Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.

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Cheap Torque Sensor Goes Back to Basics on Strain Gauges

Sooner or later, we’ve all got to deal with torque measurement. Most of us will never need to go beyond the satisfying click of a micrometer-style torque wrench or the grating buzz of a cordless drill-driver as the clutch releases. But at some point you may actually need to measure torque, in which case this guide to torque sensors might be just the thing.

[Taylor Schweizer]’s four-part series on torque is pretty comprehensive. The link above is to the actual build of his DIY torque transducer, but the preceding three installments are well worth the read too. [Taylor] describes himself as an e-waste connoisseur and tantalizes us with the possibility that his build will be with salvaged parts, but in the end a $20 bag of strain gauges and an LM358 were the quickest way to his proof of concept. The strain gauges were super-glued to a socket extension, hot glue was liberally applied for insulation and strain relief, and the whole thing wired up to a Teensy for data capture. A quick script and dump of the data to Excel and you’ve got a way to visualize torque.

An LCD display for real-time measurements is in the works, as are improvements to the instrumentation amp – for which [Taylor] might want to refer to [Bil Herd]’s or [Brandon Dunson]’s recent posts on the subject.

[via r/arduino]

Building a digital scale from scratch


[Raivis] was given a particular task at his university – find a way to measure how many Duplo bricks are stacked together. There are a number of ways to do this, everything from computer vision to using a ruler, but [Raivis] chose a much more educational method. He built a digital scale from scratch out of a strain gauge and a Wheatstone bridge. The build log is immensely educational and provides some insight into the challenges of weighing things digitally.

A strain gauge is a simple piece of equipment, just a small force sensitive resistor. When attached to a metal bar and a force is applied, the resistance inside the strain gauge changes, but not by much. There’s only a few micro Ohms difference between the minimum and maximum of [Raivis]’ load cell, so he needed a way to measure very slight changes in resistance.

The solution was a Wheatstone bridge, or four resistors arranged in a square. When one of the resistors in the bridge is replaced with a strain gauge, very small changes in resistance  can be measured.

With a custom ‘duino amplifier shield, [Raivis] can measure the resistance of his load cell with 10-bit resolution, or a maximum weight of 1.32 kg with a resolution of two and a half grams. A single duplo block weighs about 12 grams, so we’ll call this one a success.

Paper accelerometers for pennies in the works

Cheap paper accelerometers? Put us down for a dozen to start. They’re not quite ready for mass production yet but it looks like they’re on the way.

[George Whitesides] led a team to develop the new technology that uses simple manufacturing methods to produce the sensor seen above. Graphite and silver inks were screen printed onto heavy paper. The single limb sticking out from the body of the sensor is a separate piece of paper that bends the carbon area when force is applied. This changes the carbon’s resistance which is measured using a Wheatstone bridge constructed by gluing resistors to the device.

It sounds unsophisticated compared to most of the accelerometer modules we’re used to, but if you need a sensor that detects sudden motion this sounds like the perfect part. Now who wants to be the first person to replicate this in their basement?

[Thanks Fabien]