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Lesson 8: Writing Analog Voltages in Arduino

We have done some pretty cool stuff so far with the arduino. We have learned how to get input from the user, and how to send information to the user. We have learned how to control commands with both for loops and while loops. We are well on our way to building some really powerful projects. The thing is, so far all of our commands to the arduino pins have in effect been to either turn the pin On or turn it Off. That is, when we digitalWrite HIGH or LOW to the pins, we are either turning on the full 5 volts or turning it all the way off. The truth is that most times we want something in the middle. We would maybe want a voltage of 2.3 volts.

The arduino pins with the squiggly line by them are able to write these in between voltages. These are pins 3,5,6,9,10,11 on the arduino uno.

In the world of engineering and electronics, we say that we want an analog voltage. That is, we want to apply any voltage we want, not just 0 or 5. To output an arbitrary voltage between 0 and 5, would issue the arduino an analogWrite command. Unfortunately, the arguments for the analogWrite command are not as simple as telling it a number between 0 and 5. We must give it an integer between 0 and 255. If we issued the command analogWrite(mypin,0), it would apply 0 volts to mypin. If we issued the command analogWrite(mypin,255), it would appy 5 volts to the pin. As you can see, if we gave the command analogWrite(mypin, 127), we would get about 2.5 volts applied to mypin. You can see those are the easy ones, but in order to figure out exactly what value we should use for exactly the voltage we want, we will need to do some math. Remember all the times you had to calculate the equation of a line in math? Well you are going to do it for real now and for a reason. We need to get an equation that will allow us to calculate the Write Value we should use to get the Voltage

Write Values
You will need to choose the correct value between 0 and 255 to get your desired voltage

You can see that you need the equation for the line above. Good news! You have two points so can calculate the equation of the line. The first point is (0,0), that is to say, that if you want a voltage of 0 to be applied to the pin, you should analogWrite the value of 0, as we explained above. The second point is (5,255), that is to say, if you want to apply a voltage of 5 Volts, you should analogWrite the value 255, as explained above. Now we calculate the equation of the line. the slope would be:

m = (y2-y1)/(x2-x1) = (255-0)/(5-0) = 51

OK, now to get the equation of the line we will use the point slope form of a line, and we get:


We can plug in the point (0,0) and get

(y-0) = m(x – 0)

And when we plug in 51 for m we get:

y = 51X

Remember X is the voltage we want, and Y is the value we write, so this equation can be rewritten:

Write Value = 51 X (Desired Voltage)

So, this equation lets us calculate precisely what value we should analogWrite in order to get the voltage we want on the pin. I hope this makes sense. If you are confused watch the video and it will make more sense.

The bottom line is that we can use this equation to calculate the number we should write to get the voltage that we want at a pin.

As an example, if we wanted to get exactly 2 volts, we should write the value 2X51= 102. If we wanted two volts on the pin myPin, we would issue the command analogWrite(mypin, 102).

Now lets start playing around with a circuit. Lets use the circuit we have been using the last few lessons. Hopefully you still have it hooked up, but if you need help we take you through it step-by-step in Lesson 3.

LED Schematic
This circuit will allow you to independently control two Light Emitting Diodes from the arduino microcontroller

Lets start with our code from Lesson 7:

If you have been following these lessons, this code should make sense as we have built up step by step.

What we need to do now is to replace the four digitalWrite commands with analogWrite commands. Lets say that instead of applying 5 volts to the LED we want to apply 1 volt. This should make the LED’s blink noticeably dimmer. Remember that we would not analogWrite a value of 1, but need to calculate the write value from our formula. We want a voltage of 1 volt, so our write value should be 1 X 51, or the value 51. So now instead of digitalWrite, we should have a command like analogWrite(redLEDPin, 51) or analogWrite(yellowLEDPin, 51). Notice that on the commands that turn the LEDs off . . . digitalWrite(redLEDPin, LOW) would still work to turn the pins off, but I think it is good practice to change all the writes to analogWrites in a problem like this. To turn the pin off with an analog write would could use the command analogWrite(redLEDPin, 0).

With this new knowledge, you should modify your code and replace the 4 digitalWrite commands with analogWrite commands. Play around with writing different values to see the effect on the LED Brightness.

Arduino Lesson 7: Using While Loops

In Lesson 3 we learned how to use for loops. For loops are very powerful and they are sufficient to take care of most of your looping needs. However, there is another type of loop called a ‘while loop’.  The while loop is not better than a for loop, it is just a different way of looping. In most scenarios you could choose to loop with either a for loop or a while loop. In lesson 6 we briefly introduced while loops, and used one to pause the program to wain on user input. In this lesson we will look in more detail at how while loops work. We will continue to work with this circuit, which you first built in lesson 3. If you need help putting it together go back and see Lesson 3.

LED Schematic
This circuit will allow you to independently control two Light Emitting Diodes from the arduino microcontroller

Also, we will continue to expand the code we developed in Lesson 6. At the end of Lesson 6, our code looked something like this:

You can see in the code above, we are prompting the user for data, then waiting, then entering the data for both numRedBlinks and numYellowBlinks. This allows the user to set the number of times the LED’s blink from the serial monitor. The way we actually do the blinking is with the two for loops. There is another way to loop, and that is with ‘while loops’. When you are writing code, often times you can choose a for loop or a while loop. Some people frequently use both types of loops and some have a preference for one or the other and almost always use their preferred type of loop. It is good to know how to use both types, so here we will explore the while loop.

Lets look at how one might work:

 Lets unpack this code and see how it works. First, notice that the while loop will have one or more commands that it executes. It will execute the commands that are between the curly brackets.  It will continue to execute the commands between the curly brackets as long as the ‘condition’ described in the parenthesis of the while loop is true. In the case above, it will continue to execute the commands between the curly brackets as long as j is less than or equal to ten. notice that inside the loop we are incrementing j by 1 each time through the loop. This ensures that it will eventually exit the loop. If we were to forget to increment j, the program would become hung in the loop. This would create what is called an infinite loop, and the program would become hung in the infinite loop.

So, for the code above, we start by making j=1, then each time through the loop we increment j by 1. The program will continue executing this loop until the condition is no longer true . . . for this case, at the point that j=11 the condition would no longer be true, the program would not enter the curly bracket, and would jump to the first line of code after the closing curly bracket.

So, for this lesson what we want to do is replace the for loops in the original code shown at the top of this lesson with while loops. There is one for loop that blinks the red LED and one for loop that blinks the yellow LED. Replace those two for loops with while loops. Lets look at the first for loop again:

Lets do the same function with a while loop. We could replace this code with:


Arduino Lesson 6: Reading From the Serial Port

So far in our programming we have set the variables inside of the program, usually up at the top. In order to change the number of times the LED’s blink, we would change the lines of code that set those variables. This is OK for playing around, but you can see that if you want other people to use your programs you can not have them playing around with your code. You need to be able to get input from the user without modifying the code. We can do that using the Serial Port. Just like we can print information to the user using the Serial Port, we can also get information from the user using the serial port.

In these exercises we will continue to use the circuit created in Arduino Lesson 3. If you need help in putting the circuit together, go back and review that lesson. Here is a diagram of the circuit we are working with.

LED Schematic
This circuit will allow you to independently control two Light Emitting Diodes from the arduino microcontroller

Also, as a reminder, here is the code we have been working with that incorporates all the things we have learned so far. I am including this code so you can look at it if you get stuck, and to serve as an example for the work you do. To learn programming though, you need to be typing in your own code, making mistakes, and then finding an correcting your mistakes. You will not learn programming if you simply go through these lessons copying and pasting my code.

OK, look over this code and review what we have learned so far. At the top of the program we declare our variables, and we assign values to them. So far we have worked with variables of type int and type String.  Then in the void loop we start our serial port, and we set our two arduino pins to OUTPUT.  In the void loop we have built two for loops .  .  . one to blink the red LED and then one to blink the yellow LED. The parameters used in the for loop like how many times to blink and how long each blink should be are all defined at the top of the program.

As we mentioned at the beginning, it is OK to start out doing things this way, but at some point you need to be getting your parameter values from the user, and not hard coding them into the program. You would like the program to ask the user how many times he would like to blink the red LED, and then ask how many times he would like to blink the yellow LED. This is really pretty easy to do, and we do it over the serial port, very similar to how we learned to print in lesson 5.

In order to get input from the user, you need to make sure that you have turned your serial port on in your void setup. You do that with a Serial.begin(9600); command, as seen in the code above. You always need to have this command in your void setup() if you are going to print to the serial port or read from it. Now, in order to get input from the user, you need to do three things:

    • Prompt the User for the Input
    • Wait for the User to Enter the Input
    • Read the information from the serial port

In the program above,  lets say that in our void loop each time through the loop we want to prompt the user for how many times he wants the red LED to blink and then after that prompt him for how many times he wants the yellow LED to blink. In this scenario, we are now getting the parameters from the user instead of hard wiring them into the program. In this case, we still have to declare our varialbes, but we do not need to assign values to them. Hence in the example above the code:

Should be taken out and replaced with:

You see, now we are only declaring our variables. We are not assigning values to them, because we will be getting the values from the user. It is important, however, that any variables that we will use still need to be declared.

Now in our void loop() this would be the code to get from the user the number of times he would like to blink the LED.

There is a lot going on in these few lines of code, and lots of new things for you to learn, so lets unpack it pretty carefully. The first line should be familiar to you. You are just printing to the serial monitor a message to the user that you are waiting for input. In this case he will see a message asking him to put in a number. Now, we have to remember that the computer can work much faster than a person, so when a computer asks a person to do something, it is important for the computer to sit and wait for the person to complete it. This is done in the second and third lines of code above. This is an example of a while loop. You can see the while loop has a clause associated with it that starts and ends with the curly brackets. The program will continue to execute what is between these curly brackets as long as the condition that is in the parenthesis is true. So a while loop is sort of like a for loop, except the while loop can continue to loop forever as long as the condition in the parenthesis is true. So, we need to understand the ‘condition’ part of the code above, which is Serial.available()==0.  This is not as confusing as it looks. Serial.available() is a function that when you call it, it returns a ‘1’ if the user has input data, and a ‘0’ if the user has not input data. So, if the user has not input data, Seraial.available() will be 0, the condition will be true, and the program will stay in the while loop.

So the bottom line is that

 will sit and loop forever waiting for the user to input the data. When the user inputs the data, it will them move on to the next lines of code. Notice that we do not do anything in the while loop because there are no commands between the two curly brackets. The purpose of this line of code is simply to get the program to stay at that point until the user inputs his data.

Now at the point the user does input the data, Serial.avaialbe() will become ‘1’, and the program moves to the next line of code. The next line of code,

is the line that actually reads the data. Serial.parseInt() reads the number the user input, and then that number is assigned to the variable numRedBlinks. When you are reading an integer from the serial port, you use Serial.parseInt(). There are different commands for reading other variable types. You can imagine that if you were reading a floating number, you would user Serial.parseFloat(). To read a string you would user Serial.readString(). The important point is that you need to use the correctly precise command for the type of data you are trying to read.

OK, so put that code into your program at the start of the void loop() and also make a similar sequence of code to get from the user the numYellowBlinks. After you have that working also get other parameters from the user like the various blink time variables. You should play around with this and get comfortable getting input from the user. When you run the code, remember to click the icon in the upper right of the arduino IDE to get the serial monitor to pop up. You should see the prompt in the Serial Monitor, and you should enter your number in the small box, and then click send, or press the enter key.

Arduino Lesson 5: Working With Strings

In this lesson we will learn more about working with stings. A string is literally a string or sequence of characters. The word “Hello” is a string of characters. Stings allow your computer program to interact with the world in a way that the world understands, so it is important for us to learn a little more about strings.

In this lesson we will be using the same circuit we developed in Arduino Lesson 3.  If you need help setting the circuit up, please visit lesson 3. Hopefully you still have the circuit set up, as we have used it for the last two lessons. The circuit schematic and code we have been working with is presented below.

LED Schematic
This circuit will allow you to independently control two Light Emitting Diodes from the arduino microcontroller

This is the code that will run this circuit.

In the code above, notice that we are using stings in some of our print statements. For example the line of code above the for loop for blinking the red LED reads as:

The text in quotes is your string, and in this case is “The Red LED is Blinking”.  As you can see a string is just a string of characters. We can use strings to present meaningful words and thoughts to the user.  We are not limited to just using strings as we have above,  but we can actually create variables to hold strings. For example, in the code above one of the strings we print for the user to see is “The Red LED is Blinking”. It would be possible for us to create a variable called redMessage, and set redMessage to “The Red LED is Blinking”. In order to do this, we would need to declare the variable redMessage a string. We can do that up at the top of the program before the void setup, which would make it a global variable. The code would look like this:

With this code we declare two new variables of type String. In addition to declaring the variables we initialize them to their respective values. By doing this we can modify our print statements in the original code to print the Strings by printing the variables we have assigned them to.

can be replaced with

Notice when we print the variable, we do not use quotes around it. When we say to print redMessage, it will print the string that was assigned to redMessage.

By assigning strings to variables instead of using them directly it makes it much easier to modify and use your code. Try and get in the habit of assigning strings to variables.

When we have string variables, it is possible to concatenate, or combine stings together.

For example, lets say we declare and initialize two variables:

It is a good practice to try to assign strings to variables and then use the variables.