John L Errington MSc

John Errington's Experiments with an Arduino

Voltage measurement with the Arduino board (cont).

When measuring a voltage external to your system - for example logging computer power supply voltages - an accurate reference voltage is essential.  However when making measurements within your own system this may not be necessary.
Lets look at some different approaches.

1: measuring a proportion of the supply voltage

Here we have no problems. Suppose you are using a simple potentiometer type sensor, like you find in a joystick or gamepad. Moving the joystick moves a sliding contact that taps off a fraction Vp of the applied voltage (see diagram).

Suppose the potentiometer is set to 1/4 of its travel.  When the USB supply voltage is exactly 5V the voltage from the pot. will be
Vpot = 1/4 * 5V = 1.25V
Using the USB supply as reference this gives a reading of
n = 1.25V / 5V * 1024 = 256
If the USB supply falls to 4.40V the voltage from the pot changes to Vpot = 1/4 * 4.40 = 1.10V
Using the supply as reference this gives a reading of  
n = 1.10V / 4.40V * 1024 = 256.

You can see the value of the supply voltage has no effect on the sensor reading.

2:  measuring an external voltage against a reference voltage

We can use the same idea of a potentiometer to scale down voltages above the reference voltage so that the Arduino can measure them.  Here we DO need to use a voltage reference for good accuracy. The diagram shows an Arduino used to measure voltages in the range 0 - 10V

According to the data sheet
"The ADC is optimized for analog signals with an output impedance of 10k or less. .. . The user is recommended to only use low impedance sources with slowly varying signals, since this minimizes the required charge transfer to the S/H capacitor."  (2: 26.6.1)

This requirement is ONLY a concern if your measured voltage is changing rapidly (say more than 50Hz).

For this application we choose a divider network that will provide a source of around this impedance. (39k //15k = 11k)

Here we are using a 3.0V reference, which gives a current of (5V - 3V) / 5k6 = 360uA.

3V/32k = 94uA flows through the internal resistance of the Aref input, leaving 266uA for the reference.

3: measuring other external voltages

For positive voltages we use the same circuit as above, but simply change the divider chain. Lets design a circuit to measure in the range 0 - 30V. The divider needs to present a voltage of 0 - 3V at A0, so for a 30V input we will have 3V across R2 and 30 - 3 = 27V across R1. We need a ratio R1:R2 of 27:3, such that R1 // R2 = 10k.

Choosing R2 = 11k and R1 = 100k gives the range we need, with a source resistance of 9.9k

Acknowledgements: All diagrams drawn with MeeSoft Diagram Designer