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14.7 Analog-to-Digital Converters
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Computers are binary devices: their digital data is composed of strings of 0s and 1s, strung together to construct meaningful information. But the real world is analog, where data can be almost any value, with literally millions of values between none and lots ! Analog-to-digital conversion is a system that takes analog information and translates it into a digital, or more precisely binary, format suitable for your robot. Many of the sen-
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14.7 ANALOG-TO-DIGITAL CONVERTERS
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sors you will connect to the robot are analog in nature. These include temperature sensors, microphones and other audio transducers, variable output tactile feedback (touch) sensors, position potentiometers (the angle of an elbow joint, for example), light detectors, and more. With analog-to-digital conversion you can connect any of them to your robot. There are a number of ways to construct an analog-to-digital converter, including successive approximation, single slope, delta-sigma, and flash. For the most part, you will not have to understand how the different ADCs work other than being able to read the data sheet and understand how they interface to the analog input and robot controller and how long the analog-to-digital conversion process takes.
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14.7.1 HOW ANALOG-TO-DIGITAL CONVERSION WORKS
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Analog-to-digital conversion (ADC) works by converting analog values into their binary equivalents. In most cases, low analog values (like a weak light striking a photodetector) might have a low binary equivalent, such as 1 or 2. But a high analog value might have a high binary equivalent, such as 255 or even higher. The ADC circuit will convert small changes in analog values into slightly different binary numbers. The smaller the change in the analog signal required to produce a different binary number, the higher the resolution of the ADC circuit. The resolution of the conversion depends on both the voltage span (0 to 5 V is most common) and the number of bits used for the binary value. Suppose the signal spans 10 V, and 8 bits (or a byte) are used to represent various levels of that voltage. There are 256 possible combinations of 8 bits, which means the span of 10 V will be represented by 256 different values. Given 10 V and 8 bits of conversion, the ADC system will have a resolution of 0.039 V (39 mV) per step. Obviously, the resolution of the conversion will be finer the smaller the span or the higher the number of bits. With a 10-bit conversion, for instance, there are 1024 possible combinations of bits, or roughly 0.009 V (9 mV) per step.
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14.7.2 INSIDE THE SUCCESSIVE APPROXIMATION ADC
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Perhaps the most commonly used analog-to-digital converter is the successive approximation approach, which is a form of systematized 20 questions. The ADC arrives at the digital equivalent of any input voltage within the expected range by successively dividing the voltage ranges by two, narrowing the possible result each time. Comparator circuits within the ADC determine if the input value is higher or lower than a built-in reference value. If higher, the ADC branches toward one set of binary values; if lower, the ADC branches to another set. While this sounds like a roundabout way, the entire process takes just a few microseconds. One disadvantage of successive approximation (and some other ADC schemes) is that the result may be inaccurate if the input value changes before the conversion is complete. For this reason, most modern analog-to-digital converters employ a built-in sample-andhold circuit (usually a precision capacitor and resistor) that temporarily stores the value until conversion is complete.
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14.7.3 ANALOG-TO-DIGITAL CONVERSION ICS
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You can construct analog-to-digital converter circuits using discrete logic chips basically a string of comparators strung together. An easier approach is a special-purpose ADC integrated circuit. These chips come in a variety of forms besides conversion method (e.g., successive approximation, discussed in the last section).
Single or multiplexed input. Single-input ADC chips, such as the ADC0804, can accept only one analog input. Multiplexed-input ADC chips, like the ADC0809 or the ADC0817, can accept more than one analog input (usually 4, 8, or 16). The control circuitry on the ADC chip allows you to select the input you wish to convert. Bit resolution. The basic ADC chip has an eight-bit resolution (the ADC08xx ICs discussed earlier are all eight bits). Finer resolution can be achieved with 10-bit and more chips, but they are not widely used or required in robotics. Parallel or serial output. ADCs with parallel outputs provide separate data lines for each bit. (Ten and higher bit converters may still only have eight data lines; the converted data must be read in two passes.) Serial output ADCs have a single output, and the data is sent one bit at a time. Serial output ADCs are handy when used with microcontrollers and single-board computers, where input/output lines can be scarce. In the most common scheme, a program running on the microcontroller or computer clocks in the data bits one by one in order to reassemble the converted value. The ADC08xx chips have parallel outputs; the 12-bit LTC1298 has a serial output.
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