Skip to main content

The Joy of Bit-Banging

One of the joys of doing things with microcontrollers is the ability to bit-bang: to simulate the serial interface to a device so it can be controlled by the microcontroller without special hardware. The digital I/O pins on microcontrollers are ideal for interfacing to a variety of serial devices.

For example, I've used software controlled serial to connect to various things...

1. A Lassen IQ GPS module as part of my high-altitude balloon flight. The code is here and used a software serial interface to communicate with Lassen's binary TSIP protocol.

2. On the same flight I bit-banged an interface to a DS1821 temperature sensor. This was typical of many small devices where the serial interface is entirely controlled (including the clock signal) by the microcontroller. Details here.

3. A string of addressable RGB LED Christmas lights for my home made 7x7 display. The code for that serial protocol is here.

4. Yesterday, I blogged about interfacing to an optical mouse sensor using this code.

Microcontrollers can also be used for other software signal generation quite successfully:

1. On my high-altitude balloon flight the 50 baud RTTY radio signal was generated in software using two digital pins.

2. And in my games console in a can, software was used to generate a PAL or NTSC television signal.

If you want to get into using microcontrollers like this I recommend you get a logic analyzer that lets you spy on the signals being used and generated. I have a Salae Logic which is very, very handy.

Here's a screenshot of the logic analyzer looking at the GE Color Effects 50 Christmas lights used in the 7x7 display.

There tend to be only three things to worry about when bit-banging: the timing of signals, whether any pull up or pull down is needed on the lines and the voltage level of the logic being used.

The big disadvantage of not using specialized interface hardware is that your microcontroller spends time on the communication because it has to generate the signal; in my home projects that's vastly outweighed by the advantage of just being able to hook up directly to some digital I/O pins and get on with the project.


Popular posts from this blog

How to write a successful blog post

First, a quick clarification of 'successful'. In this instance, I mean a blog post that receives a large number of page views. For my, little blog the most successful post ever got almost 57,000 page views. Not a lot by some other standards, but I was pretty happy about it. Looking at the top 10 blog posts (by page views) on my site, I've tried to distill some wisdom about what made them successful. Your blog posting mileage may vary. 1. Avoid using the passive voice The Microsoft Word grammar checker has probably been telling you this for years, but the passive voice excludes the people involved in your blog post. And that includes you, the author, and the reader. By using personal pronouns like I, you and we, you will include the reader in your blog post. When I first started this blog I avoid using "I" because I thought I was being narcissistic. But we all like to read about other people, people help anchor a story in reality. Without people your bl

Your last name contains invalid characters

My last name is "Graham-Cumming". But here's a typical form response when I enter it: Does the web site have any idea how rude it is to claim that my last name contains invalid characters? Clearly not. What they actually meant is: our web site will not accept that hyphen in your last name. But do they say that? No, of course not. They decide to shove in my face the claim that there's something wrong with my name. There's nothing wrong with my name, just as there's nothing wrong with someone whose first name is Jean-Marie, or someone whose last name is O'Reilly. What is wrong is that way this is being handled. If the system can't cope with non-letters and spaces it needs to say that. How about the following error message: Our system is unable to process last names that contain non-letters, please replace them with spaces. Don't blame me for having a last name that your system doesn't like, whose fault is that? Saying "Your

The Elevator Button Problem

User interface design is hard. It's hard because people perceive apparently simple things very differently. For example, take a look at this interface to an elevator: From flickr Now imagine the following situation. You are on the third floor of this building and you wish to go to the tenth. The elevator is on the fifth floor and there's an indicator that tells you where it is. Which button do you press? Most people probably say: "press up" since they want to go up. Not long ago I watched someone do the opposite and questioned them about their behavior. They said: "well the elevator is on the fifth floor and I am on the third, so I want it to come down to me". Much can be learnt about the design of user interfaces by considering this, apparently, simple interface. If you think about the elevator button problem you'll find that something so simple has hidden depths. How do people learn about elevator calling? What's the right amount of