If you do any kind of machining, 3D printing, or PCB layout, you probably have at least considered buying a pair of calipers. Old-fashioned ones had a dial and were mechanical devices, but lately, digital ones have become quite affordable. We keep meaning to tear a set of ours apart to see what’s inside, but thanks to [learnelectronics], we don’t have to — the video below provides a fascinating look at what’s inside a cheap pair of Harbor Freight calipers.
Honestly, it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to figure out how far down a bar you are. The trick is the caliper has to be super accurate. Oddly enough, the cheap calipers examined use capacitors as a sensing element.
There is a long flexible PCB stuck to the sliding part with conductive pads. The display unit is also a printed circuit and manages the battery, the display, and the other half of the capacitive sensor. If you want a more detailed explanation of how the sensor actually works, check out capsense.com. If you note, the pattern on the sliding part has traces that look like a square wave, and half have a different phase than the other half. These are the sine plates and the cosine plates. A 100 kHz signal flows through the capacitor, and it is possible to read the direction of travel and the amount of travel easily.