Arduino Ultrasonic Anemometer Part 4: Testing the analog board

In this post I will go through the testing of the analog circuit and what I had to do to make it work properly. Click here for an overview over this series of posts on the anemometer project:

A first, basic test setup.

Ok, so the the analog board is finally ready and all the components have been soldered into place. Time to see if it works as expected. My test setup looked as follows: I’ve programmed an Arduino (a Mega as you can see in the background, I didn’t have a Uno at that time but it doesn’t matter for what I’m doing here) to output 15 pulses at 40kHz from one of its pins (followed by a break of a few milliseconds). That pin was connected to one of the pins of a transducer while the other transducer pin was grounded. A second transducer was placed accross from the first one in a 20cm distance. That’s the distance/size I’m planning to use in the final design as it keeps the wind meter nice and compact. One pin of that second transducer was grounded while the other one was connected to the amplifier input of the analog board. So there are only 2 transducers at this time. One constantly transmitting, the other constantly receiving. Software is also minimal. Keep it simple for now, we’re just trying out the analog circuit.


Transmitted signal and amplifier in- and output.

Here we have the transmitted signal in red at the bottom left, together with the amplifier input (yellow), output of the first stage (green) and output of the second stage (purple). On the positive side, the received signal (amplifier input) is quite strong, around 350mV peak-to-peak. But the amplifier is barely working. At the output of the second stage we want a signal in the range of 5V pp but we get just a bit more than 700mV. We’re using a two-stage tuned amplifier and only double the signal amplitude. That’s hopeless.

As I’ve said in part 3, the root cause for this is my poor choice for the inductor/capacitor combination. 47uH or 330nF at 40kHz only give an impedance of 12 Ohms. Even with a decent Q-factor the impedance across the LC tank will never be high enough. I’d rather use something like 1mH / 15nF or 470uH / 33nF as as Carl did. But I didn’t have a inductor like that at hand so I had to change some other components to fix it.

First I changed the bypass capacitors (C5 and C10) from 100nF to 1uF. That makes the emitter ‘more grounded’ at signal frequencies (4 ohms instead of 40 ohms if you do the math). That did help but was not enough to save the show.

I then changed the emitter resistors (R8 and R13) from 330 ohms to only 47 ohms. The logic behind this is simple: The voltage across the LC tank is too small because the impedance is too low. Voltage is current times resistance (or impedance). I can’t change the impedance because I don’t have a suitable inductor so I have to increase the current. Changing the base resistors does just that.

Now I have plenty of gain at the price of a much-higher-than-planned quiescent current. Actually, gain was even a bit too high so I put in 15 ohms for R7 and R12 to slightly reducing the gain. Power consumption is not really a concern in this prototype so we’re fine for now. But if you’re going to build your own, use a big enough inductor in the first place and you won’t have to jerk up the current just to squeeze out enough gain.

Amplifier after fixing the gain

Amplifier input (yellow), output of the second stage(green) and output of the second stage (purple). Note the different scales of 200mV, 1V and 2V per division. As you can see, the gain’s fine now. We’re getting a bit more than 4 Volts of amplitude peak-to-peak which is just what we need.

Close-up of the amplifier signals

You can also see how much cleaner the output is compared to the input. The yellow signal has picked up quite a bit of noise gut the purple signal looks perfectly clean. That’s the benefit we get from the narrow bandwidth of the tuned amplifier. And that’s why you don’t want to just use an op-amp.

Envelope detector

Let’s turn to the envelope detector now. Fortunately this part worked right from the start but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. I’ve used a voltage divider of 1M and 47k (R14 and R15) to get a voltage of 2.2 Volts which just about compensates for the drop over the schottky diode D1. Maybe I’ll use an identical diode in my next design to get a voltage exactly one diode drop above ground.

Envelope before and after smoothing

Here we see the transmitted signal (red) together with the amplifier output (purple), the output of the diode / input of the low-pass filter (green) and the filter output (yellow). Note how the filter makes the stairs in the green signal disapear. That’s exactly its purpose.

I found the envelope to be a bit slow so I’ve changed the resistors R16 and R17 from 47k to 22k. Together with the 1nF caps (C15 and C16) that gives a -3db point of 7.2kHz. That makes the envelope quite a bit faster which means the rising edge will also be steeper. That makes it easier to precisely trigger on it, provided it is still smooth. Obviously you have to strike some balance here. Not sure if my values now are perfect but they definitely do work ok.

One problem I’ve encountered is that I get some nasty oscillations in the envelope if I turn up the gain too high (via the pot R1). Making the envelope faster has made it even worse. I’m not quite sure why that is. It’s my first time to work with a VCVS (voltage controlled voltage source) circuit such as this active filter. I might use two stages of simple op-amp buffers and RC filters in my next design. That means I’ll need an extra op amp but anyway. For now, I just have to be modest with the gain setting and everything is fine.

Envelope detector in action

This screenshot shows the envelope detector in action: Transmitted signal (red), amplifier output (purple), envelope (yellow) and output of the envelope detector (green). Note that this screenshot was taken before the changed cutoff frequency of the filter. The yellow curve is very smooth but doesn’t track the purple amplifier output very well. That’s why I thought it was a bit slow.

Close-up of the envelope detector triggering on the rising edge of the envelope

The green signal is the output of the comparator which is also the output of our envelope detector. It will be connected to the Arduino where it will trigger an interrupt and serve as a coarse measurement of the time-of-flight.

Zero-crossing detector

My zero-crossing detector is extremely simple. I set the inverting input of the comparator to half the supply rail by means of R23 and R24. The 100nF cap across R24 (C21) makes sure it stays there and doesn’t swing around itself. I bias the amplifier output to the very same 2.5 volts so I really trigger exactly when the sine wave crosses zero. R22 makes sure the non-inverting input to the comparator can swing freely and the input impedance is reasonably high.

Zero-crossing detector

Here we see the output of the amplifier / input to the zero-crossing detector (purple) together with the zero-crossing detector output. Everything seems to work fine. As expected, the detector also triggers on very small signals and potentially noise but that should not pose a problem.

Close-up of the zero-crossing detector input and output

These are the same two signals watched a bit more closely. You might notice that there is quite a bit of time delay from the actual zero-crossing to where the green signal changes. This won’t be a problem as long as the delay is constant but I’m planning to use a faster comparator in my next design. This one has a propagation delay of 8us according to its data sheet. You can get others that are two orders of magnitude faster for nearly the same price such as the MCP6561R with a propagation delay of only 80ns.

Temperature measurement

No surprises here. The output of the LM35 is 10mV per degree centigrade as expected and is amplified by a factor of 4.3 by the op amp. Can’t quite remember why I chose only 4.3, I might change that to 11 by changing R25 to 10k.

Next time I’ll go through the same kind of stuff for the digital circuit. Click here:

8 thoughts on “Arduino Ultrasonic Anemometer Part 4: Testing the analog board”

  1. Hi lfaessler,

    Why not using an active low-pass filter with an op-amp to filter and amplify signals instead of transistor?

    The number of component will be less or there is more to use transistors?

    1. Hi Leonardo

      I thought about using an op-amp for the amplifier stage. You’d probabely want a band-pass (like my transisor based one), not a low-pass.

      One option would be a Sallen-Key band-pass topology. It only needs one op-amp together with 5 resistors and 2 capacitors. On the downside, the filter quality Q and gain are not independent. You’d also need an op-amp with a dual supply, so you’ll need to power your op-amp from a +5v / -5v supply. To me, the hassle of needing a negative supply more than cancels the advantage of its simplicity.

      There’s another thing I thought about using: A state-variable active filter. They usually use 3 op-amps but there is also a variety with 4 op-amps that lets you adjust gain and Q independently, with a single resistor each. Could definitely be done, might work very well but I haven’t tried it. And it’s definitely not simpler.

      Actually, tuned common emitter amplifiers are easy to build. You may have noticed that I didn’t need a single via for my 2-stage amplifier. The signal routing is very simple, the signals never cross so you only need a single sided board. If you make your own boards like me, vias are always a pain in the butt because you have to solder pieces of wire through each of them.

      But if you feel like trying some op amps go ahead and let me know how they perform.

  2. I was thinking a op-amp (maybe rail-to-rail?) without cutting low frequencies (I hope there is little noise at f < 40khz) with a first-order active filter (only 3R + 1C).

    Also if signal is not so clean I think is possible to detect time-of-flight or I am wrong?

    Is so important Q for this application?

    PS: I make pcb with toner transfer 😉

    1. Hi Leonardo
      If you can make your own PCBs I’d suggest you go right ahead and try your design. I think it’s well worth trying. My signal looks clean after one stage with a Q factor in the range of 10-15 so you don’t need a very narrow bandwidth.
      Let me know your results if you’re going to build it. Looking forward to it.

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