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Tutorial – Arduino and the TLC5940 PWM LED Driver IC

Use the Texas Instruments TLC5940 16-Channel LED Driver IC with Arduino in Chapter 57 of our Arduino Tutorials. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.


Today we are going to examine the Texas Instruments TLC5940 16-channel LED driver IC. Our reason for doing this is to demonstrate another, easier way of driving many LEDs – and also servos.  First up, here is a few examples of the TLC5940


The TLC5940 is available in the DIP version above, and also surface-mount. It really is a convenient part, allowing you to adjust the brightness of sixteen individual LEDs via PWM (pulse-width modulation) – and you can also daisy-chain more than one TLC5940 to control even more.

During this tutorial we’ll explain how to control one or more TLC5940 ICs with LEDs and also look at controlling servos. At this point, please download a copy of the TLC5940_data_sheet (.pdf) as you will refer to it through this process. Furthermore, please download and install the TLC5940 Arduino library by Alex Leone which can be found here. If you’re not sure how to install a library, click here.

Build a TLC5940 demonstration circuit

The following circuit is the minimum required to control sixteen LEDs from your Arduino or compatible. You can use it to experiment with various functions and get an idea of what is possible. You will need:

  • An Arduino Uno or compatible board
  • 16 normal, everyday LEDs that can have a forward current of up to 20 mA
  • a 2 kΩ resistor (give or take 10%)
  • a 0.1uF ceramic and a 4.7uF electrolytic capacitor

Take note of the LED orientation – and remember the TLC5940 is a common-anode LED driver – so all the LED anodes are connected together and then to 5V:

TLC5940 Arduino circuit

For this particular circuit, you won’t need an external 5V power supply – however you may need one in the future. The purpose of the resistor is to control the amount of current that can flow through the LEDs. The required resistor value is calculated with the following formula:

R = 39.06 / Imax

where R (in Ohms)  is the resistor value and Imax (in Amps) is the maximum amount of current you want to flow through the LEDs. For example, if you have LEDs with a 20 mA forward current – the resistor calculation would be:

R = 39.06 / 0.02 = 1803 Ohms.

Once you have the circuit assembled – open up the Arduino IDE and upload the sketch BasicUse.pde  which is in the example folder for the TLC5940 library. You should be presented with output similar to what is shown in the following video:

Controlling the TLC5940

Now that the circuit works, how do we control the TLC5940? First, the mandatory functions – include the library at the start of the sketch with:

and then initialise the library by placing the following into void setup():

x is an optional parameter – if you want to set all the channels to a certain brightness as soon as the sketch starts, you can insert a value between 0 and 4095 for in the Tlc.init() function.

Now to turn a channel/LED on or off. Each channel is numbered from 0 to 15, and each channel’s brightness can be adjusted between 0 and 4095.

This is a two-part process…

First – use one or more of the following functions to set up the required channels and respective brightness (PWM level):

For example, if you wanted to have the first three channels on at full brightness, use:

The second part is to use the following to update the TLC5940 with the required instructions from part one:

If you want to turn off all channels at once, simply use:

You don’t need to call a TLC.update() after the clear function. The following is a quick example sketch that sets the brightness/PWM values of all the channels to different levels:

and the sketch in action:

The ability to control individual brightness for each channel/LED can also be useful when controlling RGB LEDs – you can then easily select required colours via different brightness levels for each element.

Using two or more TLC5940s

You can daisy-chain quite a few TLC5940s together to control more LEDs. First – wire up the next TLC5940 to the Arduino as shown in the demonstration circuit – except connect the SOUT pin (17) of the first TLC5940 to the SIN pin (26) of the second TLC5940 – as the data travels from the Arduino, through the first TLC5940 to the second and so on. Then repeat the process if you have a third, etc. Don’t forget the resisotr that sets the current!

Next, open the file tlc_config.h located in the TLC5940 library folder. Change the value of NUM_TLCS to the number of TLC5940s you have connected together, then save the file and also delete the file Tlc5940.o also located in the same folder. Finally restart the IDE. You can then refer to the channels of the second and further TLC5940 sequentially from the first. That is, the first is 0~15, the second is 16~29, and so on.

Controlling servos with the TLC5940

As the TLC5940 generates PWM (pulse-width modulation) output, it’s great for driving servos as well. Just like LEDs – you can control up to sixteen at once. Ideal for creating spider-like robots, strange clocks or making some noise. When choosing your servo, ensure that it doesn’t draw more than 120 mA when operating (the maximum current per channel) and also heed the “Managing current and heat” section at the end of this tutorial. And use external power with servos, don’t rely on the Arduino’s 5V line.

To connect a servo is simple – the GND line connects to GND, the 5V (or supply voltage lead) connects to your 5v (or other suitable supply) and the servo control pin connects to one of the TLC5940’s outputs. Finally – and this is important – connect a 2.2kΩ resistor between the TLC5940 output pin(s) being used and 5V.

Controlling a servo isn’t that different to an LED. You need the first two lines at the start of the sketch:

then the following in void setup():

Next, use the following function to select which servo (channel) to operate and the required angle (angle):

Just like the LEDs you can bunch a few of these together, and then execute the command with:

So let’s see all that in action. The following example sketch sweeps four servos across 90 degrees:

And the following video captures those four servos in action:


If you servos are not rotating to the correct angle – for example you ask for 180 degrees and they only rotate to 90 or thereabouts, a little extra work is required. You need to open the tlc_servos.h file located in the TLC5940 Arduino library folder and experiment with the values for SERVO_MIN_WIDTH and SERVO_MAX_WIDTH. For example change SERVO_MIN_WIDTH from 200 to 203 and SERVO_MAX_WIDTH from 400 to 560.

Managing current and heat 

As mentioned earlier, the TLC5940 can handle a maximum of 120 mA per channel. After some experimenting you may notice that the TLC5940 does get warm – and that’s ok. However there is a maximum limit to the amount of power that can be dissipated before destroying the part. If you are just using normal garden-variety LEDs or smaller servos, power won’t be a problem. However if you’re planning on using the TLC5940 to the max – please review the notes provided by the library authors.


Once again you’re on your way to controlling an incredibly useful part with your Arduino. Now with some imagination you can create all sorts of visual displays or have fun with many servos. And if you enjoyed the tutorial, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “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 arduino, BOB-10616, COM-10136, LED, PWM, servo, TI, tlc5940, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (15)

Arduino meets Las Vegas with the Freetronics DMD

Updated 05/11/2014

Time once more to have some fun, and this time by examining the Freetronics DMD “Dot Matrix Display” available from Tronixlabs. We will look at the setup and operation of the display. In a nutshell the DMD comprises of a board measuring approximately 320mm across by 160mm which contains 16 rows of 32 high-intensity red LEDs. For example, in the off state:

Connection of the DMD to your Arduino-compatible board is quite simple. Included with each DMD is a 2×8 IDC cable of around 220mm in length, and a PCB to allow direct connection to the Arduino digital pins D6~13:

Finally the cable connects to the left-hand socket on the rear of the DMD:

You can also daisy-chain more than one display, so a matching output socket is also provided. Finally, an external power supply is recommended in order to drive the LEDs as maximum brightness – 5V at ~4 A per DMD. This is connected to a separate terminal on the rear of the board:

Do not connect these terminals to the 5V/GND of your Arduino board!

A power cable with lugs is also included so you can daisy chain the high-intensity power feeds as well. When using this method, ensure your power supply can deliver 5V at 4A  for each DMD used – so for two DMDs, you will need 8A, etc. For testing (and our demonstration) purposes you can simply connect the DMD to your Arduino via the IDC cable, however the LEDs will not light at their full potential.

Using the display with your Arduino sketches is quite simple. There is an enthusiastic group of people working on the library which you will need, and you can download it from and follow the progress at the DMD Github page and forks. Furthermore, there is always the Freetronics forum for help, advice and conversation. Finally you will also need the TimerOne library – available from here.

However for now let’s run through the use of the DMD and get things moving. Starting with scrolling text – download the demonstration sketch from here. All the code in the sketch outside of void loop() is necessary. Replace the text within the quotes with what you would like to scroll across the display, and enter the number of characters (including spaces) in the next parameter. Finally, if you have more than one display change the 1 to your number of displays in #define DISPLAYS_ACROSS 1.

Here is a quick video of our example sketch:

Now for some more static display functions – starting with clearing the display. You can use

to turn off all the pixels, or

to turn on all the pixels.

Note: turning on more pixels at once increases the current draw. Always keep this in mind and measure with an ammeter if unsure. 

Next some text. First you need to choose the font, at the time of writing there were two to choose from. Use

for a smaller font or

for a larger font. To position a single character on the DMD, use:

which will display the character ‘x’ at location x,y (in pixels – starting from zero). For example, using

results with:

Note if you have the pixels on ‘behind’ the character, the unused pixels in the character are not ‘transparent’. For example:

However if you change the last parameter to GRAPHICS_NOR, the unused pixels will become ‘transparent’. For example:

You can also use the parameter GRAPHICS_OR to overlay a character on the display. This is done with the blinking colon in the example sketch provided with the library.

Next, to draw a string (group of characters). This is simple, just select your font type and then use (for example):

Again, the 5 is a parameter for the length of the string to display. This results in the following:

Next up we look at the graphic commands. To control an individual pixel, use

And changing the 1 to a 0 turns off the pixel. To draw a circle with the centre at x,y and a radius r, use

To draw a line from x1, y2 to x2, y2, use:

To draw a rectangle from x1, y2 to x2, y, use:

And to draw a filled rectangle use:

Now let’s put those functions to work. You can download the demonstration sketch from here, and watch the following results:

Update – the DMD is also available in other colours, such as white:

So there you have it, an inexpensive and easy to use display board with all sorts of applications. Although the demonstrations contained within this article were rather simple, you now have the knowledge to apply your imagination to the DMD and display what you like. For more information, check out the entire DMD range at Tronixlabs. And 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 arduino, dmd, freetronics, LED matrix, lesson, microcontrollers, product review, review, tronixlabs, tutorialComments (0)

Tutorial: Arduino and the SPI bus part II

This is chapter thirty-six of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A seemingly endless series of articles on the Arduino universe. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here

[Updated 10/01/2013]

This is the second of several chapters in which we are investigating the SPI data bus, and how we can control devices using it with our Arduino systems. If you have not done so already, please read part one of the SPI articles. Again we will learn the necessary theory, and then apply it by controlling a variety of devices. As always things will be kept as simple as possible.

First on our list today is the use of multiple SPI devices on the single bus. We briefly touched on this in part one, by showing how multiple devices are wired, for example:

Notice how the slave devices share the clock, MOSI and MISO lines – however they both have their own chip select line back to the master device. At this point a limitation of the SPI bus becomes prevalent – for each slave device we need another digital pin to control chip select for that device. If you were looking to control many devices, it would be better to consider finding I2C solutions to the problem. To implement multiple devices is very easy. Consider the example 34.1 from part one – we controlled a digital rheostat. Now we will repeat the example, but instead control four instead of one. For reference, here is the pinout diagram:

Doing so may sound complex, but it is not. We connect the SCK, MOSI and  MISO pins together, then to Arduino pins D13, D11, D12 respectively. Each CS pin is wired to a separate Arduino digital pin. In our example rheostats 1 to 4 connect to D10 through to D7 respectively. To show the resistance is changing on each rheostat, there is an LED between pin 5 and GND and a 470 ohm resistor between 5V and pin 6. Next, here is the sketch:

Although the example sketch may be longer than necessary, it is quite simple. We have four SPI devices each controlling one LED, so to keep things easy to track we have defined led1~led4 to match the chip select digital out pins used for each SPI device. Then see the first four lines in void setup(); these pins are set to output in order to function as required. Next – this is very important – we set the pins’ state to HIGH. You must do this to every chip select line! Otherwise more than one CS pins may be initially low in some instances and cause the first data sent from MOSI to travel along to two or more SPI devices. With LEDs this may not be an issue, but for motor controllers … well it could be.

The other point of interest is the function

We pass the value for the SPI device we want to control, and the value to send to the device. The value for l is the chip select value for the SPI device to control, and ranges from 10~7 – or as defined earlier, led1~4. The rest of the sketch is involved in controlling the LED’s brightness by varying the resistance of the rheostats. Now to see example 36.1 in action via the following video clip:

(If you are wondering what I have done to the Freetronics board in that video, it was to add a DS1307 real-time clock IC in the prototyping section).

Next on the agenda is a digital-to-analogue converter, to be referred to using the acronym DAC. What is a DAC? In simple terms, it accepts a numerical value between zero and a maximum value (digital) and outputs a voltage between the range of zero and a maximum relative to the input value (analogue). One could consider this to be the opposite of the what we use the function analogRead(); for. For our example we will use a Microchip MCP4921 (data sheet.pdf):

(Please note that this is a beginners’ tutorial and is somewhat simplified). This DAC has a 12-bit resolution. This means that it can accept a decimal number between 0 and 4095 – in binary this is 0 to 1111 1111 1111 (see why it is called 12-bit) – and the outpout voltage is divided into 4096 steps. The output voltage for this particular DAC can fall between 0 and just under the supply voltage (5V). So for each increase of 1 in the decimal input value, the DAC will output around 1.221 millivolts.

It is also possible to reduce the size of the voltage output steps by using a lower reference voltage. Then the DAC will consider the reference voltage to be the maximum output with a value of 4095. So (for example) if the reference voltage was 2.5V, each increase of 1 in the decimal input value, the DAC will output around 0.6105 millivolts. The minimum reference voltage possible is 0.8V, which offers a step of 200 microvolts (uV).

The output of a DAC can be used for many things, such as a function generator or the playback of audio recorded in a digital form. For now we will examine how to use the hardware, and monitoring output on an oscilloscope. First we need the pinouts:

By now these sorts of diagrams shouldn’t present any problems. In this example, we keep pin 5 permanently set to GND; pin 6 is where you feed in the reference voltage – we will set this to +5V; AVss is GND; and Vouta is the output signal pin – where the magic comes from 🙂 The next thing to investigate is the MCP4921’s write command register:

Bits 0 to 11 are the 12 bits of the output value; bit 15 is an output selector (unused on the MPC4921); bit 14 controls the input buffer; bit 13 controls an inbuilt output amplifier; and bit 12 can shutdown the DAC. Unlike previous devices, the input data is spread across two bytes (or a word of data). Therefore a small amount of work needs to be done to format the data ready for the DAC. Let’s explain this through looking at the sketch for example 36.2 that follows. The purpose of the sketch is to go through all possible DAC values, from 0 to 4095, then back to 0 and so on.

First. note the variable outputvalue – it is a word, a 16-bit unsigned variable. This is perfect as we will be sending a word of data to the DAC. We put the increasing/decreasing value for a into outputValue. However as we can only send bytes of data at a time down the SPI bus, we will use the function highbyte() to separate the high side of the word (bits 15~8) into a byte variable called data.

We then use the bitwise AND and OR operators to set the parameter bits 15~12. Then this byte is sent to the SPI bus. Finally, the function lowbyte() is used to send the low side of the word (bits 7~0) into data and thence down the SPI bus as well.

Now for our demonstration sketch:

And a quick look at the DAC in action via an oscilloscope:

By now we have covered in detail how to send data to a device on the SPI bus. But how do we receive data from a device?

Doing so is quite simple, but some information is required about the particular device. For the rest of this chapter, we will use the Maxim DS3234 “extremely accurate” real-time clock. Please download the data sheet (.pdf) now, as it will be referred to many times.

The DS3234 is not available in through-hole packaging, so we will be using one that comes pre-soldered onto a very convenient breakout board:

It only takes a few moments to solder in some header pins for breadboard use. The battery type is CR1220 (12 x 2.0mm, 3V); if you don’t have a battery you will need to short out the battery holder with some wire otherwise the IC will not work. Readers have reported that the IC doesn’t keep time if the USB and external power are both applied to the Arduino at the same time.

A device will have one or more registers where information is read from and written to. Look at page twelve of the DS3234 data sheet, there are twenty-three registers, each containing eight bits (one byte) of data. Please take note that each register has a read and write address. An example – to retrieve the contents of the register at location 08h (alarm minutes) and place it into the byte data we need to do the following:

Don’t forget to take note of  the function SPI.setBitOrder(MSBFIRST); in your sketch, as this also determines the bit order of the data coming from the device. To write data to a specific address is also quite simple, for example:

Up to this point, we have not concerned ourselves with what is called the SPI data mode. The mode determines how the SPI device interprets the ‘pulses’ of data going in and out of the device. For a well-defined explanation, please read this article. With some devices (and in our forthcoming example) the data mode needs to be defined. So we use:

to set the data mode, within void(setup);. To determine a device’s data mode, as always – consult the data sheet. With our DS3234 example, the mode is mentioned on page 1 under Features List.

Finally, let’s delve a little deeper into SPI via the DS3234. The interesting people at Sparkfun have already written a good demonstration sketch for the DS3234, so let’s have a look at that and deconstruct it a little to see what is going on. You can download the sketch below from here, then change the file extension from .c to .pde.

Don’t let the use of custom functions and loops put you off, they are there to save time. Looking in the function SetTimeDate();, you can see that the data is written to the registers 80h through to 86h (skipping 83h – day of week) in the way as described earlier (set CS low, send out address to write to, send out data, set CS high). You will also notice some bitwise arithmetic going on as well. This is done to convert data between binary-coded decimal and decimal numbers.

Why? Go back to page twelve of the DS3234 data sheet and look at (e.g.) register 00h/80h – seconds. The bits 7~4 are used to represent the ‘tens’ column of the value, and bits 3~0 represent the ‘ones’ column of the value. So some bit shifting is necessary to isolate the digit for each column in order to convert the data to decimal. For other ways to convert between BCD and decimal, see the examples using the Maxim DS1307 in chapter seven.

Finally here is another example of reading the time data from the DS3234:

So there you have it – more about the world of the SPI bus and how to control the devices within.


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, BOB-10160, dac, DS3234, education, learning electronics, lesson, MCP4162, MCP4921, microcontrollers, SPI, tutorial, UncategorizedComments (14)

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