Pulse Oximeter from LM324, LED, and Photodiode

This pulse oximeter is so simple and cheap to build it’s almost criminal. The most obvious way to monitor the output of the sensor is to use an oscilloscope. The poor-man’s stand-in for that is a sound card, which is what [Scott Harden] demonstrates in his write-up.

It uses a concept we’ve seen a few times before. The light from an LED shines through your finger and is measured on the other side by a phototransistor. It’s that light grey plastic thing you see on a patient’s finger when they’re in the hospital. [Scott] went with a common wooden clothes pin as a way to mount and align the sensor with your finger. It is monitored by the simplest of circuits which uses just one chip: an LM324 op-amp. There are three basic stages which he explains well in the video after the jump. The incoming signal is decoupled before being fed to the first amplifier stage. From there it is fed to an adjustable low-pass filter to help eliminate 60Hz noise from AC power in the room. The last stage amplifies the signal again while using another low-pass filter in parallel.

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Understanding op-amps from simple to hard

[Tim] wanted to help out a ECE student struggling with some Op-Amp problems. He put together a video which does a good job of explaining what an Op-Amp does, then tackles each of the questions one at a time.

His analogy is illustrated in this image. There’s an operator using a crane to lift a crate. He is watching a ‘radio man’ in a window of the building to know how high it should be lifted. These roles are translated to the function of an Op-Amp in a way that makes understanding the common parts quite easy. The crane is the Op-Amp and the floor to which it is trying to lift the crate is the input pin. The current height of the crate is the output signal. The radio man is the feedback resistor which is trying to get the desired height and current height to equal each other. Watch the video after the break and all becomes clear.

After this analogy is explained [Tim] tackles the actual homework problems. He’s going through everything pretty quickly, and doesn’t actually give the answers. What he does is show how this — like most circuit solving problems — depends on how you group the components in order to simplify the questions. Grab a pen and paper and put on your electron theory hats to see if you can solve the questions for yourselves.

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Analog soil moisture alarm

The lion’s share of soil moisture monitors we see are meant as add-ons for a microcontroller. So we’re glad that [Miceuz] tipped us off about this soil moisture alarm he built with analog parts. It’s really not hard to take the concept and build it in the analog world. That’s because you’re just measuring a resistance value. But for those of us who never really got started with analog parts this is a great project to learn from.

A high-efficiency op-amp is doing the brunt of the work. When the soil is moist the resistance is rather low compared to a reference voltage provided by a separate resistive divider. But when the plant gets thirsty and the soil dries out the resistance increases, triggering the op-amp to illuminate an LED and create some noise on the buzzer (we’re a bit confused on how that buzzer works).

Unfortunately this isn’t a viable long-term solution as the battery calculations show it lasting only about four months. That’s where a microcontroller-based circuit really shines, as it can put it self in low-power sleep and wake infrequently to take readings.

Fill in the bass on your PSP

[Michael Chen] felt the sound his PSP was putting out needed more dimension. Some would have grabbed themselves a nice set of headphones, but he grabbed his soldering iron instead and found some space where he could add a bigger speaker.

Mobile devices tend to cram as much into the small form factor as possible so we’re surprised he managed make room. But apparently if you cut away a bit from the inside of the case there is space beneath the memory card. [Michael] cautions that you need to choose a speaker rated for 8 ohms or greater  in order to use it as a drop-in replacement for one of the two original speakers. But he also touches on a method to use both stock speakers as well as the new one. He suggests grabbing an LM386 op-amp and a capacitor and hooking them up. Yep, there’s room for that too if you mount it dead-bug-style. We wonder how the battery life will be affected by this hack?

A Salinometer built for the Science Olympiad

This is a Digital Salinometer which [Daniel Kramnik] built as a Science Olympiad entry. He’s a Junior in High School and when looking for a project to enter into the Water Quality event he was interested in achieving greater accuracy than a mechanical hydrometer provides.

We think the circuit design is very impressive for anyone who hasn’t complete formal training as an engineer, and outstanding for someone as young as [Daniel]. Measurements depend on two main parts, a temperature control and a salinity sensor. These are both necessary because fluctuation in sample temperature will affect the salinity reading.

A Peltier element is used to heat the water sample if it doesn’t fall within a set range of temperatures. From there, an Op-Amp circuit conditions a signal running through the sample, passing an output to the ADC converter chip which drives the three-digit readout. [Daniel] calculates an accuracy within 0.0014%. He must be on the mark because he’s won his regional competition and will soon compete at the state level.

Data logging with a cheap Lux meter

[Minisystem] has a thing for dynamo powered bike lights. He wanted to measure how well his latest is working, but just logging the current flow through the LEDs wasn’t enough for him. He picked up a cheap Lux meter and hacked into the circuit to log measurements while he rides.

He started by cracking open the case to see what the meter held inside. There’s a Texas Instruments Op-Amp that connects to the light sensor. The datasheet for the part didn’t help much, but [Minisystem] did find that the current output on one of the pins changes with light intensity. Further testing led him to discover that the signal is a multiple of 10 for what is shown on the Lux meter’s readout. All he needs to do is take regular measurement of this current and save that data.

To do this, he grabbed his trusty Arduino and made a connection between one of its analog inputs and the op-amp pin. It should be easy enough to dump measurements into the Arduino’s own EEPROM, or use an external storage chip or SD card.

[Thanks Jason]

Improving audio output from an HD radio receiver

[Phil] picked up an HD radio receiver when Radio Shack was clearing them out at a 60% discount. But to his disappointment, when he hooked it up the sound left a lot to be desired with limited mid-range and flat bass. After some forum mining he discovered that the optical output didn’t have this problem, and came to the conclusion that the op-amp driving the analog audio-out jack needed some tweaking. He didn’t get his hands on a schematic for the board, but took the advice from some vintage equipment gurus and swapped the stock IC for a Burr-Brown OPA2604AP chip.

This fixed the problem without any other adjustments to the hardware. But while he was in there, he also secured the external antenna connector jack to the chassis for good measure.

If you’re wondering about the particulars of the equipment, [Phil] was hacking an Auvio HD Radio tuner. But he also mentions that Best Buy sells an Insignia NS-HDTUNE which may benefit from the same modification.