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Tutorial – Arduino and MediaTek 3329 GPS

Learn how to use MediaTek 3329-based GPS shields with Arduino in Chapter 19 of our Arduino Tutorials. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here. If you have an EM406A GPS module, please visit the separate tutorial. Updated 15/01/2014


In this instalment we will introduce and examine the use of the Global Positioning System receivers with Arduino systems. What is the GPS? In very simple terms, a fleet of satellites orbit the earth, transmitting signals from space. Your GPS receiver uses signals from these satellites to triangulate position, altitude, compass headings, etc.; and also receives a time and date signal from these satellites.

The most popular GPS belongs to the USA, and was originally for military use – however it is now available for users in the free world.

Interestingly, the US can switch off or reduce accuracy of their GPS in various regions if necessary, however many people tell me this is not an issue unless you’re in a combat zone against the US forces. For more information, have a look at Wikipedia or the USAF Space Command GPS Ops Centre site. As expected,  other countries have their own GPS as well – such as Russia, China, and the EU is working on one as well.

So – how can us mere mortals take advantage of a multi-billion dollar space navigation system just with our simple Arduino? Easy – with an inexpensive GPS receiver and shield. In this tutorial we’ll use a GPS shield based on the MediaTek3329 GPS receiver from Tronixlabs.

Unlike the EM406A used in the other tutorial, the whole lot is all on one shield – and after some experimenting has better reception. Plus there’s an onboard SD card socket which we’ll use for a GPS logging device. The only catch is that you need to solder the stacking headers yourself. (update – if purchased from Tronixlabs these will be fully assembled):

Linksprite Arduino GPS SD card shield

Apart from the GPS shield we’ll also be using a typical Arduino-compatible LCD shield and of course an Arduino Uno or compatible. Finally before getting started, you need to set the two jumpers on the GPS shield as shown in the following image:

Linksprite GPS Arduino shield jumpers

By doing this the serial data lines from the GPS receiver can be connected to Arduino D2 and D3 – which we will use with SoftwareSerial. The benefit of doing it this way is that you can then upload sketches without any hardware changes and also use the serial monitor and GPS at the same time. So let’s get started.

Testing your GPS shield

Simply connect your GPS shield as described above to your Arduino Uno or compatible, and upload the following sketch:

Note the use of SoftwareSerial in the sketch. As mentioned earlier, the GPS data is transferred to the Arduino via D2/D2 – which we set up as a software serial port.

If possible try to get your hardware close to a window, then open the serial monitor window. The first time you power up your receiver, it may take a  minute or so to lock onto the available satellites, this period of time is the cold start time.

The subsequent times you power it up, the searching time is reduced somewhat as our receiver stores some energy in a supercap (very high-value capacitor) to remember the satellite data, which it will use the next time to reduce the search time (as it already has a “fair idea” where the satellites are).

Moving on, after a few moments you should be presented with a scrolling wall of text, for example:

Arduino GPS raw NMEA data

What on Earth does all that mean? For one thing the hardware is working correctly. Excellent! Now how do we decode these space-signals… They are called NMEA codes. Let’s break down one and see what it means. For example, the line:

  • $GPRMC tells us the following data is essential point-velocity-time data;
  • 100748.000 is the universal time constant (Greenwich Mean Time) – 10:07:48 (hours, minutes, seconds). So you now have a clock as well.
  • A is status – A for active and data is valid, V for void and data is not valid.
  • 3754.9976  is degrees latitude position data = 37 degrees, 54.9976′
  • S for south (south is negative, north is positive)
  • 14507.0283 is degrees longitude position data = 145 degrees, 07.0283′
  • E for east (east is positive, west is negative)
  • 0.00 is my speed in knots over ground. This shows the inaccuracy  that can be caused by not having a clear view of the sky
  • 263.36 – course over ground (0 is north, 180 is south, 270 is west, 90 is east)
  • 140114 is the date – 14th January 2014
  • the next is magnetic variation for which we don’t have a value
  • checksum number

Thankfully the data is separated by commas. This will be useful later when you log the data to a text file using the SD card, as you will then be able to use the data in a spreadsheet very easily. For more explanation about the data, here is the NMEA Reference Manual that explains them all.

Extracting the GPS data

You can’t decode all that NMEA on the fly, so thankfully there is an Arduino library to do this for us – TinyGPS. So head over to the library website, download and install the library before continuing.

Now with the same hardware from the previous example, upload the following sketch:

How this works is quite simple. In void loop() the sketch waits for data to come from the GPS receiver, and then checks if it’s valid GPS data. Then it passes over to the function getgps() which uses the function:

to extract the location data and place it in two variables. Next, another function:

will extract the date and time data, and place them in the pre-determined variables. Finally the use of


can be assigned to variables as they store the altitude and speed respectively. These functions will be commonly used across all the examples, so you can see how they can be used.

To test the sketch, position the hardware and open the serial monitor. After a moment you should be presented with the GPS data in a much more useful form, for example:

Arduino GPS data

At this point you should be able to form ideas of how to harness that data and display or work with it in a more useful way. Useful hint – you can enter coordinates directly into Google Maps to see where it is, for example:

GPS data in Google Maps

 A portable GPS display

Now that you can extract the GPS data, it’s a simple matter of sending it to an LCD shield for display. Just add the LCD shield to your hardware and upload the next sketch. Be sure to change the values in the LiquidCrysal LCD… line if your shield uses different digital pins.

Again, position the hardware and your current position should be shown on the LCD, for example:

Arduino GPS LCD

A GPS Clock

Armed with the same hardware you can also create a GPS clock. With this you can finally have a reference clock and end all arguments about the correct time without calling the speaking clock. Just use the same hardware from the previous example and upload the following sketch:

Now position the hardware again, and after a moment the time will appear – as shown in this video.

Unless you live in the UK or really need to know what GMT/UTC is, a little extra work is required to display your local time. First you will need to know in which time zone you are located – find it in this map.

If your time zone is positive (e.g. GMT +10) – you need to add 10 to your hour value, and if it’s over 23 you then subtract 24 to get the correct hours.

If your time zone is negative (e.g. GMT – 5) – you need to subtract 5 from your hour value, and if it’s under zero  you then add 24 to get the correct hours.

GPS Speedometer

Just as with the clock, it’s easy to display the speed readings with the LCD. Using the same hardware as above, enter and upload the following sketch:

Now position the hardware again, and after a moment your speed should appear. You might get some odd readings if indoors, as the receiver needs data from several satellites to accurately determine your speed. The sketch is written for km/h, however you can replace the display lines with the section that is commented out to display miles per hour.

So at this point find a car and driver, an external power supply and go for a drive. You may find the GPS speed is quite different to the vehicle’s speedometer.

Build a GPS logging device

And for our final example, let’s make a device that captures the position, speed and time data to SD card for later analysis. The required hardware is just the GPS shield and Arduino Uno or compatible board – plus an SD memory card that is formatted to FAT16. SDXC cards may or may not work, they’re quite finicky – so try and get an older standard card.

Now enter and upload the following sketch:

This will append the data to a text file whose name is determine in line 34 of the sketch. If you are using a different GPS shield or a separate SD card shield you may need to change the digital pin value for the chip select line, which is found in lines 14 and 18. The data in our example is logged every ten seconds, however you can change the frequency using the delay() function in line 73.

When you’re ready to start capturing data, simply insert the card and power up the hardware. It will carry on until you turn it off, at which point the data file can be examined on a PC. As an example capture, I took the hardware for a drive, and ended with a file containing much data – for example:

Arduino GPS logging example data

For a more graphical result, you can import the data using a third-party service into Google Maps to get a better idea of the journey. But first, the text file requires a little work. Open it as a text file using a typical spreadsheet, which will then ask how to organise the columns. Delimit them with a space, for example:

delimit Arduino GPS data

Which will give you a spreadsheet of the data. Now delete all the columns except for the latitude and longitude data, and add a header row as such:

GPS data in spreadsheet

Now save that file as an .xls spreadsheet. Next, visit the GPS Visuliser website, and upload the file using the box in the centre of the page. Select “Google Maps” as the output format, and your trip will be presented – for example:

GPS trip map

There are many options on the visualiser site, so if you end up using it a lot – consider giving them a donation.


Now you have some easy example sketches that demonstrate how to extract and work with data from your GPS shield. For the curious, the static GPS locations displayed in this tutorial are not our current location. 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 third 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. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, GPS, Mediatek 3329, shield, SKM58, tronixlabs, tronixstuff, tutorialComments (0)

Tutorial: Arduino timing methods with millis()

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

[Updated 20/01/2013]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(image licence)

To calculate the circumference – use the formula:

circumference = 2πr 

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

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

Here is the sketch for your perusal:

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

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

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

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


Have fun and keep checking into 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, learning electronics, lesson, microcontrollers, millis, speedometer, stopwatch, timing, tutorialComments (18)

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