Posts with «clock» label

Tutorial – LED Real Time Clock Temperature Sensor Shield for Arduino

In this tutorial we look at how to use the neat LED Real Time Clock Temperature Sensor Shield for Arduino from PMD Way. That’s a bit of a mouthful, however the shield does offer the following:

  • four digit, seven-segment LED display
  • DS1307 real-time clock IC
  • three buttons
  • four LEDs
  • a active buzzer
  • a light-dependent resistor (LDR)
  • and a thermistor for measuring ambient temperature

The shield also arrives fully-assembled , so you can just plug it into your Arduino Uno or compatible board. Neat, beginners will love that. So let’s get started, by showing how each function can be used – then some example projects. In no particular order…

The buzzer

A high-pitched active buzzer is connected to digital pin D6 – which can be turned on and off with a simple digitalWrite() function. So let’s do that now, for example:

void setup() {
  // buzzer on digital pin 6
  pinMode(6, OUTPUT);
}

// the loop function runs over and over again forever
void loop() {
  digitalWrite(6, HIGH);   // turn the buzzer on (HIGH is the voltage level)
  delay(1000);                       // wait for a second
  digitalWrite(6, LOW);    // turn the buzzer off by making the voltage LOW
  delay(1000);                       // wait for a second
}

If there is a white sticker over your buzzer, remove it before uploading the sketch. Now for a quick video demonstration. Turn down your volume before playback.

The LEDs

Our shield has four LEDs, as shown below:

They’re labelled D1 through to D4, with D1 on the right-hand side. They are wired to digital outputs D2, D3, D4 and D5 respectively. Again, they can be used with digitalWrite() – so let’s do that now with a quick demonstration of some blinky goodness. Our sketch turns the LEDs on and off in sequential order. You can change the delay by altering the variable x:

void setup() {
  // initialize digital pin LED_BUILTIN as an output.
  pinMode(2, OUTPUT); // LED 1
  pinMode(3, OUTPUT); // LED 2
  pinMode(4, OUTPUT); // LED 3
  pinMode(5, OUTPUT); // LED 4
}

int x = 200;

void loop() {
  digitalWrite(2, HIGH);    // turn on LED1
  delay(x);
  digitalWrite(2, LOW);    // turn off LED1. Process repeats for the other three LEDs
  digitalWrite(3, HIGH);
  delay(x);
  digitalWrite(3, LOW);
  digitalWrite(4, HIGH);
  delay(x);
  digitalWrite(4, LOW);
  digitalWrite(5, HIGH);
  delay(x);
  digitalWrite(5, LOW);
}

And in action:

The Buttons

It is now time to pay attention to the three large buttons on the bottom-left of the shield. They look imposing however are just normal buttons, and from right-to-left are connected to digital pins D9, D10 and D11:

They are, however, wired without external pull-up or pull-down resistors so when initialising them in your Arduino sketch you need to activate the digital input’s internal pull-up resistor inside the microcontroller using:

pinMode(pin, INPUT_PULLUP);

Due to this, buttons are by default HIGH when not pressed. So when you press a button, they return LOW. The following sketch demonstrates the use of the buttons by lighting LEDs when pressed:

void setup() {
  // initalise digital pins for LEDs as outputs
  pinMode(2, OUTPUT); // LED 1
  pinMode(3, OUTPUT); // LED 2
  pinMode(4, OUTPUT); // LED 3

  // initalise digital pins for buttons as inputs
  // and initialise internal pullups
  pinMode(9, INPUT_PULLUP); // button K1
  pinMode(10, INPUT_PULLUP); // button K2
  pinMode(11, INPUT_PULLUP); // button K3
}

void loop()
{
  if (digitalRead(9) == LOW)
  {
    digitalWrite(2, HIGH);
    delay(10);
    digitalWrite(2, LOW);
  }

  if (digitalRead(10) == LOW)
  {
    digitalWrite(3, HIGH);
    delay(10);
    digitalWrite(3, LOW);
  }

  if (digitalRead(11) == LOW)
  {
    digitalWrite(4, HIGH);
    delay(10);
    digitalWrite(4, LOW);
  }
}

You can see these in action via the following video:

The Numerical LED Display

Our shield has a nice red four-digit, seven-segment LED clock display. We call it a clock display as there are colon LEDs between the second and third digit, just as a digital clock would usually have:

The display is controlled by a special IC, the Titan Micro TM1636:

The TM1636 itself is an interesting part, so we’ll explain that in a separate tutorial in the near future. For now, back to the shield.

To control the LED display we need to install an Arduino library. In fact the shield needs four, so you can install them all at once now. Download the .zip file from here. Then expand that into your local download directory – it contains four library folders. You can then install them one at a time using the Arduino IDE’s Sketch > Include library > Add .zip library… command:

The supplied library offers five functions used to control the display.

.num(x);

…this displays a positive integer (whole number) between 0 and 9999.

.display(p,d);

… this shows a digit d in location p (locations from left to right are 3, 2, 1, 0)

.time(h,m)

… this is used to display time data (hours, minutes) easily. h is hours, m is minutes

.pointOn();
.pointOff();

… these turn the colon on … and off. And finally:

.clear();

… which clears the display to all off. At the start of the sketch, we need to use the library and initiate the instance of the display by inserting the following lines:

#include <TTSDisplay.h>
TTSDisplay rtcshield;

Don’t panic – the following sketch demonstrates the five functions described above:

#include <TTSDisplay.h>
TTSDisplay rtcshield;

int a = 0;
int b = 0;

void setup() {}

void loop()
{
  // display some numbers
  for (a = 4921; a < 5101; a++)
  {
    rtcshield.num(a);
    delay(10);
  }

  // clear display
  rtcshield.clear();

  // display individual digits
  for (a = 3; a >= 0; --a)
  {
    rtcshield.display(a, a);
    delay(1000);
    rtcshield.clear();
  }
  for (a = 3; a >= 0; --a)
  {
    rtcshield.display(a, a);
    delay(1000);
    rtcshield.clear();
  }

  // turn the colon and off
  for (a = 0; a < 5; a++)
  {
    rtcshield.pointOn();
    delay(500);
    rtcshield.pointOff();
    delay(500);
  }

  // demo the time display function
  rtcshield.pointOn();
  rtcshield.time(11, 57);
  delay(1000);
  rtcshield.time(11, 58);
  delay(1000);
  rtcshield.time(11, 59);
  delay(1000);
  rtcshield.time(12, 00);
  delay(1000);
}

And you can see it in action through the video below:

The LDR (Light Dependent Resistor)

LDRs are useful for giving basic light level measurements, and our shield has one connected to analog input pin A1. It’s the two-legged item with the squiggle on top as shown below:

The resistance of LDRs change with light levels – the greater the light, the less the resistance. Thus by measuring the voltage of a current through the LDR with an analog input pin – you can get a numerical value proportional to the ambient light level. And that’s just what the following sketch does:

#include <TTSDisplay.h>
TTSDisplay rtcshield;

int a = 0;

void setup() {}
void loop()
{
  // read value of analog input
  a = analogRead(A1);
  // show value on display
  rtcshield.num(a);
  delay(100);
}

The Thermistor

A thermistor is a resistor whose resistance is relative to the ambient temperature. As the temperature increases, their resistance decreases. It’s the black part to the left of the LDR in the image below:

We can use this relationship between temperature and resistance to determine the ambient temperature. To keep things simple we won’t go into the theory – instead, just show you how to get a reading.

The thermistor circuit on our shield has the output connected to analog input zero, and we can use the library installed earlier to take care of the mathematics. Which just leaves us with the functions.

At the start of the sketch, we need to use the library and initiate the instance of the thermistor by inserting the following lines:

#include <TTSTemp.h>
TTSTemp temp;

… then use the following which returns a positive integer containing the temperature (so no freezing cold environments):

.get();

For our example, we’ll get the temperature and show it on the numerical display:

#include <TTSDisplay.h>
#include <TTSTemp.h>

TTSTemp temp;
TTSDisplay rtcshield;

int a = 0;

void setup() {}

void loop() {

  a = temp.get();
  rtcshield.num(a);
  delay(500);
}

And our thermometer in action. No video this time… a nice 24 degrees C in the office:

The Real-Time Clock 

Our shield is fitted with a DS1307 real-time clock IC circuit and backup battery holder. If you insert a CR1220 battery, the RTC will remember the settings even if you remove the shield from the Arduino or if there’s a power blackout, board reset etc:

The DS1307 is incredibly popular and used in many projects and found on many inexpensive breakout boards. We have a separate tutorial on how to use the DS1307, so instead of repeating ourselves – please visit our specific DS1307 Arduino tutorial, then return when finished.

Where to from here? 

We can image there are many practical uses for this shield, which will not only improve your Arduino coding skills but also have some useful applications. An example is given below, that you can use for learning or fun.

Temperature Alarm

This projects turns the shield into a temperature monitor – you can select a lower and upper temperature, and if the temperature goes outside that range the buzzer can sound until you press it.

Here’s the sketch:

#include <TTSDisplay.h>
#include <TTSTemp.h>

TTSTemp temp;
TTSDisplay rtcshield;

boolean alarmOnOff = false;
int highTemp = 40;
int lowTemp = 10;
int currentTemp;

void LEDsoff()
{
  // function to turn all alarm high/low LEDs off
  digitalWrite(2, LOW);
  digitalWrite(4, LOW);
}

void setup() {
  // initalise digital pins for LEDs and buzzer as outputs
  pinMode(2, OUTPUT); // LED 1
  pinMode(3, OUTPUT); // LED 2
  pinMode(4, OUTPUT); // LED 3
  pinMode(5, OUTPUT); // LED 4
  pinMode(6, OUTPUT); // buzzer

  // initalise digital pins for buttons as inputs
  // and initialise internal pullups
  pinMode(9, INPUT_PULLUP); // button K1
  pinMode(10, INPUT_PULLUP); // button K2
  pinMode(11, INPUT_PULLUP); // button K3
}

void loop()
{
  // get current temperature
  currentTemp = temp.get();

  // if current temperature is within set limts
  // show temperature on display

  if (currentTemp >= lowTemp || currentTemp <= highTemp)
    // if ambient temperature is less than high boundary
    // OR if ambient temperature is grater than low boundary
    // all is well
  {
    LEDsoff(); // turn off LEDs
    rtcshield.num(currentTemp);
  }

  // if current temperature is above set high bounday, show red LED and
  // show temperature on display
  // turn on buzzer if alarm is set to on (button K3)

  if (currentTemp > highTemp)
  {
    LEDsoff(); // turn off LEDs
    digitalWrite(4, HIGH); // turn on red LED
    rtcshield.num(currentTemp);
    if (alarmOnOff == true) {
      digitalWrite(6, HIGH); // buzzer on }
    }
  }

  // if current temperature is below set lower boundary, show blue LED and
  // show temperature on display
  // turn on buzzer if alarm is set to on (button K3)

  if (currentTemp < lowTemp)
  {
    LEDsoff(); // turn off LEDs
    digitalWrite(2, HIGH); // turn on blue LED
    rtcshield.num(currentTemp);
    if (alarmOnOff == true)
    {
      digitalWrite(6, HIGH); // buzzer on }
    }
  }
  // --------turn alarm on or off-----------------------------------------------------
  if (digitalRead(11) == LOW) // turn alarm on or off
  {
    alarmOnOff = !alarmOnOff;
    if (alarmOnOff == 0) {
      digitalWrite(6, LOW); // turn off buzzer
      digitalWrite(5, LOW); // turn off alarm on LED
    }
    // if alarm is set to on, turn LED on to indicate this
    if (alarmOnOff == 1)
    {
      digitalWrite(5, HIGH);
    }
    delay(300); // software debounce
  }
  // --------set low temperature------------------------------------------------------
  if (digitalRead(10) == LOW) // set low temperature. If temp falls below this value, activate alarm
  {
    // clear display and turn on blue LED to indicate user is setting lower boundary
    rtcshield.clear();
    digitalWrite(2, HIGH); // turn on blue LED
    rtcshield.num(lowTemp);

    // user can press buttons K2 and K1 to decrease/increase lower boundary.
    // once user presses button K3, lower boundary is locked in and unit goes
    // back to normal state

    while (digitalRead(11) != LOW)
      // repeat the following code until the user presses button K3
    {
      if (digitalRead(10) == LOW) // if button K2 pressed
      {
        --lowTemp; // subtract one from lower boundary
        // display new value. If this falls below zero, won't display. You can add checks for this yourself :)
        rtcshield.num(lowTemp);
      }
      if (digitalRead(9) == LOW) // if button K3 pressed
      {
        lowTemp++; // add one to lower boundary
        // display new value. If this exceeds 9999, won't display. You can add checks for this yourself :)
        rtcshield.num(lowTemp);
      }
      delay(300); // for switch debounce
    }
    digitalWrite(2, LOW); // turn off blue LED
  }
  // --------set high temperature-----------------------------------------------------
  if (digitalRead(9) == LOW) // set high temperature. If temp exceeds this value, activate alarm
  {

    // clear display and turn on red LED to indicate user is setting lower boundary
    rtcshield.clear();
    digitalWrite(4, HIGH); // turn on red LED
    rtcshield.num(highTemp);

    // user can press buttons K2 and K1 to decrease/increase upper boundary.
    // once user presses button K3, upper boundary is locked in and unit goes
    // back to normal state

    while (digitalRead(11) != LOW)
      // repeat the following code until the user presses button K3
    {
      if (digitalRead(10) == LOW) // if button K2 pressed
      {
        --highTemp; // subtract one from upper boundary
        // display new value. If this falls below zero, won't display. You can add checks for this yourself :)
        rtcshield.num(highTemp);
      }
      if (digitalRead(9) == LOW) // if button K3 pressed
      {
        highTemp++; // add one to upper boundary
        // display new value. If this exceeds 9999, won't display. You can add checks for this yourself :)
        rtcshield.num(highTemp);
      }
      delay(300); // for switch debounce
    }
    digitalWrite(4, LOW); // turn off red LED
  }
}

Operating instructions:

  • To set lower temperature, – press button K2. Blue LED turns on. Use buttons K2 and K1 to select temperature, then press K3 to lock it in. Blue LED turns off.
  • To set upper temperature – press button K1. Red LED turns on. Use buttons K2 and K1 to select temperature, then press K3 to lock it in. Red LED turns off.
  • If temperature drops below lower or exceeds upper temperature, the blue or red LED will come on.
  • You can have the buzzer sound when the alarm activates – to do this, press K3. When the buzzer mode is on, LED D4 will be on. You can turn buzzer off after it activates by pressing K3.
  • Display will show ambient temperature during normal operation.

You can see this in action via the video below:

Conclusion

This is a fun and useful shield – especially for beginners. It offers a lot of fun and options without any difficult coding or soldering – it’s easy to find success with the shield and increase your motivation to learn more and make more.

You can be serious with a clock, or annoy people with the buzzer. And at the time of writing you can have one for US$14.95, delivered. So go forth and create something.

A little research has shown that this shield was based from a product by Seeed, who discontinued it from sale. I’d like to thank them for the library.

This post brought to you by pmdway.com – everything for makers and electronics enthusiasts, with free delivery worldwide.

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This clock tells time on a photochromic display

With many LED projects—like clocks—you’ll want to use a diffuser to keep light somewhat even over a wide area. Diffusers, as their name implies, diffuse light, but what if one was to instead use it as the light source itself?

This clever timepiece from Zaphunk does just that, employing an array of UV LEDs to illuminate a photochromic face. In the case of the glowing screen, the material first shines in response to the lit LEDs, then stays ‘on’ after they turn off, showing four numbers and a colon. When the photochromic cover is in use, the filament instead changes color based on the LEDs. 

The clock is implemented with an Arduino Nano, an RTC module, and a heavily modified 8-digit 7-segment display, and triggered via the press of a button on top.

This clock uses a custom built 4-digit 7-segment display made from UV LEDs. In front of the display a screen is placed that consists either of phosphorescent (“glow-in-the-dark”) or photochromic material. A push button on the top lights up the UV display which then illuminates the screen for a few seconds so that it starts glowing or changes color which then slowly fades away.

Unique Clock Keeps Time the Fibonacci Way

You say your binary clock no longer has the obfuscation level needed to earn the proper nerd street cred? Feel like you need something a little more mathematically challenging to make sure only the cool kids can tell the time? Then this Fibonacci clock might be just the thing to build.

Granted, [TecnoProfesor]’s clock is a somewhat simplified version of an earlier version that was nigh impossible to decode. But with its color coding and [Piet Mondrian]-esque grids, it’s still satisfyingly difficult to get the time from a quick glance. The area of the blocks represents the Fibonacci sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, and adding up which blocks are illuminated by the RGB LEDs behind the frosted front panel. That lets you tally up to 12 intervals; for the minutes and seconds, there are indicators for the powers of 12 up to 48. Put it all together and you’ve got a unique and attractive graphical time display that’s sure to start interesting conversations when the mathematically disinclined try to use it. Check out the video below as the clock goes from 12:28:01 to 12:28:46. We think.

If this doesn’t scratch your itch for obfuscated clocks, we’ve got plenty of them. From random four-letter words to an analog digital clock to an epic epoch clock, we’ve got them all.

This Creepy Skull Shows Time With Its Eyes

Sometimes you have an idea, and despite it not being the “right” time of year you put a creepy skull whose eyes tell the time and whose jaw clacks on the hour into a nice wooden box for your wife as a Christmas present. At least, if you’re reddit user [flyingalbatross1], you do!

The eyes are rotated using 360 degree servos, which makes rotating the eyes based on the time pretty easy. The servos are connected to rods that are epoxied to the spheres used as eyes. Some water slide iris decals are put on the eyes offset from center in order to point in the direction of the minutes/hours. An arduino with a real time clock module keeps track of the time and powers the servos.

Check out the video after the break:

The jaw opens and closes on the hours – springs are screwed to the inside of the jaw to the outside of the skull behind the bones that surround the eyes; they’re hidden when the skull is in its box. A third servo is used as a winch to pull the jaw open from the inside of the bottom of the chin. When it releases, the springs close the mouth and the clack of the teeth replaces an hourly chime.

A bit late (or early) for Halloween, but it’s a really fun project. [Flyingalbatross1] has made the arduino code available, as well as showing plenty of images of how the parts are put together. Take a look at this this atomic clock-in-a-skull, or you make your own talking skull for Halloween!

via Reddit

Hack a Day 02 Feb 06:00

Arduino Tachometer Clock Fires on All Cylinders

We’re certainly no strangers to unique timepieces around these parts. For whatever reason, hackers are obsessed with finding new and interesting ways of displaying the time. Not that we’re complaining, of course. We’re just as excited to see the things as they are to build them. With the assumption that you’re just as enamored with these oddball chronometers as we are, we present to you this fantastic digital tachometer clock created by [mrbigbusiness].

The multi-function digital gauge itself is an aftermarket unit which [mrbigbusiness] says you can get online for as little as $20 from some sites. All he needed to do was figure out how to get his Arduino to talk to it, and come up with some interesting way to hold it at an appropriate viewing angle. The mass of wires coming out of the back of the gauge might look intimidating, but thanks to his well documented code it shouldn’t be too hard to follow in his footsteps if you were so inclined.

Hours are represented by the analog portion of the gauge, and the minutes shown digitally were the speed would normally be displayed. This allows for a very cool blending of the classic look of an analog clock with the accuracy of digital. He’s even got it set up so the fuel indicator will fill up as the current minute progresses. The code also explains how to use things like the gear and high beam indicators, so there’s a lot of room for customization and interesting data visualizations. For instance, it would be easy to scrap the whole clock idea and use this gauge as a system monitor with some modifications to the code [mrbigbusiness] has provided.

The gauge is mounted to a small project box with some 3D printed brackets and bits of metal rod, complete with a small section of flexible loom to cover up all the wires. Overall it looks very slick and futuristic without abandoning its obvious automotive roots. Inside the base [mrbigbusiness] has an Arduino Nano, a DS1307 RTC connected via I2C, a voltage regulator, and a push button to set the time. It’s a perfectly reasonable layout, though we wonder if it couldn’t be simplified by using an ESP8266 and pulling the time down with NTP.

We’ve seen gauges turned into a timepiece before, but we have to admit that this is probably the most practical realization we’ve seen of the idea yet. Of course if you want to outfit the garage with something a bit more authentic, you can always repurpose a Porsche brake rotor.

Suspense Courtesy of Arduino, Mess of Wires

The ticking clock on the bomb is a Hollywood trope that simply refuses to die. Adding to the stress levels of the bomb squad and creating great suspense for the watcher, it’s always interesting to wonder why the average bomb maker is so courteous as to supply this information to law enforcement. Regardless, if you’d like to build a dramatic prop and are mature enough to do so responsibly, [Giorgio] has the guide you need.

The build is a straightforward one, relying on an Arduino to run the show. This is hooked up to a classic 7-segment LED display, upon which the countdown is displayed. For extra flair, an MP3 player is fitted to play the Mission Impossible theme. It all adds to the tension as you wipe the sweat from your brow, trying to decide if you’re cutting the right wire.

It’s a build that would be an excellent prop for a film production or a fun game at a holiday party. However, it’s also a build that could easily be mistaken for the real thing by those less technically inclined. Even the most innocuous homebrew projects have caused problems for innocent hackers in the past. Fake bombs can be incredibly dangerous, just like the real thing, so it’s important to be careful.

We’ve seen other takes on this kind of build before, too. As always, build responsibly.

Hack a Day 07 Nov 03:00

Decorative Light Box Lets You Guess The Time

Telling time by using the current position of the sun is nothing revolutionary — though it probably was quite the “life hack” back in ancient times, we can assume. On the other hand, showing time by using the current position of the sun is what inspired [Rich Nelson] to create the Day Cycle Clock, a color changing light box of the Philadelphia skyline, simulating a full day and night cycle in real time — servo-controlled sun and moon included.

At its core, the clock uses an Arduino with a real-time clock module, and the TimeLord library to determine the sunrise and sunset times, as well as the current moon phase, based on a given location. The sun and moon are displayed on a 1.44″ LCD which doubles as actual digital clock in case you need a more accurate time telling after all. [Rich] generally went out of his way with planning and attention to detail in this project, as you can see in the linked video, resulting in an impressively clean build surely worthy as gift to his brother. And if you want to build one for yourself, both the Arduino source code and all the mechanical parts are available on GitHub.

An interesting next iteration could be adding internet connectivity to get the current weather situation mixed into the light behavior — not that it would be the first time we’d see weather represented by light. And of course, simulating the northern lights is also always an option.

The Tide Is High, And This Clock Lets You Know

In case you happen to have an ocean nearby, you’re probably familiar with its rising and falling tides. And if mudflat hiking is a thing in your area, you’re also aware of the importance of good timing and knowing when the water will be on its way back. Tide clocks will help you to be prepared, and they are a fun alternative to your usual clock projects. If you’re looking for a starting point, [rabbitcreek] put together an Arduino-based tide clock kit for educational purposes.

If you feel like you’re experiencing some déjà vu here, this indeed isn’t [rabbitcreek]’s first tide clock project. But unlike his prior stationary clock, he has now created a small and portable, coin-cell version to take with you out on the sea. And what shape would better fit than a 3D printed moon — unfortunately the current design doesn’t offer much waterproofing.

For the underlying tide calculation itself, [rabbitcreek] uses just like in his previous project [Luke Miller]’s location-based library for the ubiquitous DS1307 and DS3213 real-time clocks. Of course, if you also want to keep track of other events on your clock, why not set up calendar events for the next rising tide?

Hack a Day 09 Sep 15:00

Watch The World Spin With The Earth Clock

With the June solstice right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to witness first hand the effects of Earth’s axial tilt on the day’s length above and beyond 60 degrees latitude. But if you can’t make it there, or otherwise prefer a more regular, less deprived sleep pattern, you can always resort to simulations to demonstrate the phenomenon. [SimonRob] for example built a clock with a real time rotating model of Earth to visualize its exposure to the sun over the year.

The daily rotating cycle, as well as Earth’s rotation within one year, are simulated with a hand painted plastic ball attached to a rotating axis and mounted on a rotating plate. The hand painting was done with a neat trick; placing printed slivers of an atlas inside the transparent orb to serve as guides. Movement for both axes are driven by a pair of stepper motors and a ring of LEDs in the same diameter as the Earth model is used to represent the Sun. You can of course wait a whole year to observe it all in real time, or then make use of a set of buttons that lets you fast forward and reverse time.

Earth’s rotation, and especially countering it, is a regular concept in astrophotography, so it’s a nice change of perspective to use it to look onto Earth itself from the outside. And who knows, if [SimonRob] ever feels like extending his clock with an aurora borealis simulation, he might find inspiration in this northern lights tracking light show.

This is a spectacular showpiece and a great project you can do with common tools already in your workshop. Once you’ve mastered earth, put on your machinists hat and give the solar system a try.

Hack a Day 18 Jun 16:31

A Crash Course In Reliable Communication

It’s probably fair to say that anyone reading these words understands conceptually how physically connected devices communicate with each other. In the most basic configuration, one wire establishes a common ground as a shared reference point and then the “signal” is sent over a second wire. But what actually is a signal, how do the devices stay synchronized, and what happens when a dodgy link causes some data to go missing?

All of these questions, and more, are addressed by [Ben Eater] in his fascinating series on data transmission. He takes a very low-level approach to explaining the basics of communication, starting with the concept of non-return-to-zero encoding and working his way to a shared clock signal to make sure all of the devices in the network are in step. Most of us are familiar with the data and clock wires used in serial communications protocols like I2C, but rarely do you get to see such a clear and detailed explanation of how it all works.

He demonstrates the challenge of getting two independent devices to communicate, trying in vain to adjust the delays on the receiving and transmitting Arduinos to try to establish a reliable link at a leisurely five bits per second. But even at this digital snail’s pace, errors pop up within a few seconds. [Ben] goes on to show that the oscillators used in consumer electronics simply aren’t consistent enough between devices to stay synchronized for more than a few hundred bits. Until atomic clocks come standard on the Arduino, it’s just not an option.

[Ben] then explains the concept of a dedicated clock signal, and how it can be used to make sure the devices are in sync even if their local clocks drift around. As he shows, as long as the data signal and the clock signal are hitting at the same time, the actual timing doesn’t matter much. Even within the confines of this basic demo, some drift in the clock signal is observed, but it has no detrimental effect on communication.

In the next part of the series, [Ben] will tackle error correction techniques. Until then, you might want to check out the fantastic piece [Elliot Williams] put together on I2C.

[Thanks to George Graves for the tip.]