Measure a Bipolar Signal with an Arduino Board

Arduino is a popular family of open source microcontroller boards. Hobbyists, students and engineers all over the world use this platform to quickly design and prototype a microcontroller driven circuit. One of its interfaces with the analog world is the ADC. Since these boards are mostly designed around an ATMEL ATmega32 or ATmega168 microcontroller, the ADC has 8 inputs and 10-bit resolution, making it suitable for many applications.

From time to time I receive a message through my Contact page with the question, how to interface a sensor, or an outside circuit with the Arduino ADC? In most cases the answer is an interface between a bipolar circuit and the Arduino board. As the bipolar circuit output varies from some negative to a positive level, the Arduino ADC cannot measure this signal directly, because the ADC inputs can only be between 0V and the reference voltage.

In one of these messages a reader asked me how to build an interface between a board that has an output voltage of -2.5V to +2.5V and the Arduino ADC. He told me that the Arduino reference voltage is AVCC = 5V. He would like to measure the +/-2.5V signal with the Arduino board and direct the microcontroller to take some action based on the result.

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Using the Summing Amplifier as an Average Amplifier

Sometimes people ask how can one use a summing amplifier as an average amplifier. The answer is simple, provided that one knows what kind of average one needs.

The summing amplifier can output the average of two, three or more signals. This is different than a signal average. The summing amplifier cannot, for example, output the average of a triangle signal. For that, you need an integrator to perform the average in the analog realm, or you need to sample the signal and calculate the average with a microcontroller. This type of average is the signal average in the time domain. I will write an article about the average of a signal in a near future.

In this post I will show you how to average two or more signals with a summing amplifier. In How to Derive the Summing Amplifier Transfer Function I wrote that the summing amplifier shown in Figure 1

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A Summing and Differential Amplifier with One Op Amp

In a comment, one of my readers asked me what is the transfer function of the non-inverting summing amplifier in Figure 1, when R3 is connected to a reference voltage instead of ground.  Well, this is a summing amplifier with a differential configuration.

Figure 1

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Design a Bipolar to Unipolar Converter with a 3-input Summing Amplifier

Since the publication of Design a Bipolar to Unipolar Converter to Drive an ADC, several readers contacted me with requests to help in solving their particular converter. The common problem they had was the fact that the components’ calculation resulted in a negative value for at least one resistor.

To provide a solution, first we need to understand the root cause of the problem. Let’s take one of the circuits I received and analyze it.

The reader wrote that he would like to drive an ADC with the input range of 0 to 2.5V from a signal with the range of –5V to +5V, connected at V1 (see Figure 1).

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Summing Amplifier Calculator

Bipolar to Unipolar Converter Example

The calculator solves the summing amplifier resistors based on the input and output voltage range requirements. It is a great tool to design a bipolar to unipolar converter, as an example and other circuits.

Enter the input range, Vin1 to Vin2, the output range, Vout1 to Vout2 and a reference voltage Vref which helps in adjusting the common-mode level of the amplifier. Since the 2-input summing amplifier has 4 resistors, you need to choose two resistors, R1 and R3, and calculate R2 and R4. For more details about this calculator read How to Design a Summing Amplifier Calculator.

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How to Design a Summing Amplifier Calculator

Several articles in this website describe the Summing Amplifier.  In one of these articles, Solving the Summing Amplifier, I showed a numeric method to design a non-inverting summing amplifier based on its input and output voltage range requirements.

This article shows how to design a summing amplifier calculator and the mathematical relations it uses.  You can find the calculator here:

JavaScript Summing Amplifier Calculator

Type the input voltage range, output range, a reference voltage and a choice of two resistors.  The calculator gives you the answer for the remaining two resistors.  The default values are for a bipolar to unipolar converter, which is explained in Design a Bipolar to Unipolar Converter to Drive an ADC.

What are the underlying equations?

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Bipolar to Unipolar Converters Based on a Summing Amplifier Configuration

In a previous article, Design a Bipolar to Unipolar Converter to Drive an ADC, I presented a method for designing a bipolar to unipolar converter using a summing amplifier. In this article I am going to show more examples of bipolar to unipolar converters which are based on a summing amplifier configuration. You can adapt them to your needs if you use the method I described in the previous article.

Input -1V to +1V, Output 0V to +5V, Reference voltage +5V

bipolar_to_unipolar_-1v_1v_to_0v_5v_1

Figure 1

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