A Simple Programmable Electronic Load Using the Arduino

Arduino Electronic Load

Some projects are both educational and useful. We believe that [Jasper's] Arduino based electronic load is one of those project.

[Jasper's] electronic load can not only act as a constant current load, but also as a constant power and constant resistive load as well. The versatile device has been designed for up to 30V, 5A, and 15W. It was based on a constant current source that is controlled by a DAC hooked up to the Arduino. By measuring both the resulting voltage and current of the load, the system can dynamically adapt to achieve constancy. While we have seen other Arduino based constant loads before, [Jasper's] is very simple and straight forward compartively. [Jasper] also includes both the schematic and Arduino code, making it very easy to reproduce.

There are tons of uses for a voltage controlled current source, and this project is a great way to get started with building one. It is an especially great project for putting together your knowledge of MOSFET theory and opamp theory!

Bench Power Supply Constant Current EZ-SET

constant_current_mod3

Here is a nice hack you may find very useful if you have a cheaper bench power supply that supports constant current limit protection (CC mode) and the only way to set or check your max current limit is to disconnect your circuit, short the power supply outputs and then check or set your limit. Yes, what a pain! [Ian Johnson] was enduring this pain with a couple of Circuit Specialist bench power supplies and decided to do something about it. After finding a download of the circuit diagram for his CSI3003X-5 supply he was able to reverse engineer a hack that lets you press a new button and dial-in the max current setting. Your first guess is that he simply added a momentary button to short the power supply outputs, but you would be wrong. [Ian’s] solution does not require you to remove the load, plus the load can continue running while you set your current limit. He does this by switching the current display readout from using 0–3 volts off an output shunt resistor to using the 0-3 volts output from a digital potentiometer which is normally used to set the power supplies’ constant current limit anyway. So simple it’s baffling why the designers didn’t include this feature.

Granted this is a simple modification anybody can implement, however [Ian] still wasn’t happy. A comment by [Gerry Sweeney] set him on the path to eliminate the tedious multi-button pressing by implementing a 555 momentary signal to switch the circuit from current load readout to current set readout. This 2nd mod means you just start pressing your up-down CC set buttons and it momentarily switches over the display to read your chosen max current and a few moments later the display switches back to reading actual load current. Brilliant! Just like the expensive big boy toys.

[Ian] doesn’t stop with a simple one-off hack job either. He designed up a proper PCB with cabling and connectors, making an easy to install kit that’s almost a plug-in conversion kit for Circuit Specialist bench power supplies (CSI3003X-5, CSI3005X5, CSI3003X3, CSI3005XIII). It is not a 100% plug-in kit because you do have to solder 3 wires to existing circuit points for signal and ground, but the video covering that task seemed trivial.

This hack could very well work with many other power supplies on the market being Circuit Specialist is just rebadging these units. For now, only the models listed after the break are known to work with this hack. If you find others please list in the comments.

After the break we will link to all three progressive mod videos incase you want to learn how to mod your own power supply or you could just order a prebuilt kit from [Ian].

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An Arduino Programmable Load

load

Having a big block of hot to dump current into is a very useful thing to have if you’re testing batteries, power supplies, high power LEDs, electroplating, or any thing else that would normally require a huge resistor. [Jakub] found himself in need of an electronic load, and instead of a transistor and a pot, decided to make something more automatic: a programmable load built around an Arduino shield.

The idea behind this load is pretty simple: connect a device to a FET and shunt resistor to measure current. Drive the gate of the FET with an op-amp that maintains either constant current or constant voltage. Control everything with a DAC, and you have a programmable load controlled by an Arduino.

With such a small form factor, getting rid of all that heat was bound to be a problem. For this, [Jakub] is using a 50×50 mm BGA style heat sink with a 5V fan. If it’s good enough for a big CPU, it should be able to handle dumping 70 Watts into a FET. There’s also a conservative application of thermal paste and a very small thermistor underneath the FET that’s able to be read by the Arduino. It might slowly heat up your room, but it’s not going to catch fire.

With the Arduino sketches [Jakub] wrote for his load he was able to characterize a pair of Idea batteries and figure out how much charge a three-year-old recyclable battery had. It’s a great piece of work, and if [Jakub] is willing to go through the hassle of a Kickstarter, it would make a fine crowdfunded product.

Current Limiting Diode Use and Tutorial

Current limiting diode 1

Not that this happens often, but what do you do when faced with a repair where you don’t know the power source but you do know you have to drive LED backlighting? When faced with this dilemma [Eric Wasatonic’s] solution was to design for ambiguity. In this interesting hack repair [Eric] needed to restore backlighting for an old car stereo LCD display. First he guaranteed he was working with a DC power source by inserting a small full-wave bridge rectifier. Then knowing he needed 4 mA to power each LED for backlighting he used some 1978 vintage current limiting diodes designed to pass 2mA each regardless of voltage source, within limits of course.

Sure this is a simple hack repair but worthy of being included in anyone’s bag of tricks. Like most hacks there is always knowledge to be gained. [Eric] shares a second video where he uses a curve tracer and some datasheets to understand how these old parts actually tick. These old 1N5305 current limiting diode regulators are simply constructed from a JFET with an internal feedback resistor to its gate which maintains a fixed current output. To demonstrate the simplicity of such a component, [Eric] constructs a current limiting circuit using a JFET and feedback potentiometer then confirms the functionality on a curve tracer. His fabricated simulation circuit worked perfectly.

There was a little money to be made with this repair which is always an added bonus, and the recipient never reported back with any problems so the fix is assumed successful. You can watch the two videos linked after the break, plus it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on what could have been done differently given the same circumstances.

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Simple 10 Watt LED driver is Hot Stuff

led-driver

[Peter] needed to drive a high power LED for his microscope. Rather than pick up a commercial LED driver, he built a simple constant current LED driver and fan control. We’ve featured [Peter's] pumpkin candle LED work here on Hackaday in the past. Today he’s moving on to higher power LEDs. A 10 watt LED would be a good replacement light source for an old halogen/fiber optic ring light setup. [Peter] started with his old standby – an 8 pin Microchip PIC. In this case, a PIC12F1501. A PIC alone won’t handle a 10 watt LED, so he utilized a CAT4101 constant current LED driver from ON Semi. The PIC performs three tasks in this circuit. It handles user input from two buttons, generates a PWM signal to the LED driver, and generates a PWM signal for a cooling fan.

Control is simple: Press both buttons and the LED comes on full bright. Press the “up” button, and the LED can be stepped up from 10% to 100% in 10 steps.  The “down” button drops the LED power back down. [Peter] even had a spare pin. He’s currently using it as an LED on/off confirmation, though we’d probably use it with a 1wire temperature sensor as a backup to thermal protection built into the CAT4101. It may be overkill, but we’d also move the buttons away from that 7805 linear regulator. Being that this circuit will be used with a microscope, it may eventually be operated by touch alone. It would be a bit surprising to try to press a button and end up with a burnt fingertip!

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Building a DC Constant Current/Power Electric Load

By just looking at the picture above, we’re pretty sure that most Hackaday readers will have guessed by now that much power can be dissipated by this electric load. For those who don’t know, an electric load (or dummy load) is a device used to simulate a load on a system for testing purposes. This is quite handy when measuring battery capacities or testing power supplies.

The heart of the device that [Kerry] designed is based on 6 power MOSFETs, a few operational amplifiers and an Arduino compatible ATmega328p microcontroller. Sense resistors are used to measure how much current is passing through the MOSFETs (and therefore the load), the MCP4921 Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) from microchip is used to set the current command, and the load’s voltage is measured by the ATmega ADC. Measuring the latter allows a constant power load mode (as power = current * voltage). In his article, [Kerry] shows that he can simulate a load of up to 200W.

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Shocking your brain and making yourself smarter

tds

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation – or tDCS – is the technique of applying electrodes to the skull and running a small but perceptible current through them. It’s not much current – usually on the order of 1 or 2 mA, but the effect of either increasing or decreasing neural activity has led to some interesting studies. [Theo] over on Instructables wrote a tutorial for making his own tDCS suppy that will supply 2 mA to electrodes placed on the skull for everyone to experiment with.

The basic idea behind tDCS is to put the positive electrode over the part of the brain to be excited or the negative electrode over the part of the brain to be inhibited. This is a well-studied technique that can be used to improve mathematical ability. It’s not electroshock therapy (although that is a valid treatment for depression and schizophrenia) in that a seizure is induced; tDCS just applies a small current to specific areas of the brain to excite or inhibit function.

[Theo]‘s device is a simple circuit made of a transistor, resistors, and a few diodes to provide about 2 mA to a pair of electrical contacts. With this circuit and a few gel electrode pads for your head, you too can experiment with direct current stimulation of your brain.

Of course we need to warn you about putting electricity into your head. In any event, here’s a quadcopter / stun gun mashup we made. Don’t do that, either. You might get a takedown request.

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