algorithm Arduino software

PWM on any I/O Pin

PWM today is used in most forms of finite control in electronic devices. LED dimmers and DC motor speed control are two common applications for PWM.

An Arduino Uno has 14 digital I/O pins, of which just six specific pins are hardware PWM-enabled ,but in some situations it would be great to be able to use any I/O pin for PWM. This is possible using AVR timers and interrupts.

Pulse Width Modulation

Pulse width modulation (PWM) is a method of reducing the average power delivered by an electrical digital signal by chopping it up into discrete parts. The average voltage and current available to the load are controlled by turning the signal on and off at a fast rate (square wave).

The duty cycle  of a PWM signal is the proportion of ‘on’ time to signal’s total time, given as a percentage. A 50% duty cycle is what is commonly called a ‘square’ wave. The longer the signal is ‘on’ compared ‘off’, the higher the total power that can be supplied to the load.

Most microcontrollers have PWM generation hardware built into the processor’s output pins. For 8-bit PWM common on AVR microcontrollers, the duty cycle is controlled by a number between 0 and 255 (0% and 100%).

Why create PWM in software?

The Arduino Uno and Nano use the same processor and have six hardware PWM pins (3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11). However some of these pins also have very useful alternate functions:

PinAlternate Use
3External Interrupt
10SPI SS (default)

So, if an application requires two external interrupts (pins 2 and 3) and an SPI interface (pins 10, 11, 12, 13), there are really only three remaining PWM-capable pins available for additional control. Sometimes this is not enough.

As an example, for two DC motors with a PWM controller, 4 PWM signals are required. In this case we don’t have enough hardware PWM pins to get the job done (see this previous post about Motor Controllers). It would be really useful to have PWM available on more I/O pins.

One solution is to change processor hardware to one with more PWM pins. Another is to create a software solution to toggle any output pin at the desired PWM frequency and duty cycle.

The downside of the software option is that the CPU is used to monitor the time signal and create the PWM digital output, taking processing time away from other tasks. However, at low PWM frequencies, this should be a manageable issue.

Implementing Software PWM

The MD_PWM library implements user defined frequency PWM output for any digital pin software, limited to 300Hz. The limit is a practical solution to the problem of excessive resource being devoted to processing interrupts and is defined as a constant value in the library, easily changed if needed.

This library implementation is for AVR processors (specifically Atmel328P processors found on Uno and Nano boards). It uses either TIMER1 or TIMER2 to implement an interrupt driven clock off which the PWM signal is generated. The library should work on other Arduino boards (eg, MEGA) with slight modifications, but using it for non-AVR architectures would need extensive rework.

In the Arduino libraries, TIMER0 is used by the Arduino millis() clock, TIMER1 is commonly used by the Servo library and TIMER2 by the Tone library. So, to retain flexibility, the a #define USE_TIMER at the top of the library header file is used to select which hardware timer is used (1 or 2).

As TIMERn is a global resource, each object instance of the class must be driven from the same TIMERn interrupt. The method for sharing this interrupt amongst class instances was described in this previous post.

In this software implementation of 8-bit PWM, the TIMERn frequency is set for 255 times the target PWM frequency (eg, 200Hz becomes 200*255=51kHz). This causes the TIMERn ISR to be called 255 times for each PWM cycle.

By keeping count of how many clock cycles have passed, the software can determine when to set the PWM output pin to HIGH or LOW, thus creating the desired PWM signal. This is illustrated in the figure above.

The duty cycle can be changed very smoothly by changing the set point at which the digital transition occurs. The new duty cycle takes effect at the next PWM digital transition.

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