Optocouplers: Defending Your Microcontroller, MIDI, and a Hot Tip for Speed

Deep in the heart of your latest project lies a little silicon brain. Much like the brain inside your own bone-plated noggin, your microcontroller needs protection from the outside world from time to time. When it comes to isolating your microcontroller’s sensitive little pins from high voltages, ground loops, or general noise, nothing beats an optocoupler. And while simple on-off control of a device through an optocoupler can be as simple as hooking up an LED, they are not perfect digital devices.

But first a step back. What is an optocoupler anyway? The prototype is an LED and a light-sensitive transistor stuck together in a lightproof case. But there are many choices for the receiver side: photodiodes, BJT phototransistors, MOSFETs, photo-triacs, photo-Darlingtons, and more.

So while implementation details vary, the crux is that your microcontroller turns on an LED, and it’s the light from that LED that activates the other side of the circuit. The only connection between the LED side and the transistor side is non-electrical — light across a small gap — and that provides the rock-solid, one-way isolation.

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A Mini Op-Amp Based Line Following Robot

LineRobot

There’s no denying it. Super small robots are just cool. [Pinomelean] has posted an Instructable on how to create a mini line following robot using only analog circuitry. This would make a great demo project to show your friends and family what you’ve been up to.

Analog circuitry can be used instead of a microcontroller for many different applications, and this is one of them. The circuit consists of two op-amps that amplify the output of two phototransistors, which control each motor. This circuit is super simple yet very effective. The mechanical system is also quite cool and well thought out. To keep things simple, the motors drive the wheel treads, rather than directly through an axle. After the build was completed, the device needed to be calibrated by turning potentiometers that control the gain of each op-amp. Once everything is balanced, the robot runs great! See it in action after the break.

While not the smallest line follower we have seen, this robot is quite easy to reproduce. What little robots have you build lately? Send us a tip and let us know!

[via Embedded Lab]

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