Gas station without pumps

2011 June 29

Data Acquisition

Filed under: Accelerometer,Data acquisition,Robotics,Software — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:28
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One of the science-teacher blogs that I read has recently discussed using an Arduino for data acquisition: The DAQ-ness Monster « Science Learnification.

I’ve not played with the Arduino much that way, but I do have a 3-axis accelerometer, the ADXL335 from Analog Devices, on a breakout board from Adafruit Industries.  This accelerometer has analog readout, so I connected the three X, Y, and Z pins to analog pins 0,1, and 2 of the Arduino, and powered the breakout board from the Arduino 3.3 volt supply.  I also sent the 3.3 volt input to the AREF pin of the Arduino so that the I could use “ratiometric” measurements.  The ADXL335 is designed so that 0g acceleration is mid-scale, so using the same voltage for powering the chip and for the Arduino AREF input means that 512 is 0g and the scaling is approximately 1g for each difference of 100.  It turns out that the calibration is not perfect (no surprise there), so you can improve the measurements by tweaking the offset and scaling for each axis separately.  I did this manually for my code, and the results are only good to about 1%.

I should be able to do better if I write a calibration program on my laptop that gathers results from the Arduino and tries to optimize the magnitudes of the reported acceleration vectors to be one.  If the accelerometer is held steady in several different orientations, this should auto-calibrate.

I wrote a little program that measured the X, Y, and Z values 1000 times, averaged them, and sent the average over the USB line to my laptop.  I’ve put the code on-line at  Each of the measurements takes about 3.3 msec (about 1msec per DAC reading)

Limitations of the Arduino as a data-acquisition device:

  • Only 6 analog inputs
  • Only 10-bit resolution
  • All 6 channels on same scale, and input must be between 0 and a single reference voltage (3.3v for the setup I used).
  • No faster than about 1msec/sample (so don’t try to collect audio or video data)

UPDATE 8 October 2011.  I’ve just found out how to put code into the blog itself, so here it is:

// Accelerometer (ADXL335) test
// Kevin Karplus
// 29 June 2011

void setup()
  analogReference(EXTERNAL);   // essential if you are going to connect to AREF

// I used wires to connect the breakout board to 
// three analong inputs, 3.3v, and ground.
// I also connected the AREF input of the Arduino to 3.3v

const int Xpin=2;
const int Ypin=1;
const int Zpin=0;

const int num_to_sum=1000;
const float xscale = 0.0098/num_to_sum;
const float yscale = 0.0097/num_to_sum;
const float zscale = 0.0099/num_to_sum;

const int zero_x = 500;
const int zero_y = 506;
const int zero_z = 511;

long xsum,ysum,zsum;

void loop()
  unsigned long startTime=millis();
  xsum = ysum = zsum = 0;
  for (int i=num_to_sum; i>0; i--)
     xsum += analogRead(Xpin) -zero_x;
     ysum += analogRead(Ypin) -zero_y;
     zsum += analogRead(Zpin) -zero_z;
  float x=xscale*xsum;
  float y=yscale*ysum;
  float z=zscale*zsum;
  Serial.print(" X=");
  Serial.print(" Y=");
  Serial.print(" Z=");
  Serial.print(" total=");

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