our example will have the sensor output connected to digital pin 2 – as it will trigger an interrupt to calculate the speed. (Interrupts? See chapter three). The sketch will otherwise be displaying the speed on a normal I2C-interface LCD module. The I2C interface is suggested as this requires only 4 wires from the Arduino board to the LCD – the less wires the better.

Here is the sketch for your perusal:

There isn’t that much going on – every time the wheel completes one revolution the signal from the sensor will go from low to high – triggering an interrupt which calls the function speedCalc(). This takes a reading of millis() and then calculates the difference between the current reading and the previous reading – this value becomes the time to cover the distance (which is the circumference of the wheel relative to the sensor – stored in

and is measured in metres). It finally calculates the speed in km/h and MPH. Between interrupts the sketch displays the updated speed data on the LCD as well as the raw time value for each revolution for curiosity’s sake. In real life I don’t think anyone would mount an LCD on a bicycle, perhaps an LED display would be more relevant.

In the meanwhile, you can see how this example works in the following short video clip. Instead of a bike wheel and reed switch/magnet combination, I have connected the square-wave output from a function generator to the interrupt pin to simulate the pulses from the sensor, so you can get an idea of how it works:

That just about sums up the use of millis() for the time being. There is also the micros(); function which counts microseconds. So there you have it – another practical function that can allow more problems to be solved via the world of Arduino. As always, now it is up to you and your imagination to find something to control or get up to other shenanigans.


Have fun and keep checking into 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, education, learning electronics, lesson, microcontrollers, millis, speedometer, stopwatch, timing, tutorial18 Comments

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