Beginner Concepts: We’re Gonna Let You Finish, But First This Tutorial On Arduino Interrupts

OK, year-old pop culture references aside [Kyle] dropped us a line to show us his tutorial on using interrupts with your Arduino. Given the single core nature of your average Arduino’s AVR you pretty much have two choices for monitoring occasional un-timed inputs: Either check an input at an interval (which risks missing the signal entirely) or set up an interrupt to pause the chip’s normal operation. Obviously working with interrupts saves you tons of clock cycles since you are not polling a pin over and over. [Kyle] plans on a follow up tutorial to cover timer based interrupts, which can come in handy when generating frequencies and stuff.

Looking for more Arduino Basics? How about Basic on an Arduino. Check out our other beginner concepts posts as well if you need to work on your fundamentals.

Beginner Concepts: A Quartet Of Videos On Inductors

Inductors can be found in many of the devices you use every day, but if you’ve been working only with DC in your projects there’s a good chance you’ve never needed to know anything about them. Now’s your chance to pick up on the basics with this video tutorial series. [Afroman] put together four short videos that we’ve embedded after the break. Set aside fifteen minutes to watch them; you’ll be glad you did.

The first in the series starts out by explaining that an inductor is a coil of wire that serves a similar function as a capacitor with one major difference. A capacitor stores voltage, while an inductor stores current. In the second video, [Afroman] hooks up some inductors to a square-wave generator, then measures the resulting current characteristics using an oscilloscope. He shows the difference between inductor core material (air core versus ferrite core) and illustrates the properties that make inductors so useful as filters. The third video covers filtering circuits, and the fourth is the best explanation of why you need a flyback diode when driving a motor (an inductive load) that we’ve seen yet.

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Beginner Concepts: MOSFETs

[Moser’s] introductory guide to MOSFETs serves as a quick introduction for those unfamiliar with the parts. They fill a similar role as a bipolar junction transistor like the 2N2222, making it possible to switch large loads. But fundamentally they are different. Metal Oxide Field Effect Transistors have three pins for Drain, Source, and Gate instead of the Collector, Emitter, and Base that you may be used to. The Gate is the control pin for the device and offers a desirable advantage over bipolar junction transistors in that it is insulated from the channel. This means that much less current flows into the Gate when compared to the Base of a common transistor, saving power and providing protection to the logic circuitry.

Don’t fret if this makes your head spin. [Moser’s] writeup is short and to-the-point but it’s not watered down. You can get a basic overview and if you care to learn more, he’s linked to datasheets and has basic terminology that is easily clarified with a Google search. One of the most powerful tools that he’s included is the simple MOSFET and driver circuit diagram you see above. This makes it possible to switch incredibly large loads very quickly; the true power of the MOSFET.

Beginner Concepts: Using A Low-pass Filter To Smooth PWM Output

Microcontrollers are digital devices at heart. They can do fancy things like convert analog signals into a digital value but going the other direction is a bit tougher. Pulse-Width Modulation is used to approximate an analog output but what you’re actually doing is turning the operating voltage on and off very quickly to achieve an average value somewhere in between. This is the method most commonly used to dim an LED. But generating a smooth voltage in this way takes just a few more parts.

[Scott Daniels] spent some time discussing the process of smoothing a PWM output by using a low pass filter. This is a compilation of digital and analog circuitry to produce a smoother signal than PWM can achieve on its own. As you can see above, the low pass filter is made up of one resistor and one capacitor. The theory is not hard to understand, and with [Scott’s] help you’ll become much more comfortable with choosing the component values for you own filters. His examples center around an Arduino using the analogWrite() function but the techniques can be applied universally.

Beginner Concepts: Designing Transistor Control Circuits

Need to switch something on or off using a microcontroller? Using a transistor is one of the best ways to do this, but how exactly do you design properly for transistor switching? [Ben Krasnow] put together a tutorial in which he does an excellent job of explaining the ins and outs of designing transistor control circuits.

We’ve embedded his twenty-minute video after the break. In it he talks about the use of transistors, the difference between NPN and PNP transistors, and the design specifics you need to know when working with them. We think that beginners will find [Ben’s] demonstration of how to calculates Hfe, which is the base current necessary to fully switch the transistor. If this is gibberish to you, have no fear. [Ben’s] instruction is clear and easily understandable.

The one thing we missed in the video is clarification about base current protection for PNP transistors. [Ben] mentions that there’s no easy circuitry that can be used on the base of a PNP  to regulate flow from the emitter to the base, but he doesn’t elaborate. Otherwise, it’s everything we could have wanted on the topic.

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Beginner Concepts: 595 Shift Register Simulator

[Aaron] just finished building an online 595 shift register simulator. These inexpensive chips let you extend the number of devices that can be controlled by a single microcontroller. You see them in quite a few LED multiplexing projects, included the Ping Pong Clock that we recently built. But they can be a bit tricky to fully grasp if you’re not familiar with the hardware.

This simulator gives you a point-and-click interface for the five possible control lines on a 595 shift register. There are three pins that must be manipulated to use the device; the serial in, clock, and latch pins. The other two are for clearing the register, and enabling output and can be considered optional. You can choose to control these with a microcontroller in your own projects for more flexibility, but often they are tied to either VCC or GND (depending on the chip) when these features are unnecessary. Give this simulator a try and then take what you learned over to a solderless breadboard and see if you can write some firmware to produce the same results. If you’re still having trouble you can take a look at this 595 tutorial for further information.

Beginner Concepts In Electronics And Arduino

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[Jeremy] is all about the Arduino, but also into helping people get started working with electronics. He has put together a series of videos on his web site which discuss the basics of using an Arduino. Having just published his tenth tutorial, he dropped us a line to let us know. His videos cover a wide range of topics and include source code, schematics, and a full parts list to help you follow along with him.

While the core of his lessons focus specifically on how to use the Arduino to perform particular tasks, he does introduce the viewer to many different concepts along the way. He covers PWM, button debouncing, interrupts, SPI communications, analog inputs, and more – all of which are must-know topics that extend beyond the realm of experimenting with Arduinos.

The videos run anywhere from 6 to 20 minutes in length, so you will want to set a block of time aside if you plan on checking them out.

If Arduino-specific videos aren’t your thing, he also has a series of general tech-related videos on his site as well which may be of interest. Otherwise, stick around to see the latest in his series of tutorials.

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