Designing an Op-Amp Circuit to Detect LDR Pulses

data-slicer-osc

The Problem

I wanted to design a circuit to generate a nice digital pulse (for input to a microcontroller or the Raspberry Pi) every time an LDR is quickly obscured from ambient light – like for instance, when you pass your hand over it. I didn’t want to use the popular solution of reading the analog values, and processing it on the microcontroller (averaging, finding peaks, etc.), because this will take up valuable processing time, and I want to avoid lag as much as possible, by offloading this work to hardware.

So here are 3 attempts that I made, and the results.

Attempt #1: Use a Differentiator

When you pass your hand over an LDR (connected in the form of a resistor divider circuit), you get a signal with a little dip in it. To convert this signal to a peak, you can use the derivative. So my first attempt was to use an op-amp differentiator from Scherz’s book [1].

differentiator-osc

Here is what the output signals look like on an oscilloscope:

differentiator

So it works, we have a peak, but it’s a low voltage signal, and in any case, it’s not the clean digital signal I am looking for. Hence…

Attempt #2: Use a Differentiator + Comparator

If I feed the output of the circuit #1 to a comparator, it will swing to high when the differentiator outputs a peak.To avoid small noise triggering it, I am using a 1:100 resistor divider on the V- pin.

So here’s the modified circuit:

differentiator+comparator

Now here’s what the signals look like on a scope:

comparator-osc

Now that’s much better. This actually works very well – I am able to get this into the Raspberry Pi GPIO pins as a “rising” signal. (If you use it with the Pi, make sure you use a 3.3V supply and not a 5V supply to the op-amp – else you might damage your Pi.)

But apparently there is a better way of doing this…

Attempt #3: A “Data Slicer”

As expected, posting this on StackExchange [2] resulted in a more elegant solution which uses lesser number of components – a single op-amp, in fact. The idea is to use a “Data Slicer” op-amp circuit [3], in which the op-amp inputs are the signal (-) and the same signal with a low-pass filter (+), with a cut off around 1.6 Hz. The op-amp is wired as a comparator, which goes high whenever there is a difference in the inputs, which will happen when there is a dip in the LDR signal. The 1M pot is used to bias the default output to low when there is some noise.

Here is the circuit:

data-slicer-circuit

And here is the output:

data-slicer-osc

Fantastic! I guess you (can) learn something new every day. ;-)

References

  1. Practical Electronics for Inventors, 4th Ed by Paul Scherz & Simon Monk.
  2. My post on this topic at StackExchange/Electronics.
  3. “Data Slicer” section in Microchip document titled “PIC® MCU Comparator Tips ‘n Tricks”.

6 thoughts on “Designing an Op-Amp Circuit to Detect LDR Pulses”

    1. For a phototransistor, you’ll probably get a digital pulse anyway, if you are using a dedicated light source, and you obstruct the beam. Generally it is connected as follows: NPN: Base: no connection, Collector: resistor->+V, Emitter: GND, Output: collector. So when sufficient light falls on it, it will conduct, and the collector output will be LOW. When you obstruct the light, the output goes HIGH. This behavior is different from the LDR, in which the signal just dips from an ambient value when obstructed. This circuit is designed to work with varying amounts of ambient lighting, which is why I used an LDR. It cares only about the *change* in light levels, not the level itself.

  1. Great tutorial ! Thank you very much but I have a question : the circuit works with any light ? You just have to setup with the potentiometer ?

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