Tucoplexing: A New Charliplex for Buttons and Switches

Figuring out the maximum number of peripherals which can be sensed or controlled with a minimum number of IOs is a classic optimization trap with a lot of viable solutions. The easiest might be something like an i2c IO expander, which would give you N outputs for 4 wires (SDA, SCL, Power, Ground). IO expanders are easy to interface with and not too expensive, but that ruins the fun. This is Hackaday, not optimal-cost-saving-engineer-aday! Accordingly there are myriad schemes for using high impedance modes, the directionality of diodes, analog RCs, and more to accomplish the same thing with maximum cleverness and minimum part cost. Tucoplexing is the newest variant we’ve seen, proven out by the the prolific [Micah Elizabeth Scott] (AKA [scanlime]) and not the first thing to be named after her cat Tuco.

[Micah’s] original problem was that she had a great 4 port USB switch with a crummy one button interface. Forget replacement; the hacker’s solution was to reverse and reprogram the micro to build a new interface that was easier to relocate on the workbench. Given limited IO the Tucoplex delivers 4 individually controllable LEDs and 4 buttons by mixing together a couple different concepts in a new way.

Up top we have 4 LEDs from a standard 3 wire Charlieplex setup. Instead of the remaining 2 LEDs from the 3 wire ‘plex at the bottom we have a two button Charlieplex pair plus two bonus buttons on an RC circuit. Given the scary analog circuit the scan method is pleasingly simple. By driving the R and T lines quickly the micro can check if there is a short, indicating a pressed switch. Once that’s established it can run the same scan again, this time pausing to let the cap charge before sensing. After releasing the line if there is no charge then the cap must have been shorted, meaning that switch was pressed. Else it must be the other non-cap switch. Check out the repo for hardware and firmware sources.

Last time we talked about a similar topic a bunch of readers jumped in to tell us about their favorite ways to add more devices to limited IOs. If you have more clever solutions to this problem, leave them below! If you want to see the Twitter thread with older schematics and naming of Tucoplexing look after the break.

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Get Twelve Charlieplexed PWM Outputs From an ATtiny85

Most of us are aware that charlieplexing can drive a large number of LEDs from a relatively small number of I/O pins, but [David Johnson-Davies] demonstrates adding another dimension to that method to create individually controlled PWM outputs as well. His ATtiny85 has twelve LEDs, each with individually-set brightness levels, and uses only four of the five I/O pins on the device.

Each LED can be assigned a brightness between 0 (fully off) and 63 (fully on). The PWM is done by using one of the timers in the ATtiny85 to generate a periodic interrupt, and the ISR for the interrupt takes care of setting the necessary ratios of on and off times for each charlieplexed output. The result? Twelve flicker-free LEDs with individually addressable brightness levels, using an 8-pin microcontroller and just a few passive components on a tiny breadboard. There’s even one I/O pin left on the ATtiny85, for accepting commands or reading a sensor.

[David] really wrings a lot out of the ATtiny series of microcontrollers with his compact projects, like his Tiny Function Generator (which recently got an update.) He also demonstrated that while charlieplexing is usually used with LEDs, charlieplexing can be used with switches just as easily.

Building And Controlling 19 LEDs & Five Buttons From Five Outputs

Numbers are hard enough in English, but [Sadale] decided to take things a step further by building a calculator that works in Toki Pona. The result is Ilo Nanpa, an awesome hardware calculator that works in this synthetic minimal language. This is a bit harder than you might think, because Toki Pona doesn’t have digits in the same way that Neo-Latin languages like English do. Instead, you combine smaller numbers to make bigger ones. One is Wan, Two is Tu, but three is Wan Tu (1+2). As you might expect, this makes dealing and representing larger numbers somewhat complicated.

Ilo Nanpa gets around this in a wonderfully elegant way, and with some impressive behind the scenes work. The calculator has 16 LEDs, nine buttons and a slider switch, but they are all controlled and read through just five IO pins on the STM8S001J3 controller that runs the device.

That’s because {Sadale] did some remarkable work with multiplexing and charlieplexing. Multiplexing is controlling more outputs than there are control inputs by using rows and columns: it is how the LED display you are probably reading this on can be controlled by just a few wires. By switching through these rows and columns at a higher speed than the eye can see, you create the illusion of a single, continuous display.

Charlieplexing takes this a step further by using multiple voltages on a single connection to further split the signal. With the clever use of voltage dividers the directional properties of LEDs and multiple voltage levels, the Ilo Nanpa runs all of the LEDs and senses all of the buttons and the slider from just five pins. That’s a remarkably neat piece of design, and it is worth spending some time looking over the excellent explanation of the process that [Sadale] wrote to see how it is done, and poring over the code for the device to see how he programmed this all into a single low powered chip. And, while you are reading, you might pick up a few words of Toki Pona. Tawa Pona!

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Less is More: A Micromatrix Display in a Square Inch

In your living room, the big display is what you want. But in an embedded project, often less is more. We think [bobricius] will agree since he submitted a tiny 4×5 LED display into our square inch challenge. The board features an ATtiny CPU and twenty SMD LEDs in a nice grid. You can see them in action, scrolling to some disco music in the video below.

There is plenty of room left in the CPU for bigger text strings — the flash memory is just over 10% full. A little side-mounted header makes it easy to program the chip if you want to change anything.

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Minimum Viable 1-D PONG

What makes a game a game? Like, how do we know that we’re looking at a variation of PONG when confronted with one? And how do we know how to play it? [Bertho] sought to answer this question as he designed what is probably the smallest-ever 1-D PONG game. His answer involves charlieplexing LEDs, using a voltage divider to save I/O pins, and a couple of AAAs that should last for a long, long time.

[Bertho]’s Minimum 1-D PONG, or m1dp for short, puts an ATTiny85 through its paces as gameplay quickly progresses from ‘I got this’ to ‘no one could possibly keep this up’. This state machine sleeps until one of the two buttons is pressed, at which time a wait animation starts. The action begins with the next button press.

Game play across only five LEDs makes for some pretty intense action, too. Fortunately, the buzzer is a big part of the experience. It sounds one tone for each LED when the ball is in play, and a different tone to confirm button presses. [Bertho] saved so many I/O pins with charlieplexing that he added a green LED that lights up when it’s OK to return the ball. If we were playing, we’d keep our eye on this LED instead of trying to watch the ball. We’re serving the demo after the break point, so don’t let it get past you.

For a study in minimalism, there sure is a lot going on here with all the different tones and animations. If you’d prefer maximalist 1-D PONG, there’s always LED strips. If dungeon crawlers with satisfying hardware are more your thing, you really need to check out Twang.

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A Game That Does More With Less

[David Johnson-Davies] created a minimal Secret Maze Game using a single ATTiny85 and a few common components. This simple game uses four buttons, four LEDs, and a small speaker. The player moves in the four cardinal directions using buttons, and the LEDs show walls and corridors. If an LED is lit, it means the path in that direction is blocked by a wall, and attempting to move in that direction will make a beep. When the player reaches the exit, a short victory tune chirps from the speaker.

Sample maze. A 16×16 matrix is allocated for maze designs.

Since the ATTiny85 has only five I/O lines, [David] had to get a bit clever to read four buttons, display output on four LEDs, and drive a little speaker. The solution was to dedicate one pin to the speaker and the other four to charlieplexing, which is a method of driving more LEDs than you have pins. It takes advantage of the fact that most microcontroller pins can easily switch state between output high, output low, or low-impedance high-impedance input.

As for the buttons, [David] charlieplexed them as well. Instead of putting an LED in a charlieplexed “cell”, the cell contains a diode and an SPST switch in series with the diode. To read the state of the switch, one I/O line is first driven low and the other I/O line is made an input with a pullup. A closed switch reads low on the input, and an open switch reads high. With charlieplexing, four pins is sufficient for up to twelve LEDs (or buttons) in any combination, which is more than enough for the Secret Maze.

Charlieplexing is also what’s behind this 110 LED micro-marquee display, or this elegant 7-segment display concept that takes advantage of modern PCB manufacturing options.

New Method for Measuring Lots of Resistors Using Very Few Wires

[Daqq] is back at it again with the linear algebra, and he’s now come up with a method for determining the resistance of lots of resistors using little of wires and loads of math.

Like any reasonable person, [daqq] decided it would be fun to “solve one of those nasty [electrical engineering] puzzles/exercises where you start out with a horrible mess of wires and resistors and you are supposed to calculate the resistance between two nodes.” You know, just an average Saturday night. At the time, he was also fascinated by Charlieplexing – an awesome technique that either allows one to control multiple polarized components, such as LEDs, simply by connecting them in a specific way. After toying with the idea for a while, [daqq] found that using just Charlieplexing would be“a horrible mess” but he didn’t stop there. Drawing inspiration from Charlieplexing, he came up with the idea to connect things in such a way that every node is connected by one connection to every other node – a complete graph from a topological view point (this makes so much more sense visually). From here, he was able to set pins to HIGH, LOW, or INPUT and gather all the data needed to solve his linear system of equations.

Now, there is a balance to everything, and while this system can determine the resistance of .5*N(N-1) resistors using just N wires, it also a memory and computation hungry method. Oh well, can’t have it all. But, while it’s computationally hungry, [daqq] got it working on an ATMega32, so it’s not an unmanageable feat. And, let’s not forget to mention [daqq’s] wonderful writing. Even if you don’t know linear algebra (or would rather forget), it’s a good read from a theory perspective. So good, in fact, that [daqq] is getting published in Circuit Cellar!

We love to see theory in the hacker world, so keep it coming! But, while we wait (wink wink), there’s always time to review the basic Hacker Calculus and check out our past math-related articles.