Seven Segment Thermometer

Hey look, a project!

Overview of Thermometer + 7 segment display

Overview of Thermometer + 7 segment display

While I’m waiting for everything to align perfectly for my descent into robotics, I’ve built a thermometer for the dining room. Three times. I’ve now gotten it to some form of a stopping point.

Pieces and Parts

This uses:

  • 4x Common Anode 7 segment displays (got from Allied Electronics)
  • 2x A6276- a 16 bit constant current (sink) LED driver (from somewhere)
  • 2x 10k resistors
  • 1x DC Boarduino (from Adafruit)- Arduino clone intended for breadboarding use
  • 1x Prototyping PCB (fromĀ RadioShack)
  • 1x TMP36 (also from Adafruit)
  • More 22ga solid core hookup wire then I care to remember

The A6276 is pin compatable with the STP16C596, the apparent Arduino LED driver chip of choice. It was acquired in efforts to fix the legendary Proton LED sign- sadly (or fortunately) the chips on the sign were a different form factor, and the A6276’s were donated to my evil causes. The chips work as a constant current sink; when a pin is set high, it effectively opens a current limited channel to ground; when set low the pin is at high impedance.

The Boarduino was originally intended for use in a cable tester due to it’s awesome size (cable tester may be a different post… or just a set of images). Strange things happened with that, and it is now serving as an overpowered thermometer.

Displays of Seven Segments

Technically the displays are eight segments including the decimal. Which works out nicely for being driven from a 16 bit driver. This 4 digit display is the main reason that the thermometer is getting posted, and here’s why: I’m using a protoboard and 4 7-segment displays. There’s no direct/simple way to connect the LED driver’s to the pins of the displays. 32 pins need to be connected for the displays. 32 small wires. 64 solder joints. In a small space. I present: pain.

Pain Defined

Pain Defined

There’re probably also a great many samples of ‘bad soldering’ in that photo, but I’m ignoring that for now. Why? Because of this:

It Works!!!

It Works!!!

I’m 90% certain there is a much better way to do this (Possibly a 4 digit seven segment display?). But it works. And it is awesome.

The wiring for this part, other then being tedious and made of pain, isn’t complex. To prevent excess pain, I have the hookup wires always run parallel. What this functionally means is the pin out on the right side of an LED driver chip is reversed on the left side. This requires some special handling in the software, and is not necessarily ideal, but, we tossed out ideal with the 40 hookup wires. Ignoring the reversing bit, each display has it’s pins hooked up in the same order to a given 8 pin side of the driver chip. The rest is basic stuff- serial out on chip one to serial in on chip two; latch, and clock are shared between both chips, chip output (the R-EXT pin on the datasheets) is a 10k resistor to ground, etc.

I would actually like to do this again as an intro to PCB design project. When I can find time to figure out how to use Eagle.

Sensing Temperature

Temperature sensing is straightforward- the TMP36 sensor is supposed to put out a 0V-someV signal based on the temperature it is currently at, following a roughly specific formula (outputting 500mV at 0C, and increasing at 10mV per degree C). Just a simple analog read and conversion. Roughly.

Close up on the Breadboard

Close up on the Breadboard

You can see the TMP36 at the bottom of the pic, snuggled next to 0.1uF capacitor as the spec sheet requests. I tried this without the capacitor and tended to get strange readings quickly (within a few minutes). With the capacitor, they tend to be less frequent (that said, no matter how bad the insulation in my house, it was not 4F last night. I refuse to believe). I started taking a median of several readings in order to solve the issue of strange outliers, and it appears to have worked. No ghosts causing 4F readings yet.

One other quick comment though: The TMP36 outputs 10mv/C roughly. Due to the fact that the Arduino is using a 10bit ADC converter over a 5V range, it effectively reads in 5mv increments. Therefore, we can only read the temperature to an accuracy of about 1 degree F. Which is a bit sad, as it makes those last decimals of accuracy meaningless. Alas.


I’ve built a thermometer! With (reusable) seven segment display! For more cash then I care to think about! I’ve had two other variations of this before: outputting current temperature to a set of normal LED’s in binary (fun, simple, slightly confuses relatives, need right LED size to make it nice), and to an LCD (can display high/low/current readings simultaneously, and be read by non techies). A few other variations could be done relatively easily: an indoor/outdoor meter, monitoring multiple rooms, temperature loss in ducts from straight out of AC to last outlet, etc.

This and a few other projects I’ve done fall under the ‘can be done with 3 output pins and maybe an analog read’ category of projects. I’m plotting to start playing around with the ATTiny series of uC’s to get the project down to component parts / decrease the requisite bulk. We’ll see how that goes.


Small update. I changed the analog temperature sensor to a digital sensor, the DS18B20 (fromĀ Sparkfun), using a set of libraries for the sensor (from Miles Burton). The nicest thing about the new sensor is that it has an onboard 12bit ADC, which lets it sense temperature accurately to the last tenth of a degree that I was wanting. It also doesn’t appear to suffer from the same noisy readings I was getting with the TMP36. The only downside is that it takes 3/4’s of a second to get the 12 bit value and send it back to the Arduino. Which is fine for what I am doing, but it doesn’t seem ideal for other applications.

One interesting other bit about the new sensor: it can operate on only two lines; a ground line, and a data line. The data line is supposed to be connected (via a 4.7k resistor) to a voltage source. When the sensor wants to send a 0 to the uC, it connects the data line to ground, and the uC reads 0. When it wants a 1, the data pin becomes high impedance, and the uC reads a 1 coming from the pull up resistor. I assume it has some kind of in-built capacitor to keep it powered through the 0-bits. Maybe? Probably.

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