Gas station without pumps

2014 April 10

Second mic lab went well

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:23
Tags: , , ,

The second half of the mic lab went fairly well, but there were a couple of overly ambitious requests in the handout that I’ll have to trim out for next year.  Because we have not gotten to complex impedance yet (tomorrow, I swear!), the students were unable to choose a reasonable size for the DC-blocking capacitor, and guessing was not good enough.  The 10MΩ input impedance of an oscilloscope with a 10× probe makes for too long a time constant with the 0.1µF capacitor I  initially suggested, at least with the digital scopes—they did not manage to get the DC offset removed even after a minute, which surprised me.  Students got decent results with a 0.022µF capacitor, though.  I even got some of the students to be able to make measurements with the Tektronix digital scopes (always a feat, since they have mind-bogglingly complex menu systems).

I did tell the students not to bother with the last question on the handout and just to write up what they actually did.

It took the students longer than I had expected to come up with a reasonable value for the pullup resistor for the mic. But I was careful not to be too helpful, so that I’m reasonably sure that at least one in each pair of students knew how they got their answer. I did have them add load lines to their i-vs-v plots of the electret microphones, corresponding to rounding their desired pullup up or down to the nearest value they had in their kits.  That probably added a little time over a simple rounding, especially since I suggested to a couple of the students that they think about which resistor would give higher sensitivity.

I did have one student ask what a “pullup” resistor was—I had used that term in the handout without ever explaining it!  I gave a one-minute lecture explaining that a pullup was a resistor to the positive power supply and a pulldown a resistor to ground (we had examples of each already on the whiteboard). Speaking of things on the board, I’ll have to remember to bring markers to the lab on Tuesday, as the ones in there are all dead. A spray bottle of alcohol and some rags for cleaning the year-old buildup off the boards would also be good.

Even the pair of students who had run over on Tuesday finished on time today, despite collecting all the data that the other students collected on Tuesday, so I’m feeling a bit better about the size of the labs.

Next week may get a bit hectic, though, with two unrelated labs: hysteresis and relaxation oscillators on Tuesday and sampling and aliasing on Thursday.  I’ll have to remember on Tuesday to upload the hysteresis oscillator code to all the machines in the lab.





2014 April 9

First mic lab slightly too long

Filed under: Circuits course — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:32
Tags: , , , , ,

The first half of the microphone lab took a little longer than anticipated.  I had expected it to take about 2.5 hours, with some groups taking the full 3 hours, but it took more like 3–4 hours.

I have two conjectures about reasons for the extra time:

  •  I had the students label all their bags of capacitors. this had originally been planned for a week ago, but the capacitors had not been ordered in time, and Thursday’s lab had been way too packed already, so this was the first opportunity we had.  I probably should have waited until this Thursday, when the lab time is less packed.
  • The group that fell the furthest behind had really terrible luck, having sat at a bench where both multimeters had blown fuses and two sets of multimeter leads had open circuits. I helped them debug their setup, but we did not initially suspect the test equipment, and the delay in finding the problem cost them at least half an hour. It also cut into their confidence in debugging their own circuitry later in the lab. Problems with the equipment is one of the difficulties with using a shared lab—a lot of the courses are taught by EE TAs who do not bother to teach students proper use of the lab equipment (if they even know it themselves), so there is often damage of this sort to deal with.

A number of the students in the class are suffering from “imposter syndrome”—not confident of their abilities to master this new material. I’ll have to reassure them that they are doing fine—this class is intended to be pushing them into unfamiliar territory.  I may take a moment in today’s class to mention both “imposter syndrome” and “zone of proximal development”, so that they are aware both that it is ok to be uncomfortable and that I’m trying to maximize what they are learning.

Students had a lot of trouble wiring up their breadboards accurately. Most of the lab time was taken up with students asking for my help and my taking a quick look at the breadboard and telling them that it didn’t match the schematic they had copied. I eventually had the students write on each wire of the schematic what row (or rows) of the breadboard it was on, so that debugging the connections was easier.  I’ll have to try to remember to put that in the instructions for next year, as a way to get the students to learn to debug their breadboard wiring more independently.  I should also add a picture of the trimpot and an explanation of what a potentiometer does—students had a little trouble figuring out what the 3 pins on the package were for.

I’m pleased with the latest version of PteroDAQ, as students had no trouble getting their measurements. Adding a patterned light sequence to the reset sequence to let students know that they had the latest version of the software installed was very useful.

Many of the groups managed to look at their data in the lab using gnuplot, and collecting more data as a result of what they saw. The students got 1000s of data points that fall nicely along a curve, and they were able to superimpose different data sets that had different scaling for the current measurements. We’ll have excellent data to use in class today for fitting models to. I’m not going to give them real FET models for the FET in the electret mics, though.  Instead we’ll use some simple empirical models:

  • current source.  This is the same as a saturation current model.
  • resistance. This is essentially the same as the linear-region model for FETs.
  • blended model with R_{FET} = \sqrt{R^2 + (V_{DS}/I_{SAT})^2}  This is a simpler blend than is usually used in FET models, I think, but it fits the data fairly well.  This blend is mathematically very similar to the ones that compute the gain in RC filters (where we take the magnitude of a complex number and either the real or the imaginary component provides most of the contribution).  Using the same function for rounding the corner when we join two straight lines in different contexts reduces the math burden on the students.
  • blended model with R_{FET} = \sqrt{R^2 + (V_{DS}/I_{SAT})^{2\rho}} The extra parameter here is to handle the increase in saturation current with increasing drain-to-source voltage. Normally, that is modeled with a fairly complicated “channel-length” model, and is not even mentioned in intro circuits classes.  But the phenomenon is very obvious in the data, and can be adequately modeled in the electret mic for our purposes with this 3-parameter empirical model.

I will have to give them one more concept about FETs: that the derivative of the saturation current with respect to the gate voltage is proportional to the saturation current. I’m not going to derive that for them from some more general model, because we have no way (in the mic) of actually measuring the gate voltage. Later in the quarter, when we look at FETs again before doing the class-D amplifier, I may give them a slightly more detailed model of an FET.

In addition to gnuplot tutorial today, I want to give them an intro to complex impedance, but I doubt that we’ll get far enough for them to choose the right size for a DC-blocking capacitor for the AC mic lab tomorrow. I may have to suggest that they try one of the biggest sizes of ceramic capacitor that they have (either the 4.7µF or the 0.1µF). We’ll need to get to RC time constants and corner frequencies before next week’s lab though.





2014 March 31

New modeling lab for electret microphone

Last year, in Mic modeling lab rethought, I designed the DC measurement of an electret microphone around the capabilities of the Arduino analog-to-digital converters:

Circuit for measuring DC characteristics of an electret microphone.  The four labeled nodes are connected to the Arduino.

Circuit for measuring DC characteristics of an electret microphone. The four labeled nodes are connected to the Arduino.

  • The highest voltage allowed is 5v and the lowest is 0v.
  • The resolution is only 10 bits (1024 steps).
  • The steps seem to be more uniformly spaced at the low end of the range than the high end (so differences at the high end are less accurate than differences at the low end).
  • The external reference voltage AREF must be at least 0.5v (this is not in the data sheet, but when I tried lower AREF voltages, the reading was always 1023).

Test fixture for measuring I-vs-V DC characteristics of electret microphone.

Test fixture for measuring I-vs-V DC characteristics of electret microphone.

This year we’ll be using the KL25Z boards, which have different constraints:

  • The highest voltage is 3.3v and the lowest is 0v.
  • The resolution is 16 bits (15 bits in differential mode).
  • Differential mode only works if you stay away from the power rails—clipping occurs if you get too close.
  • The external reference must be at least 1.13v.  With less than a 3-fold range for the external reference, varying the external reference to get different ranges seems rather limited.

I think I’ll still have the students start with using the multimeter and the bench power supply to measure voltage and current pairs for 1V to 10v in steps of 1v.  But then I’ll have them wire up a different test fixture. The resistor R2 is one that students will have to choose to get an appropriate measuring range. Resistors R3 and R4 keep the voltages for the differential measurements E20–E21 and E22–E23 away from the power rails. I tried using smaller values, but 200Ω was not enough—I still got clipping problems. So 63mV is too close to the rails, but 275mV seems fine.  I suspect that the limit is around 100mV to 150mV, but I did not try to narrow it down.

I found that the differential measurements had less noise than single-ended measurements, despite having a resolution of about 100µV rather than the 50µV of single-ended measurements. Doing 32× hardware averaging also helped keep the noise down. (Note: the data sheet for the KL25 chip does claim a higher effective number of bits for differential measurement than for single-ended measurement, perhaps because of reduction in common-mode noise.)

I was able to get fairly clean measurements with just two different resistor sizes, to which I fit 4 different models:

  • linear resistance: I = V /R
  • constant current I = I_{sat}
  • blended: I = V/ \sqrt{ R^2 + (V/I_{sat})^2)}
  • blended with exponent: I = V/ \sqrt{ R^2 + (V^p/I_{sat})^2)}


    The blended fit with the extra exponent on voltage does a pretty good job of fitting over the full range (it looks good on a log-log scale also)

The blended fit with the extra exponent on voltage does a pretty good job of fitting over the full range (it looks good on a log-log scale also)

Because of the large characters used for the data points, the lines look fat, but the noise level is fairly small—about ±300µV Some of that may be due to the movement of the potentiometer, as the voltage and current aren’t measured at precisely the same time, but I suspect most is electrical noise in the processor itself.

2014 March 5

Sixteenth day: Arduino demo

Filed under: freshman design seminar,Pressure gauge — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:57
Tags: , , , , , ,

Today’s class in the freshman design seminar went well. I started by returning the drafts of the design reports and giving some generic feedback. I realized on reading the reports that I had not given a good explanation of what I meant by describing the components of the system—two of the groups had given me long parts lists on the first page of their reports, something that would only really be appropriate in an appendix. I explained that what I wanted was what the main blocks in the block diagram were, and that they should use the block diagram to organize their report, writing a page for each block. I also suggested that they use the block diagram to partition the project among the group members, with each group member working on a different component, then getting back together to reconcile any discrepancies. Note that this is much more like real engineering group work than the usual K–12 group project, which is usually done most efficiently by turning the whole project over to the most competent member of the group.

After the feedback on design reports, I offered the students a chance to get a demo of building an Arduino program with sensing and motor control. This was a completely extemporaneous demo—I had gathered a number of possibly useful components, but had not tested anything ahead of time nor even figured out what order to do the demo in.  I asked the students if they wanted me to start with sensing or control—they asked for the motor control first.

I started by pulling a motor out of box of motors I had gotten when the elementary school my wife works at cleaned out their closets.  I told the students that I had no idea what the spec of the motor were, but since it came from an elementary school, it probably ran on 3v batteries.  I tested the motor by hooking it up first to the 3.3v, then to the 5v power on my Arduino Uno.  It spun just fine on 3.3v, but squealed a bit on 5v, so we decided to run it on 3.3v.

I then pulled out the Sainsmart 4-relay board that I had bought some time ago but never used.  I explained how a relay worked, what single-pole double-throw meant, and normally open (NO) and normally closed (NC) contacts. I used the board unpowered with the NC contacts to spin the motor, then moved the wire over to the NO contacts to turn the motor off.  I then hooked up power to the board and tried connecting input IN1 to power to activate the relay.  Nothing happened. I then tried connecting IN1 to ground, and the relay clicked and the motor spun.  The inputs to the Sainsmart board are active low, which I explained to the students (though I did not use the terminology “active low”—perhaps I should have).  I did make a point of establishing that the relay provides very good isolation between the control logic and the circuitry being controlled—you can hook up AC power from the walls to the relay contacts without interfering with the logic circuitry.

Having established that the relay worked, the next step was to get the class (as a group) to write an Arduino program to control the motor using the relay. With me taking notes on the whiteboard, they quickly came up with the pinMode command for the setup, the digitalWrite and delay for the loop, and with only a tiny bit of prompting with a second digitalWrite and delay to turn the motor back off.  They even realized the need to have different delays for the on and off, so we could tell whether we had the polarity right on the control.  Here is the program we came up with:

#define RELAY_PIN (3)

void setup()
{   pinMode(RELAY_PIN, OUTPUT);

void loop()
  digitalWrite(RELAY_PIN,LOW); // turn motor ON via relay (or off via transistor)
  delay(1000);  // on for 1 second
  digitalWrite(RELAY_PIN,HIGH); // turn motor OFF via relay (or on via transistor)
  delay(3000); // off for 3 seconds

I typed the code in and downloaded it to the Arduino Uno, and it worked as expected.  (It would be nice if the Arduino IDE would allow me to increase the font size, like almost every other program I use, so that students could have read the projection of what I was typing better.)

I then offered the students a choice of going on to sensing or looking at pulse-width modulation for proportional control.  They wanted PWM. I explained why PWM is not really doable with relays (the relays are too slow, and chattering them would wear them out after a while.  I did not have the specs on the relay handy, but I just looked up the specs for the SRD-05VDC-SL-C relays on the board: They have a mechanical life of 10,000,000 cycles, but an electrical life of only 100,000 cycles.  The relay takes about 7msec to make a contact and about 3msec to break a contact, so they can’t be operated much faster than about 60 times a second, which could wear them out in as little as half an hour.

So instead of a relay, I suggested an nFET (Field-Effect Transistor). I gave them a circuit with one side of the motor connected to 3.3V, the other to the drain of an nFET, with the source connected to ground.  I explained that the voltage between the gate and the source (VGS) controlled whether the transistor was on or off, and that putting 5v on the gate would turn it on fairly well. I then got out an AOI518 nFET and stuck it in my breadboard, explaining the orientation to allow using the other holes to connect to the source, gate, and drain.

I mentioned that different FETs have the order of the pins different, so one has to look up the pinout on data sheet. I pulled up the AOI518 data sheet, which has on the first page “RDS(ON) (at VGS = 4.5V) < 11.9mΩ”. I explained that if we were putting a whole amp through the FET (we’re not doing anywhere near that much current), the voltage drop would be 11.9mV, so the power dissipated in the transistor would be only 11.9mW, not enough to get it warm. I mentioned that more current would result in more power being dissipated (I2R), and that the FETs could get quite warm. I passed around my other breadboard which has six melted holes from FETs getting quite hot when I was trying to debug the class-D amplifier design. The students were surprised that the FETs still worked after getting that hot (I must admit that I was also).

I hooked up the AOI518 nFET using double-headed male header pins and female jumper cables, and the motor alternated on for 3 seconds, off for one second. We now had the transistor controlling the motor, so it was time to switch to PWM. I went to the Arduino reference page and looked around for PWM, finding it on analogWrite(). I clicked that link and we looked at the page, seeing that analog Write was like digitalWrite, except that we could put in a value from 0 to 255 that controlled what fraction of the time the pin was high.

I edited the code, changing the first digitalWrite() to analogWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN, 255), and commenting out the rest of the loop. We downloaded that, and it turned the motor on, as expected. I then tried writing 128, which still turned the motor on, but perhaps not as strongly (hard to tell with no load). Writing 50 resulted in the motor not starting. Writing 100 let the motor run if I started it by hand, but wouldn’t start the motor from a dead stop. I used this opportunity to point out that controlling the motor was not linear—1/5th didn’t run at 1/5th speed, but wouldn’t run the motor at all.

Next we switched over to doing sensors (with only 10 minutes left in the class). I got out the pressure sensor and instrumentation amp from the circuits course and hooked it up. The screwdriver I had packed in the box had too large a blade for the 0.1″ screw terminals, but luckily the tiny screwdriver on my Swiss Army knife (tucked away in the corkscrew) was small enough. After hooking up the pressure sensor to A0, I downloaded the Arduino Data Logger to the Uno, and started it from a terminal window. I set the triggering to every 100msec (which probably should be the default for the data logger), the input to A0, and convert to volts. I then demoed the pressure sensor by blowing into or sucking on the plastic tube hooked up to the sensor. With the low-gain output from the amplifier, the output swung about 0.5 v either way from the 2.5v center. Moving the A0 wire over to the high-gain output of the amplifier gave a more visible signal. I also turned off the “convert to volts” to show the students the values actually read by the Arduino (511 and 512, the middle of the range from 0 to 1023).

Because the class was over at that point, I offered to stay for another 10 minutes to show them how to use the pressure sensor to control the motor. One or two students had other classes to run to, but most stayed. I then wrote a program that would normally have the motor off, but would turn it full on if I got the pressure reading up to 512+255 and would turn it on partway (using PWM) between 512 and 512+255. I made several typos when entering the program (including messing up the braces and putting in an extraneous semicolon), but on the third compilation it downloaded successfully and controlled the motor as expected.

One student asked why the motor was off when I wasn’t blowing into the tube, so I explained about 512 being the pressure reading when nothing was happening (neither blowing into the tube nor sucking on it). I changed the zero point for the motor to a pressure reading of 300, so that the motor was normally most of the way on, but could be turned off by sucking on the tube. Here is the program we ended up with

#define nFET_GATE_PIN (3)

void setup()
{   pinMode(nFET_GATE_PIN, OUTPUT);
    pinMode(A0, INPUT);

void loop()
{ int pressure;
  if (pressure < 300)
  {    digitalWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN,LOW);  // turn motor off
  {   if (pressure>300+255)
      { digitalWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN,HIGH);  // turn motor on full
      {    analogWrite(nFET_GATE_PIN,pressure-300); // turn motor partway on

Note: this code is not an example of brilliant programming style. I can see several things that I would have done differently if I had had time to think about the code, but for this blog it is more useful to show the actual artifact that was developed in the demo, even if it makes me cringe a little.

Overall, I thought that the demo went well, despite being completely extemporaneous. Running over by 10 minutes might have been avoidable, but only by omitting something useful (like the feedback on the design reports). The demo itself lasted about 70 minutes, making the whole class run 80 minutes instead of 70. I think I compressed the demo about as much as was feasible for the level the students were at.

Based on how the students developed the first motor-control program quickly in class, I think that some of them are beginning to get some of the main ideas of programming: explicit instructions and sequential ordering. Because we were out of time by the point I got to using conditionals, I did not get a chance to probe their understanding there.

2014 February 22

Diode-connected nFET characterisitics

Filed under: Circuits course,Data acquisition — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:20
Tags: , , , ,
Test circuit for determining I-vs-V curves for a diode-connected nFET.  The shunt resistor R2 was chosen from 0.5Ω to 680kΩ, and R3 was selected to keep E23 above 0 (0.5Ω to 150Ω).

Test circuit for determining I-vs-V curves for a diode-connected nFET. The shunt resistor R2 was chosen from 0.5Ω to 680kΩ, and R3 was selected to keep E23 above 0 (0.5Ω to 150Ω).

In More mess in the the FET modeling lab, I showed I-vs-V plots for NTD5867NL nFETs, both with a fixed power supply and load resistor, and diode connected (Vgs=Vds).  But this year, the NTD5867NL FETs were not available from Digikey, so we are getting AOI518 nFETs instead.  I decided to try characterizing these with the KL25Z board.  If I power the test off the KL25Z board’s 3.3v supply, I can take fairly high currents, as the board uses a NCP1117ST33T3G LDO regulator, which can the spec sheet claims can deliver up to 1A (800mA, if we limit the dropout to 1.2v). I’m only limited by the USB current limit (500mA), to keep the laptop from shutting off the USB port.

I used essentially the same circuit for testing a diode-connected AOI518 nFET as I used for testing the Schottky diodes, but I did not put a capacitor across the FET.  (Well, initially I left the 4.7µF capacitor there, but I was noticing changing values that looked like RC charging when I was testing at small currents, so I removed the capacitor.)

Because the 3.3v supply droops if too much current is taken from it, I used the internal 1V bandgap reference to determine the scaling of the analog-to-digital converter on each reading.  The voltage VDS is (E20-E21)/(BANDGAP), and the current IDS is (E22-E23)/(R2*BANDGAP).

Voltage vs current for diode-connected nFET. The model that fits the data (above 1µA) is that of subthreshold conduction, even when the current is over 100mA. (click to embiggen)

Voltage vs current for diode-connected nFET. The model that fits the data (above 1µA) is that of subthreshold conduction, even when the current is over 100mA. (click to embiggen)

I get a very good fit to the data (above 1µA) with the subthreshold conduction model (essentially the same as a junction diode, but using n VT instead of VT, where n is determined by the size and shape of the FET).  The value of n for this FET seems to be around 830mV/26mV = 32. The circuit models I’ve seen on the web seem to claim that I should be using a saturation-current model for a diode-connected FET, but that model doesn’t fit the data at all.

There is a very clear thermal shift in the curve for the high-current tests.  As the transistor warms up the current increases for a given voltage.  This is equivalent to the threshold voltage Vthr dropping with temperature.  This is consistent with the data sheet, which shows a lower threshold voltage but higher on-resistance (at 10A) at 125° C than at 25° C.

I’m not seeing any evidence of the weird negative resistance that I saw on the NTD5867NL nFETs. (I tried checking the NTD5867NL nFET with the same testing setup as for the AOI518, and it definitely still shows weird behavior between 10 and 30 mA.)

Because large nFETs are often used to switch inductive loads (motors, loudspeakers, inductors in switching regulators, …), they incorporate a “flyback” diode in the FET.  Normally, this diode is back-biased and does not conduct, but if an inductive load needs a current and there are no transistors that are on to provide the current, the diode conducts and keeps the output voltage from going too far below ground.

nMOS and pMOS transistors with flyback diodes.  If both transistors are off, but the inductor L1 still wants current, it has to come through one of the flyback diodes D1 or D2.  They keep the output voltage from going too far outside the rails.

nMOS and pMOS transistors with flyback diodes. If both transistors are off, but the inductor L1 still wants current, it has to come through one of the flyback diodes D1 or D2. They keep the output voltage from going too far outside the rails.

I characterized the flyback diode on the AOI518 nFET the same way as before, now connecting the gate and the source to the higher voltage, and the drain to the lower voltage.

Below about 0.66 V, the flyback diode has a fairly normal exponential current with voltage, but above that it seems to have a linear relationship between current and voltage, with a dynamic resistance of about 128mΩ. click to embiggen

Below about 0.66 V, the flyback diode has a fairly normal exponential current with voltage, but above that it seems to have a linear relationship between current and voltage, with a dynamic resistance of about 180mΩ.
click to embiggen

The red points with the 0.5Ω shunt go up to an amp, which warms the FET enough to change its characteristics—the lower set of points are the warmer set.

I can also use the measurements of the flyback diode with the ½Ω shunt to characterize the LDO voltage regulator on the Freedom KL25Z board:

For currents up to 400mA, the LDO voltage regulator behaves like a 3.332 V source in series with a 55mΩ resistor.  click to embiggen

For currents up to 400mA, the LDO voltage regulator behaves like a 3.332 V source in series with a 55mΩ resistor.
click to embiggen

The data sheet claims that there should only be a 10mV drop in voltage for an 800mA current, and I’m seeing a 290mV drop.  The extra drop is not from the LDO misbehaving, but from the USB voltage dropping—one is only supposed to take up to 500mA from a USB supply and the MacBook Pro apparently has a soft knee at 500mA, rather than an abrupt shutoff.  I suspect that if I took the full amp for very long, the laptop would shut down the USB port, as it does if the USB 5V is accidentally shorted.

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