Tag Archive | "example"

Tutorial – LM3915 Logarithmic Dot/Bar Display Driver IC


This is the second of three articles that will examine the LM391x series of LED driver ICs. The first covered the LM3914, this will cover the LM3915 and the LM3916 will follow. The goal of these is to have you using the parts in a small amount of time and experiment with your driver ICs, from which point you can research further into their theory and application.

Although these parts have been around for many years, the LM3915 isn’t used that much however for the sake of completeness we’re writing the tutorial. The LM3915 offers a simple way to display a logarithmic voltage level using one or more groups of ten LEDs with a minimum of fuss. If you’re wanting to make a VU meter, you should use the LM3916 which we will cover in the final instalment of this trilogy.

Instead of having each LED represent a voltage level as with the LM3914, each LED connected to the LM3915 represents a 3 dB (decibel) change in the power level of the signal. For more on decibels, check out Wikipedia.

To display these power level changes we’ll run through a couple of examples that you can use in your own projects and hopefully give you some ideas for the future. Originally by National Semiconductor, the LM391X series is now handled by Texas Instruments.


Getting Started

You will need the LM3915 data sheet, so please download that and keep it as a reference. First – back to basics. The LM3915 controls ten LEDs. It controls the current through the LEDs with the use of only one resistor, and the LEDs can appear in a bar graph or single ‘dot’ when in use. The LM3915 contains a ten-stage voltage divider, each stage when reached will illuminate the matching LED (and those below it in level meter mode).

Let’s consider the most basic of examples (from page two of the data sheet) – a simple logarithmic display of voltage between 0 and 10V:

LM3915 demo board circuitAfter building the circuit you can connect a signal to measure via pin 5, and the GND to pin 2. We’ve built the circuit exactly as above on some stripboard for demonstration purposes, with the only difference being the use of an 8.2kΩ resistor for R2:

LM3915 demo board

To show this in action we use a signal of varying AC voltage – a sine wave at around 2 kHz. In the following video, you can see the comparison of the signal’s voltage against the LEDs being illuminated, and you will see the logarithmic voltage increase represented by the LEDs:

We used the bar display mode for the voltage increase, and the dot display mode for the voltage decrease. Did you notice that during the voltage decrease, the LEDs below the maximum level being displayed were dim? As the signal’s voltage was varying very quickly, the change in the LED’s location is a blur due to the speed of change. In the video below, we’ve slowed the frequency right down but kept the same maximum voltage.

Well that was a lot of fun, and gives you an idea of what is possible with the LM3915.

Displaying weaker signals

In non-theoretical situations your input signal won’t conveniently be between 0 and 10 V. For example the line level on audio equipment can vary between 1 and 3V peak to peak. For example, here’s a random DSO image from measuring the headphone output on my computer whilst playing some typical music:

audio signal LM3915 PC sound

Although it’s an AC signal we’ll treat it as DC for simplicity. So to display this random low DC voltage signal we’ll reduce the range of the display to 0~3V DC. This is done using  the same method as with the LM3914 – with maths and different resistors.

Consider the following formulae:

LM3915 reference voltage formula

As you can see the LED current (Iled) is simple, however we’ll need to solve for R1 and R2 with the first formula to get our required Vref of 3V. For our example circuit I use 2.2kΩ for R2 which gives a value of 1.8kΩ for R1. However putting those values in the ILED formula gives a pretty low current for the LEDs, about 8.3 mA. Live and learn – so spend time experimenting with values so you can match the required Vref and ILED.

Nevertheless in this video below we have the Vref of 3V and some music in from the computer as a sample source of low-voltage DC. This is not a VU meter! Wait for the LM3916 article to do that.

Again due to the rapid rate of change of the voltage, there is the blue between the maximum level at the time and 0V.

Chaining multiple LM3915s

This is covered well in the data sheet, so read it for more on using two LM3915s. Plus there are some great example circuits in the data sheet, for example the 100W audio power meter on page 26 and the vibration meter (using a piezo) on page 18.


As always I hope you found this useful. Don’t forget to stay tuned for the final instalment about the LM3916. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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 electronics, LM3915, TI, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (0)

Tutorial – Arduino and the MAX7219 LED Display Driver IC

Use the Maxim MAX7219 LED display driver with Arduino in Chapter 56 of our Arduino Tutorials. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.


Sooner or later Arduino enthusiasts and beginners alike will come across the MAX7219 IC. And for good reason, it’s a simple and somewhat inexpensive method of controlling 64 LEDs in either matrix or numeric display form. Furthermore they can be chained together to control two or more units for even more LEDs. Overall – they’re a lot of fun and can also be quite useful, so let’s get started.

Here’s an example of a MAX7219 and another IC which is a functional equivalent, the AS1107 from Austria Microsystems. You might not see the AS1107 around much, but it can be cheaper – so don’t be afraid to use that instead:

MAX7219 AS1107

 At first glance you may think that it takes a lot of real estate, but it saves some as well. As mentioned earlier, the MAX7219 can completely control 64 individual LEDs – including maintaining equal brightness, and allowing you to adjust the brightness of the LEDs either with hardware or software (or both). It can refresh the LEDs at around 800 Hz, so no more flickering, uneven LED displays.

You can even switch the display off for power saving mode, and still send it data while it is off. And another good thing – when powered up, it keeps the LEDs off, so no wacky displays for the first seconds of operation. For more technical information, here is the data sheet: MAX7219.pdf. Now to put it to work for us – we’ll demonstrate using one or more 8 x 8 LED matrix displays, as well as 8 digits of 7-segment LED numbers.

Before continuing, download and install the LedControl Arduino library as it is essential for using the MAX7219.

Controlling LED matrix displays with the MAX7219

First of all, let’s examine the hardware side of things. Here is the pinout diagram for the MAX7219:

MAX7219 pinout

The MAX7219 drives eight LEDs at a time, and by rapidly switching banks of eight your eyes don’t see the changes. Wiring up a matrix is very simple – if you have a common matrix with the following schematic:

LED matrix pinoutsconnect the MAX7219 pins labelled DP, A~F to the row pins respectively, and the MAX7219 pins labelled DIG0~7 to the column pins respectively. A total example circuit with the above matrix  is as follows:

MAX7219 example LED matrix circuit

The circuit is quite straight forward, except we have a resistor between 5V and MAX7219 pin 18. The MAX7219 is a constant-current LED driver, and the value of the resistor is used to set the current flow to the LEDs. Have a look at table eleven on page eleven of the data sheet:

MAX7219 resistor tableYou’ll need to know the voltage and forward current for your LED matrix or numeric display, then match the value on the table. E.g. if you have a 2V 20 mA LED, your resistor value will be 28kΩ (the values are in kΩ). Finally, the MAX7219 serial in, load and clock pins will go to Arduino digital pins which are specified in the sketch. We’ll get to that in the moment, but before that let’s return to the matrix modules.

In the last few months there has been a proliferation of inexpensive kits that contain a MAX7219 or equivalent, and an LED matrix. These are great for experimenting with and can save you a lot of work – some examples of which are shown below:

MAX7219 LED matrix modules

At the top is an example from tronixlabs.com, and the pair on the bottom are the units from a recent kit review. We’ll use these for our demonstrations as well.

Now for the sketch. You need the following two lines at the beginning of the sketch:

The first pulls in the library, and the second line sets up an instance to control. The four parameters are as follows:

  1. the digital pin connected to pin 1 of the MAX7219 (“data in”)
  2. the digital pin connected to pin 13 of the MAX7219 (“CLK or clock”)
  3. the digital pin connected to pin 12 of the MAX7219 (“LOAD”)
  4. The number of MAX7219s connected.

If you have more than one MAX7219, connect the DOUT (“data out”) pin of the first MAX7219 to pin 1 of the second, and so on. However the CLK and LOAD pins are all connected in parallel and then back to the Arduino.

Next, two more vital functions that you’d normally put in void setup():

The first line above turns the LEDs connected to the MAX7219 on. If you set TRUE, you can send data to the MAX7219 but the LEDs will stay off. The second line adjusts the brightness of the LEDs in sixteen stages. For both of those functions (and all others from the LedControl) the first parameter is the number of the MAX7219 connected. If you have one, the parameter is zero… for two MAX7219s, it’s 1 and so on.

Finally, to turn an individual LED in the matrix on or off, use:

which turns on an LED positioned at col, row connected to MAX7219 #1. Change TRUE to FALSE to turn it off. These functions are demonstrated in the following sketch:

And a quick video of the results:

How about controlling two MAX7219s? Or more? The hardware modifications are easy – connect the serial data out pin from your first MAX7219 to the data in pin on the second (and so on), and the LOAD and CLOCK pins from the first MAX7219 connect to the second (and so on). You will of course still need the 5V, GND, resistor, capacitors etc. for the second and subsequent MAX7219.

You will also need to make a few changes in your sketch. The first is to tell it how many MAX7219s you’re using in the following line:

by replacing X with the quantity. Then whenever you’re using  a MAX7219 function, replace the (previously used) zero with the number of the MAX7219 you wish to address. They are numbered from zero upwards, with the MAX7219 directly connected to the Arduino as unit zero, then one etc. To demonstrate this, we replicate the previous example but with two MAX7219s:

And again, a quick demonstration:

Another fun use of the MAX7219 and LED matrices is to display scrolling text. For the case of simplicity we’ll use the LedControl library and the two LED matrix modules from the previous examples.

First our example sketch – it is quite long however most of this is due to defining the characters for each letter of the alphabet and so on. We’ll explain it at the other end!

The pertinent parts are at the top of the sketch – the following line sets the number of MAX7219s in the hardware:

The following can be adjusted to change the speed of text scrolling:

… then place the text to scroll in the following (for example):

Finally – to scroll the text on demand, use the following:

You can then incorporate the code into your own sketches. And a video of the example sketch in action:

Although we used the LedControl library, there are many others out there for scrolling text. One interesting example is Parola  – which is incredibly customisable.

Controlling LED numeric displays with the MAX7219

Using the MAX7219 and the LedControl library you can also drive numeric LED displays – up to eight digits from the one MAX7219. This gives you the ability to make various numeric displays that are clear to read and easy to control. When shopping around for numeric LED displays, make sure you have the common-cathode type.

Connecting numeric displays is quite simple, consider the following schematic which should appear familiar by now:

MAX7219 7-segment schematic

The schematic shows the connections for modules or groups of up to eight digits. Each digit’s A~F and dp (decimal point) anodes connect together to the MAX7219, and each digit’s cathode connects in order as well. The MAX7219 will display each digit in turn by using one cathode at a time. Of course if you want more than eight digits, connect another MAX7219 just as we did with the LED matrices previously.

The required code in the sketch is identical to the LED matrix code, however to display individual digits we use:

where A is the MAX7219 we’re using, B is the digit to use (from a possible 0 to 7), C is the digit to display (0~9… if you use 10~15 it will display A~F respectively) and D is false/true (digit on or off). You can also send basic characters such as a dash “-” with the following:

Now let’s put together an example of eight digits:

and the sketch in action:


We have only scratched the surface of what is possible with the MAX7219 and compatible parts. They’re loads of fun and quite useful as well. And finally a plug for our own store – tronixlabs.com – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and Australia’s best value for supported hobbyist electronics from DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeedstudio and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

Posted in arduino, as1107, COM-09622, LED matrix, lesson, max7219, part review, tronixlabs, tronixstuff, tutorial

Tutorial – LM3914 Dot/Bar Display Driver IC


This is the first of three tutorials that will examine the LM391x series of LED driver ICs. In this first tutorial we cover the LM3914, then the LM3915 and LM3916 will follow. The goal of these tutorials is to have you using the parts in a small amount of time and experiment with your driver ICs, from which point you can research further into their theory and application.

Although these parts have been around for many years, the LM3914 in particular is still quite popular. It offers a simple way to display a linear voltage level using one or more groups of ten LEDs with a minimum of fuss.

With a variety of external parts or circuitry these LEDs can then represent all sorts of data, or just blink for your amusement. We’ll run through a few example circuits that you can use in your own projects and hopefully give you some ideas for the future. Originally by National Semiconductor, the LM391X series is now handled by Texas Instruments.


Getting Started

You will need the LM3914 data sheet, so please download that and keep it as a reference. So – back to basics. The LM3914 controls ten LEDs. It controls the current through the LEDs with the use of only one resistor, and the LEDs can appear in a bar graph or single ‘dot’ when in use. The LM3914 contains a ten-stage voltage divider, each stage when reached will illuminate the matching LED (and those below it in level meter mode).

Let’s consider the most basic of examples (from page two of the data sheet) – a voltmeter with a range of 0~5V:

 LM3914 5V voltmeter circuit

The Vled rail is also connected to the supply voltage in our example. Pin 9 controls the bar/dot display mode – with it connected to pin 3 the LEDs will operate in bar graph mode, leave it open for dot mode. The 2.2uF capacitor is required only when “leads to the LED supply are 6″ or longer”. We’ve hooked up the circuit above, and created a 0~5V DC source via a 10kΩ potentiometer with a multimeter to show the voltage – in the following video you can see the results of this circuit in action, in both dot and bar graph mode:

Customising the upper range and LED current

Well that was exciting, however what if you want a different reference voltage? That is you want your display to have a range of 0~3 V DC? And how do you control the current flow through each LED? With maths and resistors. Consider the following formulae:

LM3914 formulae

As you can see the LED current (Iled) is simple, our example is 12.5/1210 which returned 10.3 mA – and in real life 12.7 mA (resistor tolerance is going to affect the value of the calculations).

Now to calculate a new Ref Out voltage – for example  we’ll shoot for a 3 V meter, and keep the same current for the LEDs. This requires solving for R2 in the equation above, which results with R2 = -R1 + 0.8R1V. Substituting the values – R2 = -1210 + 0.8 x 1210 x 3 gives a value of 1694Ω for R2. Not everyone will have the E48 resistor range, so try and get something as close as possible. We found a 1.8 kΩ for R2 and show the results in the following video:

You can of course have larger display range values, but a supply voltage of no more than 25 V will need to be equal to or greater than that value. E.g. if you want a 0~10 V display, the supply voltage must be >= 10V DC.

Creating custom ranges

Now we’ll look at how to create  a lower range limit, so you can have displays that (for example) can range from a non-zero positive value. For example, you want to display levels between 3 and 5V DC. From the previous section, you know how to set the upper limit, and setting the lower limit is simple – just apply the lower voltage to pin 4 (Rlo).

You can derive this using a resistor divider or other form of supply with a common GND. When creating such circuits, remember that the tolerance of the resistors used in the voltage dividers will have an affect on the accuracy. Some may wish to fit trimpots, which after alignment can be set permanently with a blob of glue.

Finally, for more reading on this topic – download and review the TI application note.

Chaining multiple LM3914s

Two or more LM3914s can be chained together to increase the number of LEDs used to display the levels over an expanded range. The circuitry is similar to using two independent units, except the REFout (pin 7) from the first LM3914 is fed to the REFlo (pin 4) of the second LM3914 – whose REFout is set as required for the upper range limit. Consider the following example schematic which gave a real-world range of 0~3.8V DC:


The 20~22kΩ resistor is required if you’re using dot mode (see “Dot mode carry” in page ten of the data sheet). Moving on, the circuit above results with the following:

Where to from here?

Now you can visually represent all sorts of low voltages for many purposes. There’s more example circuits and notes in the LM3914 data sheet, so have a read through and delve deeper into the operation of the LM3914. Furthermore Dave Jones from eevblog.com has made a great video whcih describes a practical application of the LM3914:


As always I hope you found this useful. Don’t forget to stay tuned for the second and third instalments using the LM3915 and LM3916. Full-sized images are on flickr. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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 electronics, LED, LM3914, TI, tronixstuff, tutorial, voltmeterComments (0)

Tutorial: Arduino and Numeric Keypads – Part Two

Use larger numeric keypads in this addendum to chapter forty-two of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – a 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.

Welcome back fellow arduidans!

This is the second part of our numeric keypad tutorial – in which we use the larger keypads with four rows of four buttons. For example:

Again, the keypad looks like a refugee from the 1980s – however it serves a purpose. Notice that there are eight connections at the bottom instead of seven – the extra connection is for the extra column of buttons – A~D. This example again came from Futurlec. For this tutorial you will need the data sheet for the pinouts, so download it from here (.pdf).

To use this keypad is very easy, if you haven’t already done so, download the numeric keypad Arduino library from here, copy the “Keypad” folder into your ../arduino-002x/libraries folder, then restart the Arduino IDE.

Now for our first example – just to check all is well. From a hardware perspective you will need:

  • An Arduino Uno or 100% compatible board
  • A 4×4 numeric keypad
  • An LCD of some sort. We will be using an I2C-interface model. If you are unsure about LCD usage, please see this tutorial
  • If you don’t have an LCD – that’s ok. Our demonstration sketch also sends the key presses to the serial monitor. Just delete the lines referring to Wire, LCD etc.
Connect the keypad to the Arduino in the following manner:
  • Keypad row 1 (pin eight) to Arduino digital 5
  • Keypad row 2 (pin 1) to Arduino digital 4
  • Keypad row 3 (pin 2) to Arduino digital 3
  • Keypad row 4 (pin 4) to Arduino digital 2
  • Keypad column 1 (pin 3) to Arduino digital 9
  • Keypad column 2 (pin 5) to Arduino digital 8
  • Keypad column 3 (pin 6) to Arduino digital 7
  • Keypad column 4 (pin 7) to Arduino digital 6
Now for the sketch – take note how we have accommodated for the larger numeric keypad:
  • the extra column in the array char keys[]
  • the extra pin in the array colPins[]
  • and the byte COLS = 4.

And our action video:

Now for another example – we will repeat the keypad switch from chapter 42 – but allow the letters into the PIN, and use the LCD instead of LEDs for the status. In the following example, the PIN is 12AD56. Please remember that the functions correctPIN() and incorrectPIN() are example functions for resulting PIN entry – you would replace these with your own requirements, such as turning something on or off:

Now let’s see it in action:

So now you have the ability to use twelve and sixteen-button keypads with your Arduino systems.


Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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, DFR0063, lesson, microcontrollers, numeric keypad, tutorialComments (2)

Tutorial: Arduino Port Manipulation

Control Arduino I/O pins faster and with less code in chapter forty-three of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – a series of articles on the Arduino universe.

[Updated 19/01/13]

In this article we are going to revisit the I/O pins, and use what is called “Port Manipulation” to control them in a much faster manner than using digitalWrite()/digitalRead().


Speed! Using this method allows for much faster I/O control, and we can control or read groups of I/O pins simultaneously, not one at a time;

Memory! Using this method reduces the amount of memory your sketch will use.

Once again I will try and keep things as simple as possible. This article is written for Arduino boards that use the ATmega168 or ATmega328 microcontrollers (used in Arduino Duemilanove/Uno, Freetronics Eleven/EtherTen, etc).

First, we’ll use the I/O as outputs. There are three port registers that we can alter to set the status of the digital and analogue I/O pins. A port register can be thought of  as a special byte variable that we can change which is read by the microcontroller, therefore controlling the state of various I/O ports. We have three port registers to work with:

  • D – for digital pins seven to zero (bank D)
  • B – for digital pins thirteen to eight (bank B)
  • C – for analogue pins five to zero (bank … C!)

Register C can control analogue pins seven to zero if using an Arduino with the TQFP style of ATmega328, such as the Nano or Freetronics EtherTen). For example:

It is very simple to do so. In void setup(), we use

where y is the register type (B/C/D) and xxxxxxxx are eight bits that determine if a pin is to be an input or output. Use 0 for input, and 1 for output. The LSB (least-significant bit [the one on the right!]) is the lowest pin number for that register. Next, to control a bank of pins, use

where y is the register type (B/C/D) and xxxxxxxx are eight status bits – 1 for HIGH, 0 for LOW. This is demonstrated in the following example:

It sets digital pins 7~0 to output in void setup(). Then it alternates turning on and off alternating halves of digital pins 0~7. At the start I mentioned that using port manipulation was a lot faster than using regular Arduino I/O functions. How fast? To test the speed of port manipulation vs. using digitalWrite(), we will use the following circuit:

… and analyse the output at digital pins zero and seven using a digital storage oscilloscope. Our first test sketch turns on and off digital pins 0~7 without any delay between PORTD commands – in other words, as fast as possible. The sketch:

In the image below, digital zero is channel one, and digital seven is channel three:


Wow – check the frequency measurements – 1.1432 MHz! Interesting to note the longer duration of time when the pins are low vs. high.

[Update] Well it turns out that the extra time in LOW includes the time for the Arduino to go back to the top of void loop(). This can be demonstrated in the following sketch. We turn the pins on and off five times instead of once:

And the results from the MSO. You can see the duty cycle is much closer to 50% until the end of the sketch, at which point around 660 nanoseconds is the time used between the end of the last LOW period and the start of the next HIGH:


Next we do it the normal way, using this sketch:

And the results:


That was a lot slower – we’re down to 14.085 kHz, with a much neater square-wave output. Could some CPU time be saved by not using the for loop? We tested once more with the following sketch:

and the results:


A small speed boost, the frequency has increased to 14.983 kHz. Hopefully you can now understand the benefits of using port manipulation. However there are a few things to take note of:

  • You can’t control digital pins 0 and 1 (in bank D) and use the serial monitor/port. For example if you set pin zero to output, it can’t receive data!
  • Always document your sketch – take pity on others who may need to review it later on and become puzzled about wchich bits are controlling or reading what!
Now to waste some electron flows by blinking LEDs. Using the circuit described earlier, the following sketch will create various effects for someone’s enjoyment:

And here it is in real life:

Now to use the I/O pins as inputs. Again, it is very simple to do so. In void setup(), we use

where y is the register type (B/C/D) and xxxxxxxx are eight bits that determine if a pin is to be an input or output. Use 0 for input. The LSB (least-significant bit [the one on the right!]) is the lowest pin number for that register. Next, to read the status of the pins we simply read the byte:

where y is the register type (B/C/D). So if you were using port B as inputs, and digital pins 8~10 were high, and 11~13 were low, PINB would be equal to B00000111. Really, that’s it!

Now for another demonstration using both inputs and outputs. We will use a push-wheel switch from Chapter 40 on our inputs (digital pins 8~11), and a seven segment LED display for output (on digtal pins 7~0 – segments dp then a~f). The following sketch reads the input from the switch, which returns 0~9 in binary-coded decimal. This value is then used in the function void disp() to retrieve the matching byte from the array “segments”, which contains the appropriate outputs to drive the seven segment LED display unit. Here is the sketch:

And the ubiquitous demonstration video:

By now I hope you have an understanding of using port manipulation for your benefit. With a little effort your sketches can be more efficient in terms of speed and memory space, and also allow nifty simultaneous reading of input pins.


Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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, lesson, microcontrollers, port manipulation, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (15)

Tutorial: Arduino and Numeric Keypads

Use numeric keypads with Arduino in chapter forty-two of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – a 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.

This is part one of two chapters that will examine another useful form of input – the numeric keypad; and some applications that hopefully may be of use.  Here is the example we will be working with:

It seems quite similar to the keypad from a 1980s-era Dick Smith Electronics cordless phone. Turning the keypad over we find seven pins:

Personally I like this type of connection, as it makes prototyping very easy using a breadboard – you just push it in. Looking at the back the pins are numbered seven to one (left to right). My example was from Futurlec of all places. You can also find types that have solder pads. At this point you need to download the data sheet.pdf, as it shows the pinouts for the rows and columns. At first glance trying to establish a way of reading the keypad with the Arduino does seem troublesome – however the basic process is to ‘scan’ each row and then test if a button has been pressed.

If your keypad has more than seven pins or contacts – and the data sheet was not supplied, you will need to manually determine which contacts are for the rows and columns. This can be done using the continuity function of a multimeter (the buzzer). Start by placing one probe on pin 1, the other probe on pin 2, and press the keys one by one. Make a note of when a button completes the circuit, then move onto the next pin. Soon you will know which is which. For example, on the example keypad pins 1 and 5 are for button “1”, 2 and 5 for “4”, etc…

In the interest of keeping things simple and relatively painless we will use the numeric keypad Arduino library. Download the library from here, copy the “Keypad” folder into your ../arduino-002x/libraries folder, then restart the Arduino IDE.

Now for our first example. From a hardware perspective you will need

  • An Arduino Uno or 100% compatible board
  • A numeric keypad
  • An LCD of some sort. We will be using an I2C-interface model. If you are unsure about LCD usage, please see this tutorial
  • If you don’t have an LCD – that’s ok. After installing the keypad library, select File>Examples>Keypad>Examples>HelloKeypad in the IDE.
Connect the keypad to the Arduino in the following manner:
  • Keypad row 1 to Arduino digital 5
  • Keypad row 2 to Arduino digital 4
  • Keypad row 3 to Arduino digital 3
  • Keypad row 4 to Arduino digital 2
  • Keypad column 1 to Arduino digital 8
  • Keypad column 2 to Arduino digital 7
  • Keypad column 3 to Arduino digital 6
Now for the sketch:

For the non-believers, here it is in action:

As you can see the library really does all the work for us. In the section below the comment “keypad type definition” we have defined how many rows and columns make up the keypad. Furthermore which digital pins connect to the keypad’s row and column pins. If you have a different keypad such as a 16-button version these will need to be modified. Furthermore you can also map out what the buttons will represent in the array “keys”. Then all of these variables are passed to the library in the function Keypad keypad = Keypad() etc.

Reading the buttons pressed is accomplished in void loop()… it reads the keypad by placing the current value into the char variable “key”. The if… statement tests if a button has been pressed. You can reproduce this loop within your own sketch to read values and then move forward to other functions. Let’s do that now in our next example.

Keypad Switch

Using our existing example hardware we can turn something on or off by using the keypad – replicating what can be found in some alarm systems and so on. Our goal with this example is simple – the systems waits for a PIN to be entered. If the PIN is correct, do something. If the PIN is incorrect, do something else. What the actions are can be up to you, but for the example we will turn on or off a digital output. This example is to give you a concept and framework to build you own ideas with.

The hardware is the same as the previous example but without the LCD. Instead, we have a 560 ohm resistor followed by an LED to GND from digital pin ten. Now for the sketch:

And the ubiquitous demonstration video:

This sketch is somewhat more complex. It starts with the usual keypad setting up and so on. We have two arrays, attempt and PIN. PIN holds the number which will successfully activate the switch, and attempt is used to store the key presses entered by the user. Users must press ‘*’ then the PIN then ‘#’ to activate the switch.

The comparison to check for accuracy is in the function checkPIN(). It compares the contents of PIN against attempt. If they match, the function correctPIN() is called. If the entered PIN is incorrect, the function incorrectPIN() is called. We also call the function incorrectPIN() in void setup to keep things locked down in case of a power failure or a system reset.

You can now see that such a complex device can be harnessed very easily, and could have a variety of uses. In part two, we will look at the 16-digit 


Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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, learning electronics, lesson, microcontrollers, numeric keypad, tutorialComments (9)

The DFRobot LCD4884 LCD Shield

Learn how to use the DFRobot LCD4884 Arduino LCD shield.

Updated 19/03/2013

This needs to be updated for use with Arduino IDE v1.0.1 and greater… however we no longer have a shield to test it. Stay tuned via twitter to find out when this is updated.

This article is my response to a request on how to use the LCD4884 LCD shield from DFRobot in China. It is a simple way of displaying text and the odd graphic, as well as another way to accept user input. Here is the shield in question:


From a hardware perspective the LCD has a resolution of 84 by 48 pixels, with a blue back light. It can easily display six rows of fourteen alphanumeric characters, or two rows of six very large characters. Furthermore, it can display bitmap images that are appropriately sized. At the top-left of the shield digital pins eight to thirteen have been expanded with matching Vcc and GND pins, and at the bottom right the same has been done with analogue pins one through to five. Therefore if using this shield, you will lose digital pins two through to seven and analogue zero.

Along the bottom-left of the shield are solder pads for some other I/O options, however I couldn’t find any documentation on how these are used. Below the LCD is a small four-way joystick that also has an integral button. This is connected to analog pin zero via a resistor network. This joystick can be used for user input and also to create some nifty menu systems. To the right is a power-on LED which is really too bright, I would recommend sanding it a little to reduce the intensity, or just melting it off with a soldering iron.

The shield requires an Arduino library which can be downloaded from the shield’s wiki page. There is also a good demonstration sketch on the wiki, however some of our readers may find this to be somewhat complex. Therefore where possible I will break down and explain the functions in order to simplify use of the shield, then use them in a demonstration sketch.

Controlling the backlight is very easy, just use:

digitalWrite(7, HIGH/LOW)

to turn it on and off. Don’t forget to put

pinMode(7, OUTPUT) in void setup();.

Reading the joystick position is accomplished via analogRead(0);. It returns the following values as such:

  • Up – 505
  • Down – 0
  • Left – 740
  • Right – 330
  • pressed in – 144
  • Idle (no action) – 1023

By using analogRead(0) and if… statements you can read the joystick in a simple way. Don’t forget to allow for some tolerance in the readings. Attempts to press the button while forcing a direction did not return any different values. In the example sketch later on, you can see how this is implemented. Always remember to insert:

in void setup() to create an instance of the LCD, and

at the start of your sketch to enable the library.

Now to display text on the LCD. Here is an example of the standard font text:


Using the standard font, we can position text using the following function:

The parameter x is for the x-coordinate of the first character – measured in pixels, not characters. However y is the coordinate in character lines (!). The screen can display six lines of fourteen characters. To display the larger font, for example:


use the following:

Unfortunately the library only supports the digits 0~9, +, – and decimal point. You can modify the file font_big.h in the library folder and create your own characters. Once again the x parameter is the number of pixels across to place the first character, and y is 0 for the top line and 3 for the bottom line. Notice that the characters in this font are proportional, however the maximum number of digits to plan for in one line would be six.

To clear the display, use:

By now you will be able to display text, control the backlight and read the joystick. The following demonstration sketch puts it all together so far:

Next is to create and display bitmap images. Images can be up to 84 x 48 pixels in size. There are no shades of grey in the images, just pixels on or off. To display a bitmap is a convoluted process but can be mastered. We need to convert a bitmap image into hexadecimal numbers which are then stored in a text file for inclusion into the sketch. To do so, follow these steps:

Create your monochrome image using an editor such as Gimp. Make sure your file name ends with .bmp. Such as:


Next, download the BMP2ASM program from this website. [Sorry, could only find a Windows version]. Open your .bmp file as created above, and you will see a whole bunch of hexadecimal numbers at the bottom of the window:


Turn on the check boxes labelled “Stretch”, “Use Prefix” and “Use suffix”. Then click “Convert”. Have a look in your folder and you will find a text file with an extension .asm. Open this file in a text editor such as Notepad. Remove all the instances of “dt”, as well as the top line with the file path and name. Finally, put commas at the end of each line.

You should now be left with a file of hexadecimal numbers. Encase these numbers in the form of an array as such:


What we have done is places the hexadecimal numbers inside the

declaration. To make life simpler, ensure the filename (ending with .h) is the same as the variable name, as in this example it is called hellobmp(.h). And make sure you have saved this file in the same folder as the sketch that will use it. Finally, we include the hellobmp.h file in our example sketch to display the image:

Notice in the function lcd.LCD_draw_bmp_pixel the filename hellobmp is the same as in the #include declaration is the same as the hellobmp.h file we created. They all need to match. Furthermore, the four numerical parameters are the bitmap’s top-left x-y and bottom-right x-y coordinates on the LCD. So after all that, here is the result:


So there you have it. If you have any questions about this LCD shield contact DF Studio, or ask a question in our Google Group.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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, DFR0092, dfrobot, education, LCD, LCD4884, lesson, review, tutorialComments (19)

Kit review – nootropics design EZ-Expander Shield

Hello readers

Today we are going introduce an inexpensive yet useful kit for Arduino people out there – the nootropic design EZ-Expander shield. As the name would suggest, this is an Arduino shield kit that you can easily construct yourself. The purpose of the shield is to give you an extra 16 digital outputs using only three existing digital pins. This is done by using two 74HC595 shift registers – whose latch, clock and data lines are running off digital pins 8, 12 and 13 respectively. For more information about the 74HC595 and Arduino, read my tutorial here, or perhaps download the data sheet.

Before moving forward I would like to note that the kit hardware is licensed under Creative Commons by-sa v3.0, and the design files are available on the nootropic design website; the software (Arduino library) is licensed under the CC-GNU LGPL. Nice one.

However, there is a library written instead to make using the new outputs easier. More on that later… now let’s build it and see how the EZ-Expander performs. Packaing is simple and effective, like most good kits these days – less is more:


Everything you need and nothing you do not. The design and assembly instructions can be found by visiting the URL as noted on the label. The parts are simple and of good quality:


The PCB is great, a nice colour, solder-masked and silk-screened very well. And IC sockets – excellent. There has been some discussion lately on whether or not kit producers should include IC sockets, I for one appreciate it. However, what I did not appreciate was having to chop up the long header socket to make a six- and eight-pin socket, as such:


Why the producers did not include real 6 and 8 pin sockets is beyond me. I’m not a fan of chopping things up, but my opinion is subjective. However there are a few extra pin-widths for a margin of error, so life goes on. The instructions on the nootropic design website were well illustrated, however the design is that simple you can determine it from the PCB. First, in with the capacitors for power smoothing:


Then solder in those lovely IC sockets and the header sockets:


Then time for the shield pins themselves. As usual, the easiest way is to insert the pins into another socket, then drop the new shield on top and solder away:


Finally, insert the shift registers, and you’re done:


The shield is designed to still allow access to the digital pins zero to seven, and the analogue pins. Here is a top-down view of the shield in use:


From a software perspective, download the library from here and install it into your arduino-00xx\libraries folder. Then it is simple to make use of the new outputs (20 to 35) on the shield, just include the library in your sketch as such:

then create an EZexpander object:

with which you can control the outputs with. For example,

sets the new output pin number 20 high. You can also buffer the pin mode requests, and send the lot out at once. For example, if you wanted pins 21, 22 and 23 to be HIGH at once, you would execute the following:

What happened is that you set the pin status up in advance, then sent all the commands out at once using the expander.doShiftOut(); function. The maximum amount of current you can source from each new output according to the designers is theoretically six milliamps, which is odd as the 74HC595 data sheet claims that 25 milliamps is possible. In the following demonstration I sourced 10 milliamps per LED, and everything was fine. Here is the sketch for your reference:

And the demonstration in action:

Overall, this is an inexpensive and simple way to gain more outputs on an Arduino Duemilanove/Uno or 100% compatible board. Also good for those who are looking for a kit for basic soldering practice that has a real use afterwards. High resolution images are available on flickr.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group.

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Tutorial: Arduino and the I2C bus – Part Two

Part two of our Arduino and I2C bus tutorial.

[Updated 28/11/2014]

Today we are going to continue learning about the I2C bus and how it can work for us. If you have not already, please read and understand the first I2C article before continuing.

First of all, there are some limitations of I2C to take into account when designing your projects. One of these is the physical length of the SDA and SCL lines. If all your devices are on the same PCB, then there is nothing to worry about, however if your I2C bus is longer than around one metre, it is recommended that you use an I2C bus extender IC. These ICs reduce electrical noise over the extended-length bus runs and buffer the I2C signals to reduce signal degradation and chance of errors in the data. An example of such an IC is the NXP P82B715 (data sheet). Using a pair of these ICs, you can have cable runs of 20 to 30 metres, using shielded twisted-pair cable. Below is a good example of this, from the aforementioned NXP data sheet:


Several applications come to mind with an extended I2C bus, for example remote temperature monitoring using the the ST Microelectronics CN75 temperature sensor from part one; or controlling several I/O ports using an I2C expander without the expense or worry of using a wireless system. Speaking of which, let’s do that now…

A very useful and inexpensive part is the PCF8574 I/O expander (data sheet.pdf). This gives us another eight outputs, in a very similar method to the 74HC595; or can be used as eight extra inputs. In fact, if you were to use more than one 74HC595 this IC might be preferable, as you can individually address each chip instead of having to readdress every IC in line as you would with shift registers. So how do we do this? First, let’s consult the pinout:

There should not be any surprises for you there. A2~A0 are used to select the last three bits of the device address, P0~P7 are the I/O pins, and INT is an interrupt output which we will not use. To address the PCF8574 we need two things, the device address, and a byte of data which represents the required output pin state. Huh? Consider:


So if we set pins A0 to A2 to GND, our device address in binary will be 0100000, or 0x20 in hexadecimal. And the same again to set the output pins, for example to turn them all on we send binary 0 in hexadecimal which is 0; or to have the first four on and the second four off, use 00001111 which is Ox0F. Hopefully you noticed that those last two values seemed backwards – why would we send a zero to turn all the pins on?

The reason is that the PCF8574 is a current sink. This means that current runs from +5v, through into the I/O pins. For example, an LED would have the anode on the +5V, and the cathode connected to an I/O pin. Normally (for example with a 74HC595) current would run from the IC, through the resistor, LED and then to earth. That is a current source. Consider the following quick diagram:


In the example above, please note that the PCF8574N can take care of current limitation with LEDs, whereas the 74HC595 needs a current-limiting resistor to protect the LED.

Luckily this IC can handle higher volumes of current, so a resistor will not be required. It sounds a bit odd, but like anything is easy once you spend a few moments looking into it. So now let’s use three PCF8574s to control 24 LEDs. To recreate this masterpiece of blinkiness you will need:

  • Arduino Uno or compatible board
  • A large solderless breadboard
  • Three PCF8574 I/O extenders
  • Eight each of red, green and yellow (or your choice) LEDs, each with a current draw of no more than 20mA
  • Two 4.7 kilo ohm resistors
  • Hook-up wires
  • Three 0.1 uF ceramic capacitors

Here is the schematic:


… and the example board layout:


and the example sketch. Note that the device addresses in the sketch match the schematic above. If for some reason you are wiring your PCF8574s differently, you will need to recalculate your device addresses:

 And finally our demonstration video:

That was a good example of controlling many outputs with our humble I2C bus. You could literally control hundreds of outputs if necessary – a quite inexpensive way of doing so. Don’t forget to take into account the total current draw of any extended circuits if you are powering from your Arduino boards.


The next devices to examine on our I2C bus ride are EEPROMs – Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory. These are memory chips that can store data without requiring power to retain memory. Why would we want to use these? Sometimes you might need to store a lot of reference data for use in calculations during a sketch, such as a mathematical table; or perhaps numerical representations of maps or location data; or create your own interpreter within a sketch that takes instruction from data stored in an array.

In other words, an EEPROM can be used to store data of a more permanent use, ideal for when your main microcontroller doesn’t haven enough memory for you to store the data in the program code. However, EEPROMs are not really designed for random-access or constant read/write operations – they have a finite lifespan. But their use is quite simple, so we can take advantage of them.

EEPROMS, like anything else come in many shapes and sizes. The model we will examine today is the Microchip 24LC256 (data sheet.pdf). It can hold 256 kilobits of data (that’s 32 kilobytes) and is quite inexpensive. This model also has selectable device addresses using three pins, so we can use up to eight at once on the same bus. An example:


The pinouts are very simple:

Pin 7 is “write protect” – set this low for read/write or high for read only. You could also control this in software if necessary. Once again we need to create a slave I2C device address using pins 1, 2 and 3 – these correlate to A2, A1 and A0 in the following table:

So if you were just using one 24LC256, the easiest solution would be to set A0~A2 to GND – which makes your slave address 1010000 or 0x50 in hexadecimal. There are several things to understand when it comes to reading and writing our bytes of data. As this IC has 32 kilobytes of storage, we need to be able to reference each byte in order to read or write to it. There is a slight catch in that you need more than one byte to reference 32767 (as in binary 32767 is 11111111 0100100 [16 bits]).

So when it comes time to send read and write requests, we need to send two bytes down the bus – one representing the higher end of the address (the first 8 bits from left to right), and the next one representing the lower end of the address (the final 8 bits from left to right) – see figure 6.1 on page 9 of the data sheet.

An example – we need to reference byte number 25000. In binary, 25000 is 0110000110101000. So we split that up into 01100001 and 10101000, then covert the binary values to numerical bytes with which to send using the Wire.send(). Thankfully there are two operators to help us with this. This first is >>, known as bitshift right. This will take the higher end of the byte and drop off the lower end, leaving us with the first 8 bits. To isolate the lower end of the address, we use another operator &, known as bitwise and. This unassuming character, when used with 0XFF can separate the lower bits for us. This may seem odd, but will work in the examples below.

Writing data to the 24LC256

Writing data is quite easy. But first remember that a byte of data is 11111111 in binary, or 255 in decimal. First we wake up the I2C bus with:

then send down some data. The first data are the two bytes representing the address (25000) of the byte (12) we want to write to the memory.

And finally, we send the byte of data to store at address 25000, then finish the connection:

There we have it. Now for getting it back…

Reading data from the 24LC256

Reading is quite similar. First we need to start things up and move the pointer to the data we want to read:

Then, ask for the byte(s) of data starting at the current address:

In this example, incomingbyte is a byte variable used to store the data we retrieved from the IC. Now we have the theory, let’s put it into practice with the test circuit below, which contains two 24LC256 EEPROMs. To recreate this you will need:

  • Arduino Uno or compatible board
  • A large solderless breadboard
  • Two Microchip 24LC256 EEPROMs (you can use 24LC512s as well)
  • Two 4.7 kilo ohm resistors
  • Hook-up wires
  • Two 0.1 uF ceramic capacitors

Here is the schematic:


… the board layout:


and the example sketch. Note that the device addresses in the sketch match the schematic above. If for some reason you are wiring your 24LC256s differently, you will need to recalculate your device addresses. To save time with future coding, we have our own functions for reading and writing bytes to the EEPROM – readData() and writeData(). Consider the sketch for our example:

And the output from the example sketch:


Although the sketch in itself was simple, you now have the functions to read and write byte data to EEPROMS. Now it is up to your imagination to take use of the extra memory.

If you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a fourth printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in 24LC256, arduino, I2C, learning electronics, lesson, microcontrollers, PCF8574, tutorialComments (17)

Breaking up an automatic room deodoriser – round two

Again we attempt to break down an automatic room deodoriser.

Updated 18/03/2013

Today we are going to tear down another automatic room deodoriser. Why? Well the first attempt beat me, so it was time to even the score and try again with another type. The supermarket had the following units for $7.99, which seemed a little too cheap:


The “satisfaction guarantee” gave me a chuckle, the thought of writing to SC Johnson complaining that their products were not that hackable would be interesting. But would it be hackable at all? Let’s find out. The packaging promises a squirt of scent when the unit detects motion, then holds out for 30 minutes until the next release. The word motion hints that there would be a PIR inside the unit. However the instructions mention that the unit does not work that well in dark or bright rooms – which is odd, as PIRs usually work in the dark. Hmm. This unit is somewhat smaller than the previous attempt, yet still offers us a pair of alkaline AA cells:


Moving on, time to start the disassembly process. The rear shows four screws, easily removed:


revealing the fun things:


The motor drive is reduced twice, which then has a geared arm which causes the vertical motion to pressure the cylinder to release the scent. The whole mess of gears was lubricated generously, the whole lot literally came out with the touch of a finger. Removing the gears and goop reveals the motor and control boards, which clipped out easily:


Interesting – a labelled motor. Very good, what looks like to be a 3V DC motor. The control board is made up of two PCBs, a smaller module that holds a control IC of some sort, and the larger, lesser-densely populated board with the button, status LED and “motion detector”. Let’s have a close-up of that PCB:


So we have the button, which causes the motor to run; a yellow LED which blinks once every five seconds; and out motion detector in the black casing. The motion detector seemed rather familiar, so I removed the black housing around it with some pliers, which revealed this:


Huh – that looks just like an LED. The metal object inside the clear casing was even identical to what you would see inside an LED. However, foolishly I broke it off the PCB when removing the housing, so could not get any voltage to it. From reading the instructions earlier on – that mention the light/dark issue, causes me to ponder if this is some sort of light-dependent sensor?

No – it is a photodiode! However the motor looked quite worthwhile. Curious to see what is driving it, I hooked up Mr Fluke to see what happens:

No surprises there, almost three volts DC forward voltage. After applying forward current the circuit applies a quick reverse current to release, thereby causing the gears and arm to ‘squeeze’ down on the scent cylinder. So now we have a circuit board that runs on 3V, which can output 3V for a few seconds every 30 minutes – or at the press of a button.

With regards to current, another measurement was taken:

When free-running, the motor draws around 45 milliamps – and the stall current (that is, the current drawn when I force the spindle to stop) is around 675 milliamps. That is quite a strong little motor, and worth the effort. In general, this has been a good tear down, we scored some AA cells, a good motor and gears, some stink spray, and a timing circuit that could have uses elsewhere. So overall a win – the score has evened with the deodoriser world! High resolution photos available on flickr.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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 electronics, hardware hacking, room deoderiser, tutorialComments (4)

Kit Review – Silicon Chip Low Capacitance Meter adaptor for DMMs

Hello readers

Time again for another kit review. In the spirit of promoting all things electronic and Australian, we’re going to look at a kit that was published in our electronics magazine Silicon Chip (March 2010) – their Low-capacitance meter adaptor for DMMs. Simply put, it converts capacitance (from a theoretical 1 picofarad) to millivolts, which you can then read with almost any digital multimeter. This is useful as even more expensive multimeters (such as my Fluke 233) only measure down to 1 nanofarad (1000 picofarads). Although this kit is available on the Australian market, the retailers will export to those abroad. If you are outside Australia and having trouble sourcing one, send me an email. Moving on…

Here is our unassuming finished product:


Please note that this is not an open-source product, so you need to either purchase the kit of parts, or a back-issue of Silicon Chip magazine, March 2010 for the schematic and instructions. Now it is time to get started. But before that, how does it work?

Without giving too much away, a very rough explanation would be that a square wave signal is formed, then cleaned up through a Schmitt trigger-inverter. This square wave is then split into two, one signal passing through the capacitor under test and some resistors, and the other signal passing through a calibration variable capacitor and the same value resistors – thereby both signals pass through two different RC circuits. Finally the two signals are fed through a XOR gate, which creates a series of positive pulses that are a function of the capacitor under test.

Kit assembly was not that difficult, like anything just take your time, read the instructions carefully, and don’t rush things. If you are happy with your through-hole soldering skills, and have a power drill, this kit will be easy for you to work with. Unusually for some kits, this one comes with almost everything you need:


The quality of the included housing is very good, there are metal threaded inserts for the screws; and even through the ICs are simple 74xx-series, sockets have been included. Resistors are metal film, the trimpots are enclosed multiturns – all very nice. I am a little disappointed with the housing/adhesive label combination however, in the past various kits from Jaycar would have a box with a nice silk-screened, hole-punched front panel. Such is life. The PCB is solder-masked and silk-screened, however a little less denser than PCBs from other kit suppliers:


And thus brings a slight issue with the housing and the PCB – either the PCB is too wide, or the box is too narrow. A quick clip of the PCB with some cutters will fix that:


The instructions are quite good – they are a reprint of the magazine article, and slightly modified by the kit production company. Furthermore, the silk-screening on the PCB makes things a breeze. The simple passives were easy to install, however take care not to overheat the variable capacitor, their casings can melt rather quickly:


Following that, the ICs were inserted, and the rotary switch. From experience, one should trim the shaft down to about a 25mm length before soldering it into the board. Take very good care when placing the rotary switch, there is a lump on the switch which matches the small circle at 8 o’clock on the PCB diagram. Finally, don’t forget to alter the switch so it only has four selections. Soldering it in can look difficult, but is not. Just push it into the PCB, checking it is flush, even and all the way in. Then bend a couple of the pins over, invert the PCB and solder away – as such:


Now it is time to start on the enclosure. Each end has two banana-type sockets, the left are the full binding-post, and the right are just sockets. Carefully mark where you want to start the holes – the positions are vertically half-way, and horizontally 15mm in from the edge, however double-check yourself. Always check the fit of the socket while drilling, as it is easy to go too far and make the holes too large – at which point you’ll have to buy another enclosure. Once you have the sockets fitted – on the left:


and on the right:


… you will need to solder the socket rear to the PCB pins (left) and a small link to the PCB pins (right). It is important to get a good, solid connection – as these sockets may come under a lot of use later on. Next it is time to start on the housing. If you can, photocopy the label so you have a drilling template:


You will notice in the above photo one of my favourite tools, a tapered reamer. Using that, you can carefully turn a small hole into a larger hole, without risking making a mess with a drill. Again, cut the rotary switch’s shaft before soldering:


And as punishment for using twitter at the same time, I had ended up drilling the back instead of the front. D’oh. However cosmetic appearance is secondary to functionality, so all is well. Next was to install the PP3 battery snap. The battery will be a tight fit, so a length of heatshrink has been supplied in order to avoid the battery case shorting with the PCB pin:


And finally we have finished soldering:


Now it is time for calibration. And for me to get a little cranky, which is quite rare as I am somewhat easygoing. Calibration requires three 1% tolerance capacitors, 100 pF, 1000 pF and 10000 pF. And they are not included with the kit. And can not be purchased from any of the kit retailers. So they had to be ordered from Farn… element-14 at a reasonable expense. Considering the kit production company also imports, wholesales and retails electronic components, they could have bought a volume of these special capacitors and added a few dollars to the price of the kit. Such is life. So here are the little buggers:


From top to bottom:

  • Silvered-mica 100 picofarad 1% tolerance, element-14 # 1264880, RS # 495745;
  • Polystyrene 1000 picofarad 1% tolerance, element-14 # 9520651, RS # 495868 (silvered mica) and
  • Polystyrene 10000 picofarad 1% tolerance, element-14 # 3358951, RS # 495953 (silvered mica)

However it is worth the effort to chase them down. There is no point using this kit if you calibrate with normal capacitors; their tolerance can be as much as 20 percent either way. Thankfully the calibration process is quite simple. You will need a small, plastic flat-blade screwdriver to make the adjustments, as your body has stray energy which can alter the capacitance measurements.

Before starting, connect your multimeter to the output sockets and set the range to millivolts – then adjust the variable capacitor until you have the meter display as close to zero as possible. This is used to ‘null out’ stray capacitance. Next, set the dial to A, connect the 100 pF capacitor to the input posts, and adjust VR3 until the meter displays one volt DC – this represents 100.0 picofarads:


I could not for the life of me get this to 1 volt. After fitting the case at the end, I tried again with the case on with the same result. It is very important to get the capacitor as close as possible to the binding posts, with such small values stray capacitance can affect the result. However in my line of work, one-tenth of a picofarad is not relevant. For now. Next, set the dial to B, connect the 1000 pF capacitor, and adjust VR2 until the meter displays 1 volt – this represents 1000 picofarads:


Excellent – spot on. Unfortunately the leads on my 10000 pF capacitor were not long enough to attach into the binding posts, so that step had to be passed. I will have to re-order the correct part next week and calibrate then. However the other two setting are basically working perfectly, which is a good indication for the general performance of the kit. Kudos to Jim Rowe from Silicon Chip magazine for this design. Before closing up the enclosure, I decided to wrap the battery with some paper, as having it  rub up against other parts is not a good idea:


Now for a test run – time to measure the smallest capacitors I have in stock, first a 4.7 picofarad ceramic:


and next, a 12 picofarad ceramic:


Excellent, we can call these readings a success. I was also quite amazed that the tolerance of the cheap ceramic capacitors was so low. Note that in real-life, you may not be able to have the capacitor under test directly connected to the binding posts. In these cases you will need a short set of heavy-gauge leads to the test capacitor. If you do this, you will need to adjust the variable capacitor to reset the display to account for stray capacitance in the leads.

In conclusion, this kit has proved very successful, with regards to assembly, the quality of components and instructions, and of course the final result. I made a few errrors with regards to the housing, but that didn’t affect the final result. And for less than fifty Australian dollars, I have a very low value capacitance meter. However in due course I would consider the purchase of a full LCR meter for greater accuracy and ease of frequent use (some can measure down to 0.1 picofarad). But for the time being, this has been an excellent, educational  and affordable solution. You can purchase the kit directly from Jaycar. High resolution images are available on flickr.

So have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. 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.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

Posted in capacitance meter, jaycar, KC5493, kit review, learning electronicsComments (2)

Tutorial: Arduino and the I2C bus – Part One

This is part one of several tutorials on how to use the I2C bus with Arduino, and chapter twenty of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A tutorial on the Arduino universe. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

[Updated 28/11/2014]

In this first of several tutorials we are going to investigate the I2C data bus, and how we can control devices using it with our Arduino systems. The I2C bus can be a complex interface to master, so I will do my best to simplify it for you. In this article we will learn the necessary theory, and then apply it by controlling a variety of devices. Furthermore it would be in your interest to have an understanding of the binary, binary-coded decimal and hexadecimal number systems.

But first of all, what is it?

I2C is an acronym for “Inter-Integrated Circuit”. In the late 1970s, Philips’ semiconductor division (now NXP) saw the need for simplifying and standardising the data lines that travel between various integrated circuits in their products. Their solution was the I2C bus. This reduced the number of wires to two (SDA – data, and SCL – clock). Here is a nice introductory video from NXP:

Why would we want to use I2C devices?

As there are literally thousands of components that use the I2C interface! And our Arduino boards can control them all. There are many applications, such a real-time clocks, digital potentiometers, temperature sensors, digital compasses, memory chips, FM radio circuits, I/O expanders, LCD controllers, amplifiers, and so on. And you can have more than one on the bus at any time, in fact the maximum number of I2C devices used at any one time is 112.

From a hardware perspective, the wiring is very easy. Those of you with an Arduino Uno or 100% compatible board, you will be using pins A4 for SDA (data) and A5 for SCL (clock):


If you are using an Arduino Mega, SDA is pin 20 and SCL is 21, so note that shields with I2C need to be specifically for the Mega. If you have another type of board, check your data sheet or try the Arduino team’s hardware website.  And finally, if you are using a bare DIP ATmega328-PU microcontroller, you will use pins 27 for SDA and 28 for SCL. The bus wiring is simple:


If you are only using one I2C device, the pull-up resistors are (normally) not required, as the ATmega328 microcontroller in our Arduino has them built-in.  However if you are running a string of devices, use two 10 kilo ohm resistors. Like anything, some testing on a breadboard or prototype circuit will determine their necessity. Sometimes you may see in a particular device’s data sheet the use of different value pull-up resistors – for example 4.7k ohm. If so, heed that advice. The maximum length of an I2C bus is around one metre, and is a function of the capacitance of the bus. This distance can be extended with the use of a special IC, which we will examine during the next I2C chapter.

Each device can be connected to the bus in any order, and devices can be masters or slaves. In our Arduino situation, the board is the master and the devices on the I2C bus are the slaves. We can write data to a device, or read data from a device. By now you should be thinking “how do we differentiate each device on the bus?”… Each device has a unique address. We use that address in the functions described later on to direct our read or write requests to the correct device. It is possible to use two devices with identical addresses on an I2C bus, but that will be discussed in a later article.

As like most devices, we make use of an Arduino library, in this case <wire.h>. Then use the function Wire.begin(); inside of void setup() and we’re ready to go.

Sending data from our Arduino to the I2C devices requires two things: the unique device address (we need this in hexadecimal) and at least one byte of data to send. For example, the address of the part in example 20.1 (below) is 00101111 (binary) which is 0X2F in hexadecimal. Then we want to set the wiper value, which is a value between 0 and 127, or 0x00 and 0x7F in hexadecimal. So to set the wiper to zero, we would use the following three functions:

This sends the device address down the SDA (data) line of the bus. It travels along the bus, and “notifies” the matching device that it has some data coming…

This sends the byte of data to the device – into the device register (or memory of sorts), which is waiting for it with open arms. Any other devices on the bus will ignore this. Note that you can only perform one I2C operation at a time! Then when we have finished sending data to the device, we “end transmission”. This tells the device that we’re finished, and frees up the I2C bus for the next operation:

Some devices may have more than one register, and require more bytes of data in each transmission. For example, the DS1307 real-time clock IC has eight registers to store timing data, each requiring eight bits of data (one byte):


However with the DS1307  – the entire lot need to be rewritten every time. So in this case we would use eight wire.send(); functions every time. Each device will interpret the byte of data sent to it, so you need the data sheet for your device to understand how to use it.

Receiving data from an I2C device into our Arduino requires two things: the unique device address (we need this in hexadecimal) and the number of bytes of data to accept from the device. Receiving data at this point is a two stage process. If you review the table above from the DS1307 data sheet, note that there is eight registers, or bytes of data in there. The first thing we need to do is have the I2C device start reading from the first register, which is done by sending a zero to the device:

Now the I2C device will send data from the first register when requested. We now need to ask the device for the data, and how many bytes we want. For example, if a device held three bytes of data, we would ask for three, and store each byte in its own variable (for example, we have three variables of type byte: a, b, and c. The first function to execute is:

Which tells the device to send three bytes of data back to the Arduino. We then immediately follow this with:

We do not need to use Wire.endTransmission() when reading data. Now that the requested data is in their respective variables, you can treat them like any ordinary byte variable. For a more detailed explanation of the I2C bus, read this explanatory document by NXP. Now let’s use our I2C knowledge by controlling a range of devices…

The Microchip MCP4018T digital linear potentiometer. The value of this model is 10 kilo ohms. Inside this tiny, tiny SMD part is a resistor array consisting of 127 elements and a wiper that we control by sending a value of between 0 and 127 (in hexadecimal) down the I2C bus. This is a volatile digital potentiometer, it forgets the wiper position when the power is removed. However naturally there is a compromise with using such a small part, it is only rated for 2.5 milliamps – but used in conjunction with op amps and so on. For more information, please consult the data sheet. As this is an SMD part, for breadboard prototyping purposes it needed to be mounted on a breakout board. Here it is in raw form:


Above the IC is a breakout board. Consider that the graph paper is 5mm square! It is the incorrect size, but all I have. However soldering was bearable. Put a drop of solder on one pad of the breakout board, then hold the IC with tweezers in one hand, and reheat the solder with the other hand – then push the IC into place. A few more tiny blobs of solder over the remaining pins, and remove the excess with solder wick. Well … it worked for me:


Our example schematic is as follows:


As you can see, the part is simple to use, your signal enters pin 6 and the result of the voltage division is found on pin 5. Please note that this is not a replacement for a typical mechanical potentiometer, we can’t just hook this up as a volume or motor-speed control! Again, please read the data sheet.

Control is very simple, we only need to send one byte of data down, the hexadecimal reference point for the wiper, e.g.:

Here is a quick demonstration that moves the wiper across all points: