Proper Larson Scanner with Software PWM (Repost)

Add some persistence and use more Arduino pins

proper larson scanner

Last week I had a detailed Arduino tutorial on software pulse width modulation using millis() and micros(). Why? Because I wanted to create a Proper Larson Scanner, with persistence and at least 8 LEDs.

KITT larson scanner example

From Amazon

Even though it is a popular project for the Arduino Uno, most Larson scanner tutorials, like my first one, have a few flaws. First, there is no persistence, or tail, to the LED as it moves back and forth. Persistence could be solved by using pulse-width-modulation. The Uno and other 328p-based micros only have 6 Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) pins. And let’s be honest, every project is made better by adding more LEDs. 🙂

If you look at this cover shot of KITT from Knight Rider you will see there isn’t just a single light source. It appears multiple lights are turned on, as well as fading effect. This fading effect creates a tail. Of course, the reason is probably that standard light bulbs were being used back in the 80s. Traditional light bulbs don’t turn on or off nearly as fast as LEDs.

Presenting the Proper Larson Scanner

Knowing that a popular Halloween hack is to add Cylon (or KITT) lights to your pumpkins, I thought it was time for a Proper Larson Scanner. This code example does a couple of important things.

  1. It implements my “software pulse width modulation.”
  2. Can be used on all 20 I/O pins of an Uno (or other 328p Arduino)
  3. Does not use any delay()s!

So if you want to make your pumpkin even more Cylon-like this Halloween, check out this full tutorial on a proper Larson scanner.

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Arduino Software PWM with millis()

Use pulse width modulation on any Arduino pin

software PWM code example line by line

The Arduino Uno has six pins dedicated to Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). PWM is great for analog-like control for the speed of motors or LED fading. But what if you want to control more than 6 devices? Or what if you’re using the PWM pins to control servo motors, but still want to fade an LED on a 7th pin?

One option is to change boards and processors. For example, you could move up to the Arduino Mega 2560. That means a bigger board and more cost.

Using millis() and micros(), it is possible to do PWM entirely in software. The best part is; if you can set the pin to OUTPUT, you can use this technique.

This tutorial will explain how you can use micros() and millis() to get more PWM pins on an Arduino Uno, Nano, or Pro Mini. It will probably work on other boards and processor types, but I haven’t tested them yet.

There’s a reason I needed this software PWM code. Subscribe to the mailing list, RSS feed, or follow me on social media to see why next week…

Apologies to the email subscribers if the code isn’t formatted correctly. Click here to read the full post.

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How Arduino digitalWrite Works – and why AVR is Faster

Crash Bang Prototypes

Arduino digitalWrite speedPreviously I looked at the speed difference between digitalWrite and direct port manipulation. It was a chance to check out a Saleae Logic Analyzer. Andrew at !Crash-Bang Prototyping took the analysis a step further. He broke down what is going on inside of digitalWrite().

This study is useful. When you’re ready to move beyond the Arduino IDE or the core functions, you can decide if you need your own version of digitalWrite().

Check out !Crash-Bang Prototyping’s “How Arduino digitalWrite Works – and why AVR is Faster“.

The latest AddOhms looks at why you need a pull-up resistor when using push-buttons. This video goes into what happens when you leave a pin floating, what a floating pin means, and how the pull-up actually works. You can get more information about the video on the AddOhms Episode page.

This is the 2nd time I’ve made a video on pull-ups. Despite being a single resistor, it can be a difficult topic for new hardware designers to understand. The pull-up video was the first video tutorial I ever made. In fact, the YouTube version uses YouTube’s “stabilization” algorithm, which gives the video a very warped feel.

AddOhms #15 shows improvements in skill over the past couple of years!

Question: What’s another topic that I need to cover in an AddOhms Tutorial? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Microcontroller state machine with enum tutorial


Flag variables are great, and totally not evil, when you just have two states: ON or OFF. What about when you have multiple states? Is there an option better than creating multiple flag variables?

The C-language has a declaration type just for this purpose. It is called an enumeration, or enum.

Setting up a state machine with enum is a surprisingly simple. Arduino and embedded programmers should use them!

All you need to do is create descriptive tag names, and let the compiler assign them an integer value. Unlike a #define which is just a macro replacement, the compiler treats an enum as your personal variable type.

This behavior comes in handy when you’re creating states for a state machine. I show how to create a simple state machine with enum, to blink an LED with millis(), in this post.

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Benchmarking Arduino’s digitalWrite() with a Logic Analyzer

Just how fast is digitalWrite()?

digitalWrite with Logic and Arduino Uno

Recently I picked up a device called Logic from Saleae. It’s a 4-channel USB-based logic analyzer. While learning how the simple, but effective, UI works I ran some timing benchmarks on my Arduino Uno. The subject? digitalWrite(). I wanted to know how fastdigitalWrite() could turn on two (or more) pins.

Almost all Arduino users start out with the simple “blink” sketch. Turn pin 13 ON, delay, turn it OFF, and delay again. The heart of this version of “Hello World!” is the digitalWrite() function. Many Arduino users never even think about all of the stuff this single function call hides.

In this post, let’s compare the speed of digitalWrite() to direct port manipulation, using a logic analyzer.

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Flag variables are not evil (for Microcontrollers)

Non-embedded programs shield your ears: flag variables are good

Fun With Flag Variables

Getting programming questions answered on the internet can be problematic. Programmers love to have opinions, stick to those ideas, and express them to you even when their opinion has nothing to do with your question(s).

Not only am I going to explain how to use flag variables in your code, I am going to encourage their use—which most programmers avoid.

However, this advice comes with two caveats.

  1. This information only applies to limited resource environments like an Arduino, LaunchPad or PIC.
  2. Use flag variables very carefully when you do use them.

The following flag variable usage examples are Arduino-centric but apply to any microcontroller platform, including the Energia project for TI Launchpads.

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Which Arduino Starter Kit is the Best?

Need an electronics kit? Check out these 4 options.

Which Arduino Starter Kit is Best

The other day my friend called me up. He told me how much he missed building circuits and wanted to start again with the Arduino.

So he asked me “which Arduino starter kit is the best to buy?” At which point, I drew a long breath. Easy question, not always an easy answer.

Picking out an electronics kit depends on a number of factors. You should consider:

  1. Your budget
  2. What you already have
  3. What you want to do

#1 and #2 are probably pretty easy to figure out. For many beginners, it’s “not much” and “nothing.” When you don’t know #3, what you want to do, then it gets trickier. Coming back to my friend, what did I do? Well, I went out and bought each one of the kits in this post. I put myself in his shoes and maybe these are your shoes as well.

Assuming you have about $100 to spend, have no components on-hand now and just want to “get started” consider one of these 4 Arduino starter kits.

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Pushbutton and Flashing LED tutorial with millis()

push button, led, millis, bread board

How to blink (or flash) a LED without delay() and detect button pushes

One of the limitations of the delay() function is that nothing else can really be done. This presents a problem when you want to flash a LED while waiting for a pushbutton to be pressed.

Flashing the LED with millis() and using a flag variable to find if the LED should be flashing solves this problem.

Consider this another example to my virtual millis() cookbook.

This code (below) should work with both Arduino (AVR) and Energia (supported boards), but to be honest, I haven’t had a chance to test it on my MSP430 yet.

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