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Monday, November 14, 2016

Demistifying Rotary Encoders (some more)

For an Arduino based project, I wanted to use a rotary decoder to control a menu based structure.

As you are probably aware, there are dozens of solutions available, typically one more complex than the other, in an attempt to make it reliable and fast.

There are two schools of thought. You use the recognition in the main loop construct, or you use interrupts. In the first case, you need to carefully design the main loop, because if you don't get the timing right, the recognition of a twist (a click) of the decoder will be slow, or can be missed. This makes for a very poor user interface (U/I) because it does not seem responsive.

Using an interrupt to recognize movement can be more responsive, unfortunately, almost all interrupt based solutions use two interrupts. On the Arduino Nano or Mini-Pro, there are only two external interrupts available, so using both can be a problem. The good news is that you really don't always need two interrupts.

If you look at the datasheet, you are presented with perfectly modeled waveforms of the two switches that are central to these mechanical decoders. I'm not discussing the much more expensive optical versions here. Here is a picture of the typical waveforms.

Image result for rotary encoder switch

First off, the real wave-forms are not perfectly symmetrical, the output is depending on the mechanical construction and the rotation speed. The other important bit of information is that practically, you rotate the switch from indent to indent.

Here is a screen shot from a one indent move clockwise, captured with a Logic Analyzer:

And here is the screen shot of moving one indent anti-clockwise, or back.

Notice the different pulse width of the A and the B switches in both cases.

The challenge is to not only detect a rotation movement, a click, but also the direction, and then in such a way that you can also rotate the switch very fast and always be correct.

Using one interrupt

In the following Arduino sketch, I use one interrupt on the rising edge of the A-switch, and then sample the level of the B-switch. As you can see above, a clock-wise (to the right) rotation will cause the A-switch to become high before the B-switch. If you turn the other way, the B-switch is already high when the A-switch becomes high.

In order to track and visualize what is going on, I added some statements in the code that will generate a trigger pulse so the Logic Analyzer or scope will help us with the timing relationships.

Here is the sketch:

/* Software Debouncing - Mechanical Rotary Encoder */

#include <FaBoLCD_PCF8574.h>             //include the i2c bus interface and LCD driver code

//---- initialize the i2c/LCD library
FaBoLCD_PCF8574 lcd;                     //with this, there are no further code changes writing to the LCD

#define encoderPinA 2                    //encoder switch A
#define encoderPinB 4                    //encoder switch B
#define encoderPushButton  5             //encoder push button switch
#define Trigger 6                        //Trigger port for Logic Analyzer or Scope

volatile int encoderPos = 0;
volatile int oldencoderPos = 0;

void setup() {
  pinMode(Trigger, OUTPUT);
  pinMode(encoderPinA, INPUT);
  pinMode(encoderPinB, INPUT);
  pinMode(encoderPushButton, INPUT); 
  attachInterrupt(digitalPinToInterrupt(encoderPinA), rotEncoder, RISING); //int 0 
  lcd.begin(16, 2);                      //set up the LCD's number of columns and rows
  lcd.clear();                           //clear dislay
  lcd.setCursor(0,0);                    //set LCD cursor to column 0, row O (start of first line)
  lcd.print("Rotary Encoder");
  lcd.setCursor(0,1);                    //set LCD cursor to column 0, row 1 (start of second line)

void rotEncoder(){
  boolean rotate;
  delayMicroseconds(300);                //approx. 0.75 mSec to get past any bounce
                                         //delay() does not work in an ISR
  //send entry Trigger pulse
  digitalWrite(Trigger, HIGH);
  digitalWrite(Trigger, LOW);
  rotate = digitalRead(encoderPinA);           //Read the A-switch again
  if (rotate == HIGH) {                        //if still High, knob was really turned
    if (rotate == digitalRead(encoderPinB)) {  //determine the direction by looking at B
    } else {                                  
  //send exit Trigger pulse
  digitalWrite(Trigger, HIGH);
  digitalWrite(Trigger, LOW); 

void loop() {
  //loop until we get an interrupt that will change the encoder position counter
  if (encoderPos != oldencoderPos) {
    lcd.print("      ");
    oldencoderPos = encoderPos;

And here is a screen shot of a forward indent with the trigger pulses:

As you can see from this data, it takes the Arduino 755 uSec from the A-switch rising edge recognition to the entry into the Interrupt Service Routine (ISR). It then only needs 14.2 uSec to do the rotation recognition.

To put this into perspective, so you get an idea of the relative "blinding" speed of a 16MHz Arduino in relation to slow moving switches:

 Turning the knob as fast as I can produces the picture below:

This solution works pretty good, but is not perfect.

A more reliable method, using two interrupts

This is my most favorite solution. I have used this method with a lot of success, but it uses two interrupts to determine the direction and the clicks. Unfortunately, the number of interrupts on the Arduino is limited, so you may not always have the room to implement this.

In the global area, you need this:

// Rotary Encoder setup
static int enc_A = 2; // D2 No filter caps used!
static int enc_B = 3; // D3 No filter caps used!
static int enc_But = 7; // D7 No filter caps used!
volatile byte aFlag = 0; // expecting a rising edge on pinA encoder has arrived at a detent
volatile byte bFlag = 0; // expecting a rising edge on pinB encoder has arrived at a detent (opposite direction to when aFlag is set)
volatile byte encoderPos = 0; //current value of encoder position (0-255). Change to int or uin16_t for larger values
volatile byte oldEncPos = 0; //stores the last encoder position to see if it has changed
volatile byte reading = 0; //store the direct values we read from our interrupt pins before checking to see if we have moved a whole detent

In the setup code, you need this:

  // setup the rotary encoder switches and ISR's
  pinMode(enc_A, INPUT_PULLUP); // set pinA as an input, pulled HIGH
  pinMode(enc_B, INPUT_PULLUP); // set pinB as an input, pulled HIGH
  attachInterrupt(0, enc_a_isr,RISING);
  attachInterrupt(1, enc_b_isr,RISING);

Here are the two Interrupt Service Routines, one for each switch:

 * Rotary decoder ISR's for the A and B switch activities.
void enc_a_isr(){
  cli(); //stop interrupts
  reading = PIND & 0xC; // read all eight pin values then strip away all but pinA and pinB's values
  if(reading == B00001100 && aFlag) { //check that we have both pins at detent (HIGH) and that we are expecting detent on this pin's rising edge
    if (encoderPos <= 0){
      encoderPos = 0;
      encoderPos --;
    bFlag = 0; //reset flags
    aFlag = 0; //reset flags
  else if (reading == B00000100) bFlag = 1; //we're expecting pinB to signal the transition to detent from free rotation
  sei(); //restart interrupts

void enc_b_isr(){
  cli(); //stop interrupts
  reading = PIND & 0xC; //read all eight pin values then strip away all but pinA and pinB's values
  if (reading == B00001100 && bFlag) { //check that we have both pins at detent (HIGH) and that we are expecting detent on this pin's rising edge
    if (encoderPos >= 255){
      encoderPos = 255;
      encoderPos ++;
    bFlag = 0; //reset flags
    aFlag = 0; //reset flags
  else if (reading == B00001000) aFlag = 1; //we're expecting pinA to signal the transition to detent from free rotation
  sei(); //restart interrupts

This is by far the best solution, and needs no extra hardware parts. I have not been able to detect any false "claims". However, I have not tried it on faster processors so be aware.

Rotary Encoder with hardware debounce en direction decode

The following is an attempt that can be used on the 8 or 16MHz clocked Arduino's, and also with faster processors like the Raspberry Pi or the ESP processors.

Here is the schematic diagram.

The idea is to determine the direction with the aid of a Flip-Flop. First the switches are debounced with an R/C combination and then fed to Schmitt-triggers to get clean logic transitions again, This circuit creates a clock pulse for every indent and a directional level that changes only when the direction changes from clockwise to anti-clockwise. 

I created a small PCB, and here is the result of my soldering.

However, is it perfect? Unfortunately no. The switches of these very cheap China rotary encoders are mechanically inferior, but good ones, typically the optical kind, are expensive. 

Even with all this effort, there are still spurious glitches every now and then, that need to be fixed in software. This extra hardware however reduces a lot of processing power for the micro-controller, and is not relying on interrupts. It could be used in a polling loop.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Building a Bench Tracking Dual Voltage Supply

Dual Tracking +/- 30V @ 100mA Power Supply

While I was building this supply, I added some functionality but did not update the front panel. That's why you see the pen markings to indicate the switch position for the DMM display measuring the positive supply or the negative supply, and that the Tracking switch puts the positive supply in the Master role. The "S" means separate supply adjustments.

The PWR switch is not a main power switch, but removes the voltages from the output to protect the DUT. It also allows you to set the voltages of the supply without having to take the leads away from the DUT. The switch should have "on" and "off" labels.

My Design Goals

For some of my experiments and tinkering, mostly with op-amps, I wanted to have an additional power supply that would give me a precise dual-tracking complimentary voltages, up to +/- 30V.

Here are a few design goals I set for myself:

1. True 0 to +/- 30V.
2. Non tracking mode to set two different voltages for the negative and the positive supplies.
3. Precise dual tracking within 1% or better.
4. Precise Voltage level setting with 1mV accuracy
5. Accurate display of output Voltages with less than 0.01% error. (no need fro an additional DMM)
6. Pretty good current limiting setting with a visual indicator. (not at a precise exact value, but good  enough because I don't want to blow-up an expensive device.)
7. Pretty good constant current/voltage operation.
8. Low noise and stability without going to extremes.
9. Small package, using the same housing as several of my other supplies and DC Load.
10. Maximum current of at least 100mA for each supply separately.
11. Using components like voltage display and transformers to be used with a drastically different design. (just in case I wanted something complete different)
12. Some protection against blowing things up and doing stupid things myself.

Using standard Regulators

For a while, I was contemplating a simple tracking LM317/337 supply, and I looked around of what designs where out there on the Web. There were surprisingly few, actually, and none fitted my bill.
Eventually, I started to piece some things together myself, but by the time I added the bells and whistles I wanted, things were getting complicated quickly.  Rather than scrapping the whole idea, I continued as a learning experience to see how far I could get this to work. In the back of my mind however, I always considered starting all over with a more traditional supply design, so I made sure most of the more expensive components could be re-used.

Here is the circuit diagram of the complete supply. Looks pretty wild when you look at it initially, but when I'll go through the building blocks it's actually not that bad. 

Let's just start with a partial diagram of the positive supply, and dive right in. 

Voltage Regulation

The output voltage is regulated and set by IC7, an LM317AHVT, which is the high voltage version of the LM317 regulator. To get a regulated 30V at the output, I need to supply several volts more. When the transformer is not loaded much, the input voltage can get to levels that are too high for the standard LM317, which is why I use the "HV" (High Voltage) version.

R28 is used in combination with R27, the 10 Turn potmeter to set the output level. R28 also makes sure that there is some minimum current flowing to keep the regulation in check. That only works well with higher output voltages, so I use a J-FET, Q5, used here as a constant current source, to ensure that the LM317 always sees an 8mA or higher current. The J-FET needs a few volt to work with, and I decided to give it -8V, because I can use that voltage level in other places as well.

The voltage adjustment setting is stabilized with C17, but that means that you also need D17, to protect the LM from the C17 discharge levels going the wrong way. To make sure that I can regulate down to 0V, I have to overcome the reference voltage of the LM317, which is 1.25V. Initially, I used a -1.25V voltage reference to create that counter-balance, but I was not too happy with how that worked. D25 and D26 in combination with the -8V will do the same and actually clamp the negative supply at the Source of Q5 to about -1.3V. That's close enough. 

Current Regulation

Let's switch our attention to the current regulation/limiting section. IC4, yet another LM317 is used as the current limiting device. The current limiting is depending on the voltage over the current shunt resistor, R12. The 12 Ohm value will limit the current to a maximum of 104mA. To make that current start from 0mA, I used the same circuit around D13, Q2 and the negative supply of -8V to do that. The variable current limiting settings are accomplished with a normal 1 turn potmeter R17, in combination with R16, to make the potmeter effective over the complete range of at least 100mA. D11 and D12 limit that range to about 1.3V, and that creates a pretty accurate way of setting the current limit. Q2, another J-FET, also functions here as a constant current source of about 8 mA, keeping IC4 into regulation at all times.

Current Limit Indicator

To get an indication of the entering into the Current Limiting or Constant Current mode, I used the circuit with Q3 and a red LED. Q3 measures the voltage drop over the LM317, and if it goes over a certain level (> 0.6V, when the limiting gets tripped), the LED with be turned on. Simple but effective.

The Negative Supply

The negative supply is a virtual mirror image of the positive supply. If you now look at the equivalent circuit on the negative side, around IC6, an LM377T, you'll see exactly the same circuit, with the Tracking Switch S2 in the position shown. Because IC6, the LM377, does not come in a high voltage version, I had to use another LM377 (IC3) as a pre-regulator to limit the voltage going in to IC6. IC3 limits the maximum voltage of about -40V to a -36V level which is safe for the 377 and provides plenty regulation head-room. Using another LM377 may look like an overkill, but the 5 components (The 377, a protection diode, two resistors and a capacitor) costs are really minimal. Yes I could have used D14 to go across all three LM377's, but that's the way the circuit developed.

Output Voltage Removal

In order to quickly remove the output level of the supply, I use a switch (S3) across both the Volt Adjustment potmeters, to do that. Eliminating the voltage over the potmeters will force the LM317/337 outputs to zero volt. And that pretty much covers the voltage regulation parts.

Dual Voltage Tracking

OK, let's move our attention to the dual voltage tracking circuit. I used a simple method with two precisely matched 10K resistors (R29 and R31) to create a virtual ground level at the midpoint. After testing the result, I found that I still needed an adjustment trimmer R30. The virtual ground or mid-point level at the wiper goes to the inverting input of op-amp IC8, and that compares that input with the true ground. There is nu current flowing so R10, the 4K7 resistor will not cause a voltage drop. The op-amp will make sure that it's output is driven such that the two inputs are equal. The output goes to the Tracking On/Off switch, and when that is flipped, it actually takes over from the potmeter setting of the negative supply, making that a Slave of the positive supply, the Master. The negative supply will now follow (track) the output level of the positive supply, also when the positive supply goes into current limiting. I have selected the TLE2141 op-amp for this job, because it can handle the supply voltages of -36V plus +8V = 44V.

The positive and negative outputs have C22/C23 and C18/C24 to filter unwanted noise. I kept C23/C24 as low as possible to protect the dumping of their capacity into my precious DUT circuit. This is a significant and often overlooked factor of most power supplies. 

Some Protection

D15 for the positive supply and D14 and D5 for the negative supply are there to protect the regulators in case the output voltage is higher than the set voltage. These diodes then dump the over-voltage into the main reservoir capacitors C6 and C5. This situation can happen when there are capacitors or batteries in the DUT that want to dump their charge back into the supply. They are protection for the LM317/337 devices. D18 and D19 are protection for reverse voltages that may accidentally try to dump into the supply.

The Supporting Cast

The supporting team is made up of transformer TR1 to supply the main voltage of the supply. Initially, I used R2 which is a PTC to add a level of protection for over currents. They are self-healing. After using the supply for a while, I took it out of circuit because it interrupted too early and I didn't have other values.

The main supplies are rectified with a full bridge filtered by reservoirs C6/C5 and C12/C9 to remove high frequency noise. Both R7 and R6 make sure that the reservoirs are emptied relatively quickly, so no voltages are present for very long when the mains is switched off. They will also put a minimum load on the transformer to protect for voltages that may become too high when there is no load supplied to the DUT.

To minimize the development of heat and use normal TO-92 regulators for the +/- 8volt supplies, I used a separate transformer with 9-0-9VAC at 80mA. These print transformers are relatively inexpensive and small, and the +/- 8V supplies are now independent of any voltage swings on the main supply. The filter circuits around IC1 and IC2 are text book stuff.

The Voltage Display

The last element is the voltage display. I found a module that has a real DMM "inside", is very accurate and works up to 33VSearch for: 0.36" 5-digit DC 0-33.000V Digital LED Voltage Meter

These displays typically generate a lot of switching noise that you really don't want to have injected into the power supply rails. At the same time, I wanted to use this voltmeter to measure the positive supply as well as the negative supply. Unfortunately, these meters only handle positive voltages. In order to switch the volt meter from one output to the other, the power for the meter needed to be floating from the main power. So, I needed a third transformer with 9VAC, to isolate the power rails and I could then do the switching with S1. S1 applies the positive output voltage to the plus input and the ground to the minus input, and reverses this for the negative supply (positive input is now ground, and the input ground is now the minus output supply. Simple and effective at only the cost of a little transformer.

Tracking Mode Side-Effect

There is one caveat with a tracking supply like this one. The negative supply (Slave) tracks the positive one (the Master). If the current limiting for the positive supply kicks in, the negative supply will follow. However, when the current limit for the negative supply kicks in, the positive supply will stay at it's set level, creating an unbalanced output situation. I have not figured out a way to solve that.

Real-Life Experiences

After I finished building the supply, have been using it for a few years now, and I'm very happy with it. The voltage level shown on the display is very accurate, it really acts like a good DMM, and so is the tracking accuracy which is well below 0.1%. During my experimenting, I find myself grabbing this supply more and more, even though I sometimes find the output dropping because I pull too much current from it. 

Below is a picture of the main circuit board in an earlier stage, when I was still using the 1.25V references (the SMD parts on the carriers), and without the current limit indicators. It has been modified quite a bit since then.

All parts within the dotted rectangles on the circuit diagram are mounted on the metal back-panel of the enclosure. The last addition, the third transformer for the display is mounted on the top half of the enclosure because I didn't have the room on the circuit board.

Sorry for the bad focus, but you get the idea.


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Friday, September 30, 2016

Building a Milli-Ohm Meter

This is a project to build a simple instrument to measure low value resistors below 2 Ohm down to the milli-ohms with a very high precision.

I already mentioned the SCULLYCOM Youtube series from Louis Scully, and a while ago I prototyped this design to see how well it would fit my needs. Here are his Youtube videos.

Build a Milliohm Meter

Below is my circuit of the prototype I built, based on the first video.

Initially, since I used my DMM as a display, I also did not use the x10 multiplier. I was so happy with the accuracy that I decided to build the real thing, so I ordered and added the INA106, because it makes the read-out a bit easier without having to do the math.

The unit worked very well, even as a prototype, using my DMM as the display. The initial testing shows it to be very useful. When I found out that Greg Christenson (the same one from the Milli-Voltmeter PCB), also created a PCB for this project, I was sold and decided to built one based on his PCB. This is detailed in the update.

Here is his Greg's website:

This project is also a work in progress for me, because I'm still building my BOM to be able to order the required parts when I'm back home.

Here is Greg's version of the circuit diagram, that I will use as the reference for the BOM.

The BOM for this project, using mostly UK suppliers, is now available here:  BOM
And also on Greg's site here : BOM2

I use Mouser and/or DigiKey myself, because Farnell and the likes do not want to sell to hobbyists in my and other countries. Many alternative suppliers do not have some of these parts available. You can use several of the Farnell part numbers that Louis provided to look up parts with Mouser, and otherwise the description will help. There are some price differences with Mouser and DigiKey parts, most are less expensive, some significantly so, especially the 0.1% 25PPM resistors.

The PCB itself can be ordered here : PCB

Note that there have been a number of revisions, currently at 1.5, and there may be more.

Here is some information about the above parts:

C1..4 (22uF/25V) have some physical restraints to fit on the PCB. The dimensions are diameter 5mm, height 7mm (not so critical), lead space 2mm.

C5 (can be 150, 220, 470 or 1000uF/35V) and also has some restraints. The dimensions are diameter 10mm, height 12,5mm(not so critical), lead space 5mm.

IC2 and IC5 are from Linear Technology and Mouser does not carry that brand. In that case, I usually mix my order between Mouser and DigiKey and keep an eye on the free shipping limit of 50 Euro's or more. The IST version of IC2, the LT3092, is the preferred version, because it has better specifications.

Resistors R1 through R9 determine the constant current of 100mA. A precise and clean current is the Achilles heel for the design of this meter. There are four options for R2, 3, 4 and 5.  Louis has the Welwyn RC55Y series listed, but they cost a whopping 2.56 Euro's a piece. He also has the Holsworthy H856 series listed and they cost 1.72 Euro's. Mouser has the Neohm types as an alternative available. They have exactly the same specifications in term of precision (0.1%) and are also 15 PPM/C grade, however, the other two may have other better specs in general. There is a price difference though. The NEOHM version for R1 is YR1B63R4CC, and for R2..R5 is YR1B56R24CC, and they cost about 0.20 to 0.25 Euro each, depending on the value. Greg, the maker of the PCB, uses Vishay resistors from the MRS25000 series. They only have 1% precision and a TC of 50PPM/K. They cost 0.27 Euro's each. To get the required specification, he ordered a large number and selected the best ones.
Up to you to decide if your budget allows it and if you really need that little bit extra.

R12 and R13, the adjustment trimmers are quite special physically, so make sure you order the right type: 3296P-1-104F and 3296-1-101LF. There is also a 3366 version available that looks the same but is a little smaller and also seems to fit the PCB layout. (on the revision 1.5, Greg used both types as you can see from the pictures)

I have not decided myself yet if I will use the LCD meter as a display, or continue with using one of my other DMM's to display the value. The 6.5 digit Milli-Volt Meter, also designed by Louis that I'm building as well would be perfect for this job. Because I will only occasionally have a need for the milli-Ohm meter, a dedicated and rather pricey panel meter seems like a waist to me and also makes the enclosure larger. Besides, I have had some bad experiences of the LCD driver switching noise coming from these displays getting injected to my critical signals.

This decision will determine what enclosure I will use, but that will have to wait until I have the PCB and tested some things. The added benefit of using another DMM for display is that the panel meter  Louis selected only goes to 2V, and that limits the maximum value of the resistor you can measure to a maximum of 2 Ohm.

In the end, I decided to put it in a simple enclosure, use my DMM instead of a dedicated display. I'm not using it so often enough so that it warrants a dedicated display.

The 9V battery is a re-chargeable one.

The shielded DMM leads plug directly into my DMM.

I used my 6.5 digit DMM and was able to adjust the current to 100.002mA.

Testing a few reference value shunt resistors showed very precise measurements. My 6.5 digit DMM cannot measure this low and accurate by a long shot. However, it functions perfectly as a display for the instrument, showing the DC voltage that is representing the value of the resistor. 

This is a very nice tool to have in your collection. Highly recommended!

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Building an 8 Digit Micro-Volt Meter

This project started out as a 6-digit milli-Volt meter project, but with the added software capabilities, the meter is now a true and accurate 8 digit micro-Volt meter with logging capabilities.

There are a large number of updates in the original software, scroll down to see them.

As I mentioned in one of my other posts about the Kelvin-Varley Divider, I wanted to have a higher resolution voltmeter than I currently have. I happened to stumble on a nice set of Youtube videos from Louis Scully from Scullcom Electronics. He has described a set of very nice instruments, one of them is a 6.5 digit milli-Volt meter.

One usual caveat! The links I provide may at times no longer work, so my apologies in advance if you land in the 404 land of no returns.

Here are the links to the videos, now up to 4 in total.

Part 1 of the 6.5 digit Voltmeter
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

The design is quite simple and should be able to be built if you have a bit more than average skills.
The good news is that a follower of this design, Greg Barbouri, has provided a PCB through OSH Park that greatly enhances the input section of the DVM, which is the Achilles heel of such an instrument.

Here is the website that details the implementation using that PCB:
Barbouri Millivolt-Meter Project

In the meantime, Greg Christanson built a newer revision, available here:
Version 2

I will use the earlier PCB, but I have a few changes in mind for the version I am going to build and I'll go through these elements here.

Here is the schematic Greg made for the meter:

The front end of the design is the most critical. I'll implement that by following the PCB design. For the processor part, I originally wanted to use the same Arduino Nano that Louis Scully is using, but since the PCB layout is for an Arduino Pro Mini I'll use that. However, I have no need to drive a multi-color back light LCD, and I also do not foresee any other enhancements that will eat up the Arduino ports, so I see no need to use the Display42 PCB from Greg with the I2C MCP23017-E/SP chip.

To cut down on the amount of wires going from the Arduino the the LCD, there are 6, I am using a module that is available on eBay for a very small price : LCD Interface

The LCD that I'll end up using will be this one :
16 x 2 White on Blue LCD

My design will also power the unit from a battery, to avoid grounding issues and provide a clean supply to begin with. However, rather than using normal batteries, I will use a  rechargeable cell, and I want to provide a way to charge them while using the instrument, and also when not in use. To keep taps on the voltage level or discharge level while not on mains, I need a monitor that will warn me when the voltage is getting too low.

Here is the circuit that I used to implement the button debounce, used to select two modes, and the power section.

One word of caution before I dive in. The DC chassis part is not quite like the Eagle symbol I used in this diagram. There is no short between the plus and minus when there is no plug inserted! The minus is however isolated from the chassis when there is no plug inserted, keeping everything isolated from the chassis. If the DC plug is inserted, you could potentially create an earth ground connection to the DUT. There is an indication on the LCD by the charging symbol, so you won't forget.

You'll notice that I deviated from the design Louis used for the two buttons. I have quite some experience now interfacing buttons if you have followed my Raspberry Pi posts. The processor of the Pi runs at 900MHz or more (yes, no typo), and interfacing with something as slow as a button has its challenges. Especially for inexpensive buttons. You'll be amazed how noisy they can be.

In any case, the filtering that I use to get rid of most switch bounce noise is by using an R/C filter on both edges (closing and opening). I always prefer to use active high buttons or switches because they avoid all sorts of power-on problems. When the switch/button is open, the capacitor is at ground level. Closing the contact will charge the capacitor through the 10K series resistor, creating a nice and clean rising edge (R/C) towards the input of the Arduino. Releasing the switch will cause the capacitor to discharge through the 10K series resistor plus the 1K to ground, again creating a nice R/C slope that will filter the high speed bounce noise. In software we can use a little delay to get rid of the slower bounce transitions, and together this will create clean signals to the Arduino program without having to resort to Schmidt-trigger gates or Flip-Flops.

One word of caution. Don't make the debounce capacitor much larger than 10nF. If you don't have 10nF, you can go as low as 1nF. The reason for this is that the slower the R/C slope, the more time the signal stays in the undefined area between digital "high's" and "low's" and that can cause glitches for the processor again.  If I peaked your button interest, have a look here : Debouncing buttons There is a lot more to buttons than you may think.

The power section
The power design is quite simple, and I've used that before. The two Schottkey (low drop) diodes D2 (this diode can actually be a 1N400X type) and D3 will decide which supply is feeding the Voltmeter. If the mains is connected (providing the 15-30V DC), D2 will have the higher voltage so it will win. If there is no mains connection, the battery supplies the voltage. The resistor (R1) in parallel of D3 determines the (re)charge current of the Ni-CAD cell. The charging current is about 0.1 x C for a 250mAh cell. Depending on the capacity of the cell(s) you're using you may need to change the value of R1 so it is within the (re)charging specification of the cell(s).

In order to keep an eye on the charge level of the cell, I have added a few parts to allow the Arduino to measure the voltage level. You don't want to run into a situation where the voltage is too low, because you may introduce errors in the measurements. Besides, you don't want to be caught with an empty battery when you're in the middle of something. R2 and R4 create a 3:1 voltage divider with easy to find resistors. You can create 20K with 2 x 10K in series. (don't use less than 10K for R4, or it will negatively influence the ADC conversion) C4 is a small filter to get rid of noise and the output goes to one of the Arduino ADC inputs. The rest is done in software and I have also designed some battery level symbols to make it look nice.

The complete multi-meter draws less than 60 mA. About 26mA of that is used by the LCD display. With less than 100mA, it is safe to use the 78L12 part for the 12V regulator, and even the 78L05 for the 5V regulator on the PCB.

If you are already an Arduino user, you may have the Mini Pro, and you also may have the required programming cable. If not, here is a source that provides both as a bundle :
Arduino Pro Mini with interface

The display and interface to the Arduino
Here is a picture of the small interface board that will turn the LCD module into an i2c capable interface, reducing the number of wires to 4, while staying compatible with the PCB.

You need to install a new LCD library to get the i2c driver, and I selected the library from here :
i2c / LCD library

This library is tailored for a particular interface board, the FaBo #212 LCD I2C Brick, but the only difference is the i2c address with the board I have.

First of all, you need to know the i2c address of your board.
I used a little sketch to do that:
i2c address scanner

My address turned out to be 0x27, while the FaBo brick uses 0x20.
After you have installed the new i2c-LCD library on your system, you need to edit the  FaBoLCD_PCF8574.h file that is in the library source section, and change this line :

#define PCF8574_SLAVE_ADDRESS 0x27 ///< PCF8574 Default I2C Slave Address = 20

The finished hardware
Here is a picture of the finished project. I actually build two units, because one can never have enough voltmeters. My design and the changes I made allows me to position these meters very close to my prototypes, and without any power wires attached. I can also make floating measurements, because nothing is connected to the housing. (the DC socket inputs are isolated from the chassis if no power plug is inserted)

Below is a link to the copy of the Arduino sketch. There are many changes to the original code, so have a good look at what has been changed in case you use different hardware.

I have been playing with the two units, to see what the accuracy is and what I could change in the user interface.

I must say that I am very impressed with the accuracy! I have two calibrated voltage reference units, and also a new/freshly factory calibrated 4.5 digit bench multi-meter. The accuracy and precision of this design is astounding for such a simple and inexpensive tool.

Tweaking the hardware
I was a little apprehensive about feeding the LCD display with the same 5V supply as the rest of the logic. These displays are notorious for introducing spikes and noise, so I was on guard for trouble.

When I got my scope attached, I was not surprised by the noise I found, so I started with decoupling the 5V power where it enters the display module. I used a Tantalum 3.3uF together with a 100nF to begin with, because the i2c and the LCD do not have any decoupling.
Here is how that looks:

Unfortunately, this did not reduce the nasty spikes on the reference voltage and the main 5V by much. Looking into it some more, I found that the switching of the LTC_CS line to start/stop the AD conversion cycle turned out to be the culprit. Here is a screenshot:

The top trace (A) is the LTC_CS signal coming from D10 at the Arduino PCB. The bottom trace (B) is the 4.096V reference, AC coupled. The spikes are clearly caused by the switching at the digital port. They are a few nSec in width, so I selected a 4n7F capacitor that slowed the edge down enough to not cause a spike anymore. I mounted that capacitor on the PCB of the Arduino, with one leg soldered to D10 and the other end to the unused GND mounting hole just next to it. The capacitor can be seen just north of the reset button.:

And this is the result:

I also noticed a potential bug in the original code, related to the averaging of the results. The Spi_Read function discards a reading of the ADC if it's not ready, but the main loop code counts it as a valid sample, which could result in wrong measurements. I have fixed the code, but I could not find instances of this error when I looked for it with a Logic Analyzer.

While I had that out, I also looked at the timing in more detail, to see if there were any potential conflicts.

First of all, this is a picture of the ADC sampling window:

Here you can see that the CS is going down to start the cycle and the MISO is ready 1.25uS later, virtually at the same time. There is 1.5uS between that event and the first clock going high. This is after I already eliminated the little delay in the original Spi_Read code. It is not needed. You can see here the four data bytes getting read, and the actual data presented on the MISO. Note that at the third clock, we are reading the third status bit (SIG), and that indicates a V-in signal > 0. The data towards the end is the "real" 28 bit data, of which the last 4 are the "extra" sub LSB's and they are discarded in the main loop after the averaging. (look at the datasheet for details)

I selected 8 samples to be averaged in my code, and then prepare the result to go to the LCD. As I mentioned earlier, these LCD's are very noisy. In our case, this has no real influence, because the LTC2400 is put to sleep after we have read the data, and made the CS pin high again, as you can see above.

Here is a screen shot that shows the end of the data (channel 5) going through the  I2C bus to the LCD, and the beginning of another acquisition cycle:

You can see that we have a "quiet" period after the LCD got updated, and the start of a new ADC acquisition, which is 0.129 mSec (T1-T2). The total loop time, from LCD update to LCD update is 1.5 Seconds in my case. Sending the results to the LCD only takes about 36 mSec.

Here is a picture of a complete loop:

The "dead" time, averaging the results and sending it to the LCD is only 0.22 Seconds.

After playing with the meter, I got more and more dissatisfied with the flopping around of the last 3 digits, even when I have a stable voltage reference connected to it.

Averaging, Smoothing & Filtering

At first I played around with the averaging, but that is really no solution for a system that has 24 bit resolution. The reason is the inherent amount of noise when you are down to the micro-Volt level. Below is a sample of my 2.5V reference, using my then un-calibrated voltmeter (the reference is calibrated as having 2.49993V)

Averaging (using 8 values) does not have as much influence as you may think. There is still quite a bit of noise.

So, still not good enough. I then looked at smoothing, see below, but that was not good enough either, so I turned to filtering.

I tried a few approaches, and then really investigated an Infinite Input Response (IIR) filter design. And that showed a lot of promise:
Blue is the original input, red the filtering effect with a factor of 4.

And here with a factor of 48.

This filter is based on the "weighing" of the new samples, based on a division. The divisor is fixed and above I used a factor of 48. This means that a new sample only contributes to 1/48th of the value to the averaged total.

So filtering is much better then averaging, but I was not satisfied yet. Because what happens if the input voltage changes, like when you try to adjust a voltage? I then looked at resetting the averaged result if the sample was significantly different enough from the averaged result. I used a 5 sample input filter to avoid spikes resetting the filter, and that worked very well. If a new voltage was applied, it only took 5 cycles of 0.165 Sec. to switch to the new input.

I have just about zero experience with filters, and this extra code I designed myself, but I was convinced that there must be better methods available. I eventually found the Kalman filter, which is used a lot, and initially it seemed perfect for this application.

Knowing nothing about it, I searched and found a very nice tutorial on YouTube that explains the Kalman filter very very well, even for total Dummies like myself. (look for Michel van Biezen - Special Topics - The Kalman Filter) I wrote a simplistic version of the filter based on his explanation but was not satisfied with the result. I also worked with another example I found, but that had the same problem.

Neither of them worked with relatively quickly changing input changes, as an example when switching from 2.5V to 10.0V. They both took several seconds to show the new value. Not good for a DMM, Bummer!

So Kalman looked great on paper and in simulation (using Excel), but in reality, using my Volt Meter, it was a lot worse than the IIR filter I already used.

However, I stole a concept from the Kalman filter, namely the Gain calculation. This is a dynamically calculated weighing factor, so I wrote some code around my IIR filter that accomplished what I wanted. Details are in the code. The result is fantastic, I think.

If I now connect the meter to a really stable voltage, like from a reference, 5 decimal digits are rock solid with only the 6th flopping around due to the noise. When I switch from one reference voltage to another one, within a few cycles, the voltage is updated and within a second or so the 5 digits are rock solid again.

When I tested the ability to set a voltage manually with a power supply (one of those I built in the other Forum posts), I was amazed how well the response to my tuning and the accuracy was, but I also saw how noisy my older version power supplies turned out to be. (luckily, not the one I designed myself) That's what you get when you are using a 24bit ADC with micro-voltage resolution. Oops!

Additional Calibration Levels
In any case, with this filter in place, I also added a separate calibration function, to calibrate the Volt Meter to my Voltage Reference. I already use the (Zero) Null Volt calibration to null the input level, but I now also can tune the meter to my Voltage Reference as well.

With the new calibration function, the accuracy you can obtain is now much better as well.

With all this done, I no longer needed the original code to reduce the number of decimal digits, so that piece of code went into the bit-bucket. In the process of going through the filter designs, I also saw a way to get to a more stable and precise acquisition delay for the LTC2400. The delay is now dynamically calculated.

Because I needed to save the calibration factor for the voltage reference, I needed to store a floating point number in the EEPROM. Turns out, the library we already used has that feature, so I could clean-up more of the code, and send two more functions from the original code into the bit-bucket.

My dual-button press now drives the zero calibration with a short press, and a long press enters the reference calibration.

With all these changes and loop tuning, the main loop time is now about 165mS, so the display is very responsive.

V3.11 update:
I found a bug in the filter calculation, based on a rounding error. This is caused by dividing a long by a float, and the result going into a long again. The solution was to use a float as the result. The compounded rounding error caused the filter result to be a little bit below the raw averaged input level.

The difference between the filter result after 1000 samples, and the calculated median value in Excel is now very, very small.

I also added the filter weight exponent multiplier to the display.

V3.12 update:
Because the linearity of the meter was not as good as I had hoped, I created a way to measure the output value of the ADR4540B chip, and updated that factor in the code. To measure that voltage with my still un-calibrated meter, I first calibrated the meter with my 5V0 reference, to get as close as possible to the voltage of the ADR4540 output. In order to do that, I created a special cal function for all my reference voltages. Now you can select any of them, just update the cal factors in the code.

Calibration Procedure [updated july 2020]
There are three, optionally four parts that need to be performed to fully calibrate the meter. Before you start with this section, you need to update the firmware with the actual calibration data of your voltage reference. There are Constants (cal_XXv_ref) in the firmware to add them. These values will be used to get a higher accuracy. You also need to start with the reference voltage (v-ref) set at the typical 4.09600V.

Note: There is provision in the setup function in the firmware to force the storage entry of initial values in the EEPROM.

1. The Null Calibration
With the Null Calibration, the zero Volt level of the meter is adjusted. This will eliminate any voltage difference between the positive ADC input and ground. To prepare the meter for the Null Calibration, short the two input terminals together with a short cable.  Before you run this calibration, allow the meter to warm-up for about 15-30 minutes. You can then invoke the Null Calibration by a short press of the cal button.

The display will show "Zero Calibrate" on the first line and "Short the input" on the second. After 3 seconds the adjustment starts. The meter will take 75 samples (Constant cal_adj_samples) and that number is shown on the display. The samples are averaged and the result is stored into the EEPROM. The result is shown on the display after which the meter starts with the normal operation again. This obtained Zero Cal value will be subtracted from all measured values from now on.

2. The Voltage Accuracy Calibration
The Voltage Accuracy Calibration is used to calibrate the meter against a Voltage Standard. This calibration assumes you have already performed the Null Calibration. There are several parts to perform the Voltage Accuracy Calibration.

The ADR4540B Reference Calibration
This is an optional step that can be performed to get the maximum accuracy. The ADR4540B reference outputs a typical voltage of 4.096V. However, this has some tolerance as you can see in the datasheet. To accommodate for the tolerances, we can record the true output value and use that in our voltage calculations to get a higher precision.

This step only needs to be done once after you have built the meter, and afterwards maybe every year to accommodate for aging. You first need to measure the output voltage of the ADR4540B reference and add that value to a Constant (v_ref) in the firmware. If you have a high precision and accurate 6+ digit DMM, you can use that to measure the output of the reference and store the result as a Constant (v_ref) in the firmware. I soldered a test point to the PCB to allow me to connect test leads to measure this typical 4.096V reference voltage.

If you do not have access to such a precision meter, you can use the Micro-Volt meter itself to do that as well. This is a bit more cumbersome, but can be done. To measure the true value of the reference, you first need to calibrate the meter against a 5V reference. The 5V reference is very close to the typical 4.096 reference Voltage, so the precision is optimal. The firmware has provisions for all major Voltage levels the most common references have. I have included separate routines in the firmware to calibrate the meter against 4 reference Voltages, 2.5, 5.0, 7.5 and 10.0V.

To measure the ADR4550B, you need to activate the 5V reference function in the firmware by activating the Ref_Cal_Adjust5() function in the Button_press function. You also need to add the calibration values of the Voltage Calibrator as Constants (cal_XXv_ref) in the firmware.

You also need to set the Voltage level of the reference into the Constant (v_ref). Start with a value of 4.09600V.

Before you start this special calibration, close the lid and connect the meter to the Voltage Reference that is set to the 5V output. Let the meter and the Voltage reference warm-up for about 30min to an hour. Start the Accuracy Calibration by performing a long press of the cal. button. The first line of the display will list the Calibration Voltage "5.0V-Ref Cal" and on the second line "Connect V-Ref. After 3 seconds, the meter will start to measure the Voltage 75 times (Constant cal_adj_samples) and shows this number on the display. The averaged result is then calculated by using the value of the reference that still has 4.09600Volt and the difference between the measured result and the value entered in cal_XXv_ref is stored in the EEPROM. This value is now used in the voltage calculation as you can see in the firmware.

With the meter now calibrated towards the 5V reference, you can now measure the voltage of the ADR4540B reference. I'm assuming that the meter has still been properly warmed-up. To perform this measurement, open the lid, connect the leads of the meter to the ADR4540B reference, and close the lid as much as possible. Let the meter reading stabilize for several minutes and record the measured value. This value can now be entered as the new v_ref in the firmware. I have two values in the firmware because I have two meters, meterA and meterB.

3. Voltage Accuracy Calibration
After you have entered the true reference value result in the firmware, run the 5V Calibration again. The resulting value will now be calculated with the actual v-ref value, and stored in the EEPROM. If you want to be very precise, you can measure the ADR4550B again, update the v-ref number, and run yet another 5V Calibration to get the optimum calibration. The meter is now ready to be used.

It should be clear by now that you should not re-calibrate the meter all the time. If you entered the Accuracy Calibration step by accident, by pressing the button for too long, turn off the meter before the result gets entered into the EEPROM, otherwise you have to perform the whole procedure with the Voltage Reference again. There is no need to redo the ADR4540B reference again, so you can skip this step.

4. Final Calibration
After I calibrated my two meters, I tried to calibrate them with all 4 available calibration voltages, 2.5V, 5.0V, 7.5V and 10.0V. I found that I had the best linearity result by using the 10V0 reference calibration.

After I performed the 10V calibration, the overall linearity turned out to be the best:

Reference Voltage     Measured Voltage     Delta                   %
2.49993 V                  2.49953 V                  -400uV           -0.016%
5.00181 V                  5.001515 V                -295uV          +0.059%
7.50547 V                  7.50534 V                 -130uV           +0.0017%
10.00673 V                10.00672 V                -10uV            +0.00001%

That is good enough for me. If I have a need to really measure very precise in the sub-volt range, I can still do the 2.5V calibration to improve the linearity at these lower voltages.

Using a trick to measure with an offset
The LTC chip can actually measure an input range of +/- 12.5% of the reference voltage, so what you can do with this feature is to null the meter not with a short, but with the voltage you want to monitor, say a 2.5V reference at the input. In that case, the reading of the meter starts at 2.5V and shows the difference on the display based on the 2.5V. With this trick, you can then measure voltages like the drift with micro Volt resolution over time. (this includes the drift of the meter itself as well of course, but still)

Latest firmware
The firmware can be found and downloaded from my Github site: :

I am sure you will enjoy this tool as much as I do!

Have fun!

[Update: June 2020]

Adding a logging Facility
For another project I'm working on, I needed a method to log the measured values of the meter, and later display them in a graph. I have added a new version of the firmware (V3.13) on the Github site that already has some changes to the firmware to start to do that. With the new version, the measured values are output in micro volts every second at the serial out pins of the Arduino, and can be seen and logged when you use the Arduino IDE and the Serial monitor. To add timestamps to the measurements, you can invoke the "Show timestamp" feature of the Arduino IDE Serial Monitor. A simple copy and paste of this data to an Excel file allows you to analyze the data and create a graph from it.

Here is a graph of measuring the voltage of an AA 1.5V battery cell. With 6 decimal digits, the meter displays down to 1 micro-Volt. At this level of sensitivity, the slightest changes in temperature or even air movement will have a noticeable effect. Keep the lid on the meter and don't wave your arms in excitement!

This graph is the output of my Siglent SPD3303 power supply set at 5.000V.  This shows a drift of about 150 micro Volt over a period of 1 hour.

This is a graph of one of my references, on the 5V setting. Note the micro Volt sensitivity again. The number of decimal digits can bet set in the firmware, or dropped from the collected values by an Excel formula.

I made the same measurement (not at the same time) using my 80.000 count 4-1/2 digit DMM, a Vichi VC8145 using the logging software from Dick Grier. link to software
He and I worked together to make it a little better. Note that the calibration of the meter after 4 years is a little off.

To me, this clearly shows the additional value the extra digits of the milli-Volt meter adds, and why I wanted to build the milli-Volt meter in the first place.

So how much noise and drift is coming from the meter itself? I nulled the meter, and while the shorting lead between the input terminals stayed connected, I measured the resulting input drift and noise. Over a period of about 30 minutes, I measured between +4 and -2 micro-Volt of noise, but no drift.

These graphs show how good this DIY meter is. This is a testament to the parts used, the design and the board layout of this meter. You will be hard pressed to get this level of sensitivity and accuracy in commercial products, unless you are prepared to pay hundreds of Euro's.

This logging software addition is the bare minimum because to make it really usable and safe, I need to add an optical separation of the meter and the PC or whatever device you use that collects the data. The reason is that by connecting a serial to USB cable from the meter (the Arduino) to the other device you could possibly connect the DUT to earth ground, and that defeats the battery operated meter function. It also no longer allows you to make floating measurements when the meter is on battery power. Having no optical separation could be unsafe too! Know what you're doing and be aware...

Optical Isolation
I have finished the hardware for the optical isolation section. The simple circuit is as follows:

I have tried this circuit with 9600 baud and it works very well with these components. If you decide to use other optical isolators, you may have to tweak the emitter resistor values. Keep them as low as possible to keep the rise times in check.

If that still poses a speed problem, there is a nice circuit addition that the late Bob Pease (Lineair Technology) designed (look in his book Troubleshooting analog circuits) that uses one additional transistor to speed-up the rise times. I tried that, just for fun, and even without the positive feedback resistor R8 which would improve the fall-time even further. The circuit works very well, but is an overkill for this application at 9600 baud.

Below is the isolation circuit I added to the DMM.
The connections on the left side go straight to the pins on the Arduino Pro Mini. The connections on the right side go to a serial to USB convertor board. There are several versions of these boards around, and they only cost a few Euro's. You need them to program the Arduino Pro Mini anyway. The particular one I used has a feature to let it work with 3V3 and 5V systems, selected by a jumper.

I have de-soldered the USB connector from the serial to USB board, and added header pins to the 4 connections. From these 4 header pins, I go to a USB cable that ends in an isolated USB micro chassis part that is mounted on the back panel.
The cable can be ordered here : panelmount  There are versions with stripped wires and with connectors, which is what I ordered. The cable shield is available to connect it to ground.


I implemented a fully bi-directional optical interface with the intend to also program the Arduino with this setup. Unfortunately, I can't get it to work. This means that you could eliminate the receiver circuit around VO1 and only let the Arduino send data.
I don't have the DTR connection on my setups, so there is no automatic restart of the Arduino when the downloads starts. I always have to press the reset button as soon as the script starts to download. That cannot be the problem though.

I have tried to figure out why it does not work, also looked all over the web, but I was unsuccessful. If any of you know what to do to make it work, please chime in.

Final test run

To test the logging feature, I used one of my voltage references again. The reference was set at 2.5V because that is also the intended voltage level on a device I need to test, a GPSDO. The calibration of the 2.5V was written on the reference to be 2.49993V at the time, now a few years ago. I did not let the units warm-up, after switching them on I started logging right away. Here are the results:

The logging of the voltage was every second and started at 8:43 in the morning. At 2.125 seconds (around 9:18), there was a rather "large" glitch of a few 100 micro-Volts that lasted about 200 seconds. On the right is a more detailed graph. Unfortunately, I have no idea what caused it. Was it the reference, or was it the DMM? I was not running on batteries, so it could have been the mains voltage. Who knows...

In any case, you can see the voltage very slowly moving up until about 20.000 seconds, when there was a wriggle of a few micro-Volts, and after that it stabilized. I started with a voltage of 2.499515 and stopped 8 hours later with a voltage of 2.499635. The room temperature increased because the sun was out. This may have been the cause of the slow increase. I did not keep track of the temperature when I recorded this. With these sensitivities, you really need to.


The setup of the voltmeter and the reference shows no significant drift, the measured voltage moved up by a mere 120 micro-Volt over a period of 8 hours and is therefore very stable over a very long period of time. This test proved and showed exactly what I needed to know before I started to apply it to my intended application. I just hope the glitch never happens again, ruining a long measurement.


BTW, I sold one of my two units, and I still have one bare PCB available for sale (5 Euros + S&H). Contact me if you're interested.

If you like what you see, please support me by buying me a coffee: