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2014 April 5

Hysteresis lab on KL25Z

Relaxation oscillator used in the hysteresis lab.  The "variable capacitor" in this schematic is a person's finger and a touch plate made from aluminum foil and packing tape.

Relaxation oscillator used in the hysteresis lab. The “variable capacitor” in this schematic is a person’s finger and a touch plate made from aluminum foil and packing tape.

I spent today writing code for the KL25Z board to act as a period or frequency detector for the hysteresis lab, where they build a relaxation oscillator using a 74HC14N Schmitt trigger inverter and use it to make a capacitance touch sensor (pictures of last year’s setup in Weekend work). I had written code for the Arduino boards last year, and I started by trying to do the same thing on the KL25Z, using the MBED online development system.  The Arduino code used “PulseIn()” to measure pulse duration, and the MBED system does not have an equivalent function.  I could have implemented PulseIn() with a couple of busy waits and a microsecond-resolution timer, but I decided to try using “InterruptIn” to get interrupts on each rising edge instead.

The basic idea of last year’s code (and the first couple versions I wrote today) was to determine the pulse duration or period when the board is reset, finding the maximum over a few hundred cycles, and using that as a set point to create two thresholds for switching an LED on or off. I got the code working, but I was not happy with it as a tool for the students to use.

The biggest problem is that the touch plate couples in 60Hz noise from the user’s finger, so the oscillator output signal is frequency modulated.  This frequency modulation can be large compared with the change in frequency from touching or not touching the plate (depending on how big C1 is), so setting the resistor and capacitor values for the oscillator got rather tricky, and the results were unreliable.

I then changed from reading instantaneous period to measuring frequency by counting edges in a 1/60th-second window.  That way the 60Hz frequency modulation of the oscillator gets averaged out, and we can get a fairly stable frequency reading.  The elimination of the 60Hz noise allows me to use less hysteresis in the on/off decision for the LED, making the touch sensor more sensitive without getting flicker on transitions. The code worked fairly well, but I was not happy with the maximum frequency that it could handle—the touch sensor gets more sensitive if C1 is small, which tends to result in high frequency oscillations. The problem with the code was that MBED’s InterruptIn implementation seems to have a lot of overhead, and the code missed the edge interrupts if they came more often than about every 12µsec.  Because I was interrupting on both rising and falling edges, the effective maximum frequency was about 40kHz, which was much lower than I wanted.

To fix the frequency limitation, I replaced MBED’s InterruptIn with my own interrupt service routine for PortD (I was using pin PTD4 as the interrupt input). With this change, I could go to about 800kHz (1.6e6 interrupts per second), which is plenty for this lab.  If I wanted to go to higher frequencies, I’d look at only rising edges, rather than rising+falling edges, to get another factor of two at the high end.  I didn’t make that change, because doing so would reduce the resolution of the frequency measurement at the low end, and I didn’t think that the tradeoff was worth it here.

The code is now robust to fairly large variations in the oscillator design.  It needs a 20% drop in frequency to turn on the green LED, but the initial frequency can be anywhere in the range 400Hz–800kHz.

To make it easier for students to debug their circuits, I took advantage of having an RGB LED on the board to indicate the state of the program: on reset, the LED is yellow, turning blue once a proper oscillator input has been detected, or red if the oscillator frequency is not in range. When the frequency drops sufficiently, the LED turns from blue to green, turning back to blue when the frequency goes up again.

For even more debugging help, I output the frequency that the board sees through the USB serial connection every 1/60th second, so that a program like the Arduino serial monitor can be used to see how much the frequency is changing.  I took advantage of that feature to make a plot of the frequency as the touch sensor was touched.

Plot of frequency of hysteresis oscillator, as the touch pad is touched three times.  Note that the thresholds are very conservatively set relative to the noise, but that the sensitivity is still much higher than needed to detect the finger touches.

Plot of frequency of hysteresis oscillator, as the touch pad is touched three times. Note that the thresholds are very conservatively set relative to the noise, but that the sensitivity is still much higher than needed to detect the finger touches.

Overall, I think that the code for the KL25Z is better than what I wrote last year for the Arduino—now I have to rewrite the lab handout to match! I actually need to update two lab handouts this weekend, since week 3 will have both the hysteresis lab and the sampling and aliasing lab. Unfortunately, the features needed for those labs (trigger on rising and falling edges and downsampling) are not working in PteroDAQ yet.

Here is the code that I wrote for the frequency detector:

// freq_detector_own_isr
// Kevin Karplus 
// 2014 Apr 5

// This program is intended to be used as a "capacitive touch sensor" 
// with an external relaxation oscillator whose frequency
// varies with the capacitance of a touch.

// The program expects a periodic square wave on pin PTD4 with a frequency between 
// about 400Hz and 800kHz. (LOW_FREQ_LIMIT and HIGH_FREQ_LIMIT).
// On reset, it displays a yellow light, then measures the frequency to store as the "off" frequency.
// If the frequency is out of range (say for a disconnected input), then the light is set to red, 
//     and the off frequency checked again.
// Otherwise the LED is turned blue.
// After initialization, if the program detects a frequency 20% less than the initial freq, 
// it turns the light green, 
// turning it blue again when the the frequency increases to 90% of the original frequency.
// No floating-point is used, just integer arithmetic.
// Frequency measurements are made by counting the number of rising and falling edges
// in one cycle of the mains frequency (1/60 sec), giving somewhat poor resolution at lower 
// frequencies.  
// The counting time is chosen to that frequency modulation by the mains voltages is averaged out.
// This version of the code uses my own setup for the interrupt service routine, because InterruptIn has
// too much overhead.  I can go to over 800kHz (1.6e6 interrupts/second) with this setup, 
// but only about 40kHz (80e3) interrupts/sec with mbed's InterruptIn.

#include "mbed.h"

#define PCR_PORT_TO_USE (PORTD->PCR[4])   // pin PTD3 is the pin to use

#define MAINS_FREQ (60)     // frequency of electrical mains in Hz
#define COUNTING_TIME (1000000/MAINS_FREQ)   // duration in usec of one period of electrical mains

// off_frequency must be between LOW_FREQ_LIMIT and HIGH_FREQ_LIMIT for program to accept it
#define LOW_FREQ_LIMIT (400)
#define HIGH_FREQ_LIMIT (800000)

// on-board RGB LED
PwmOut rled(LED_RED);
PwmOut gled(LED_GREEN);
PwmOut bled(LED_BLUE);
#define PWM_PERIOD (255)  // for the on-board LEDs in microseconds

// Set the RGB led color to R,G,B  with 0 being off and PWM_PERIOD being full-on
void set_RGB_color(uint8_t R, uint8_t G, uint8_t B)

// InterruptIn square_in(PTD4);
volatile uint32_t edges_counted;

uint32_t low_freq_threshold, high_freq_threshold;  // thresholds for detecting frequency changes

extern "C"{
// interrupt routine that counts edges into edges_counted
    void PORTD_IRQHandler(void) 

// return the frequency for the square_in input in Hz
uint32_t frequency(void)
    PCR_PORT_TO_USE &= ~PORT_PCR_IRQC_MASK;  // disable interrupts on pin PTD3
    PCR_PORT_TO_USE |= PORT_PCR_ISF_MASK | PORT_PCR_IRQC(11);  // clear interrupt for PTD3, and enable interrupt on either edge
    PCR_PORT_TO_USE &= ~PORT_PCR_IRQC_MASK;  // disable interrupts on pin PTD3
    uint32_t freq=edges_counted*MAINS_FREQ/2; 
    return freq; 

int main() 
    set_RGB_color(255,255,0);   // set light to yellow
    SIM->SCGC5 |= SIM_SCGC5_PORTD_MASK; // make sure port D has clocks on
    PCR_PORT_TO_USE &= ~PORT_PCR_MUX_MASK;  // clearing the MUX field
    PCR_PORT_TO_USE |= PORT_PCR_MUX(1);     // Setting pin as GPIO
    FPTD->PDDR &= ~ (1<<4);  // make sure pin is input pin
    NVIC_EnableIRQ(PORTD_IRQn);            // enable interrupts for port D

    uint32_t off_frequency= frequency();
    while ( off_frequency<low_freq_limit ||="" off_frequency="">HIGH_FREQ_LIMIT)
    {   // timed out.  set color to red and keep trying
        printf("FREQ out of range: %luHz\n", off_frequency);
        off_frequency= frequency();
    uint32_t low_freq= 8*off_frequency/10;  // 80% of off_frequency
    uint32_t high_freq= 9*off_frequency/10;  // 90% of off_frequency
    printf("off= %luHz lo_thresh=%luHz hi_thresh=%luHz\n",off_frequency, low_freq, high_freq);
    {   uint32_t freq=frequency();
        printf("%lu Hz\n",freq);  
        if (freq < low_freq)
        {   // low_fequency found, turn LED green
        else if (freq >= high_freq)
        {   // high frequency found, turn LED blue again

2012 November 24

Hysteresis board

Now that we’re using a 74HC14 Schmitt trigger in the capacitive touch sensor for the hysteresis oscillator, that lab can be the first soldering project, in addition to learning about hysteresis.

I tried laying out a very compact PC board for the students to solder (still requiring them to do some design—they’ll have to breadboard their design first to get appropriate R and C values). I came up with one very compact design that could get 4 copies into the 50mm×50mm limit of the $1 boards from ITEAD, making the boards only 25¢ each.

Compact layout to get 4 hysteresis oscillator boards out of one 50mm×50mm board. The gutters are pretty narrow, though, and I’m not sure I’m skillful enough with the board shears to cut that accurately.  The yellow “airwires” are Eagle telling me that the Gnd and +5V wires are not connected between the different copies.

It seemed a little silly to try to squeeze the price down to 25¢, when the other parts cost 90¢: 59¢ for the screw terminals, 28¢ for the Schmitt trigger chip, 1¢ for the resistor, and 2¢ for the capacitor. With this layout it is also a little tricky for the students to properly wire the unused inputs high.

Given the high risk of ruining the boards trying to cute them with the board shears, I decided to redesign for a 50¢ board.

Much looser layout, having only two copies on the 50mm x 50mm board. This version makes it easier for the students to see how things are connected, and has lots of room for the board shears to make the cut.

The lab would now require that the students measure the thresholds of the Schmitt trigger, breadboard the hysteresis oscillator, make a touch pad out of foil and packing tape, measure the frequency of the oscillation to estimate the touch pad capacitance, adjust the parameters of the Arduino program to match the frequencies of their oscillator, solder up the board, and demonstrate it working to control an LED. I think that is plenty for a 3-hour lab.

When I set up the web pages for the course, I’ll try to make sure I put the Eagle design files (.brd and .sch) for each board the students use on the web, so that future instructors can easily order more copies of the board, even if my laptop gets run over by a beer truck.  That will also make it easier for instructors at other schools to try to duplicate the course.

2012 November 11

Hysteresis lab

Schmitt-trigger oscillator.

Since I decided in Capacitive sensing with Schmitt trigger to use an off-the-shelf Schmitt trigger chip (like a 74HC14) and a very simple oscillator, I needed to rethink the lab and expand it.  Students will no longer be spending much time on building the circuit, so we need to play with other uses for the oscillator circuit and other applications of Schmitt triggers.

The Schmitt trigger is a useful device for students to learn about, since hysteresis is an important concept in detecting signals.  Probably the first thing to have them do is to use the oscilloscope in x-y mode to see the Vout vs. Vin curve for the Schmitt trigger inverter. It would be good for them to devise a way to measure the threshold voltages accurately (with their lab writeup describing both the method used and the thresholds measured), using the equipment they have available.  Perhaps bonus points for methods that don’t require any of the bench equipment? (There are some fairly easy methods using the Arduino for voltage measurements, though precision would be limited to about 5mV.)

After characterizing the inverter, they should design and measure one-inverter oscillators for different frequencies, using different combinations of resistors and capacitors (some low-resistance, high-capacitance designs and some high-resistance, low-capacitance designs).  They should show computations for the frequency using the threshold voltages and the R and C values.  It might be worthwhile to have them estimate the parasitic capacitance of the input to the Schmitt trigger (together with the wiring).

Then they should measure capacitance by hooking up an unknown capacitor with a known resistance, measuring the frequency, and computing the capacitance.  We would have to make up some unknowns with a wide range of different values.

Finally, they should make a capacitive touch pad (a piece of aluminum foil covered with a layer of packing tape). I’ve decided that I like foil covered with packing tape better than foil wrapped in plastic wrap.  The tape may be a bit thicker, but the lack of an air bubble makes for a much more repeatable capacitance, and it is less likely to fall apart when handled.

They should use the oscillator frequency to estimate the capacitance of both the plain pad and the pad when touched by a finger.  After observing the oscillator output on the oscilloscope they should adjust the parameters of a simple hysteresis program to turn an LED on and off with the touch sensor so that a firm touch is needed to light the LED and it doesn’t flicker with a light touch:

void setup(void)
{  pinMode(2,INPUT);

void loop(void)
{   digitalWrite(13, LOW);
    while (pulseIn(2,HIGH) &lt;= 60) {}
    digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
    while (pulseIn(2,HIGH) &gt;= 45) {}


2012 November 1

Capacitive sensing with Schmitt trigger

Capacitive sensing with op amps and Capacitive sensing with op amps, continued used a rather complicated circuit to make a Schmitt-trigger oscillator out of op amps:

Modified circuit for longer period. C1 is just the stray capacitance of the touch sensor, with no deliberately added capacitance.

But if we use an off-the-shelf Schmitt trigger chip (like a 74HC14), then a very simple circuit can be made to oscillate:

Schmitt-trigger oscillator.

Without a touch sensor, it oscillates at about 10 kHz. With an untouched touch sensor, the frequency drops to about 9.5 kHz. With a touched sensor, the frequency drops further to around 6.7 kHz. I can make the touch sensor have a bigger relative frequency change by reducing the capacitor to 157pF (3 470pF in series), from 15kHz down to 8kHz. This oscillator works fine with the code I wrote for the op-amp oscillator. Neither the resistor nor the capacitor values are particularly critical (as long as the addition of about 140pF from the touch drops the frequency enough to be measurable).

The Schmitt trigger is a useful device for students to learn about, since hysteresis is an important concept in detecting signals. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to have the code that detects the frequency and turns the LED on or off have some hysteresis, as code that just uses a time-out for debouncing tends to make the LED flash on and off when a near-touch is done.

This circuit is too simple for a full 3-hour lab. It can be wired in a couple of minutes and tested in a few more. I’ll have to think of other things to do with a Schmitt trigger to make this into a full lab.  Perhaps this could be an Arduino programming lab, where they start with just a simple pulseIn program and make some modifications:

void setup(void)
{  pinMode(2,INPUT);

void loop(void)
    uint8_t on = (pulseIn(2,HIGH) >= 50) ;
    digitalWrite(13, on);

Perhaps a simple hysteresis program:

void setup(void)
{  pinMode(2,INPUT);

void loop(void)
{   digitalWrite(13, LOW);
    while (pulseIn(2,HIGH) <= 50) {}
    digitalWrite(13, HIGH);
    while (pulseIn(2,HIGH) >= 40) {}

Students would have to measure their oscillator waveforms on the oscilloscope, then play with the constants in the code to get reliable switching. It’s still not a 3-hour lab, but it gives another view of hysteresis.

I’ll have to think about this some more.

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