Arduino Ultrasonic Anemometer Part 7: Basic software

Today I’ll tell you how I got started with my software. If you’re new to my blog you might want to click here for an overview over my arduino-based wind meter project:

The first thing we’ll need to archive is to send a series of pulses at 40kHz which is the frequency the ultrasonic transducers work. They must be as precise and repeatable as possible since all our measurements depend on them. Any jitter and the like will affect our measurements. And the duty cycle should be 50%. So you really want to do them in hardware. The Atmega328 comes with a single 16-bit counter/timer (Timer/Counter1) as well as two 8-bit counters (Timer/Counter 0 and 2). We’ll need the 16-bit resolution so the choice is clear: Timer1.

Sending pulses using timer/counter1

Well yes, you could easily use one of the 8-bit counters to generate your pulses but you’ll still need timer1 for measurement. I’ve decided to do everything with just one timer so it’s going to be timer1.

How many pulses we should send is not so clear. I’m working with 15 pulses which works quite well but I’m not claiming it’s an optimal choice. But it is short enough to make sure we’ve stopped transmitting before the first sound waves reach the opposite transducer, even with heavy tail wind.

Since we have such strict requirements for our pulses, we can’t rely on any of those convenient high-level functions to set up our timer but have to study the Atmega328 datasheet and do it ourselfs.

This is what I have done:

pinMode(10, OUTPUT);
TCCR1A = 0b00100011;
TCCR1B = 0b11011001;
OCR1AH = 0x01;
OCR1AL = 0x8F;
OCR1BH = 0x00;
OCR1BL = 0xC7;

This is a short explanation of what it does: Set pin 10 as an output. Arduino pin10 is pin16 of the Atmega328. And that’s the pin connected to the output B of timer1. That’s line 1.

I then set up counter1 in FastPWM mode running at the full system clock frequency of 16MHz. Output B (that’s our pin 10 on the arduino) is set high when the counter starts at zero. It will be cleared (i.e. set low) when the timer reaches the value in output compare register B (OCR1B). The counter will be reset when ( will start at zero again) when it reaches the value in couput compare register A (OCR1A). I also enable an interrupt for when the timer overflows. More on that later. That’s lines 2 and 3.

Then comes the part where I actually set duty cycle and pulse with. I do that by setting the output compare registers. OCR1AH and OCR1AB are the high and low bytes of register OCR1A. So the final value in that register is 0x018F which equals to 399. That means counter 1 will count from 0 up to 399 before it starts again. That’s 400 steps. And here’s the math: The timer runs at 16MHz, our counter will overflow every 400 cycles. 16000000 / 400 = 40000. That’s exactly the 40kHz we’re looking for. The duty cycle is set to half that time by setting OCR1B to 199 or 0x00C7.

That’s it. We have a perfect PWM signal at exactly 40kHz and 50% duty cycle. Look at the screenshot above to convince you that this is exactly what we are getting.

But so far, the pulses go on forever. What we need is a way to turn the output signal off after 15 (say) pulses. One way of doing that is to count the pulses and turn the output off once the 15 pulses have been sent. That’s what the interrupt at overflow is used for.

In that ISR (interrupt service routine) I increment the variable pulse_count. Once pulse_count reaches 15 I know that all the pulses have been sent and turn the output off: TCCR1A = 0b00000011; The timer/counter will continue to run but the PWM output has been turned off.

For debugging/monitoring purposes, I set pin A5 high at the beginning of the ISR and low at the end. So I can tell when (and how long) the ISR is running by monitoring pin A5. Here’s what I get:

Pulses sent (yellow) and time spent in timer interrupts (blue)

The yellow signal is the PWM output (pin10) as before. The blue line shows the time spent handling the interrupt. I could then continue counting without sending any pulses and turn the output back on when I reach 80 for example. And at the very beginning that’s exactly what I did. But then the microcontroller has to handle an interrupt every 25us (microseconds) even when not sending pulses. That’s quite wasteful so I set a longer time period by increasing the OCR1A and OCR1B registers seen above.

Actually, I’m using this interrupt to do some other things as well such as setting Axis and Direction as well as the Mute signal and some other housekeeping. That wide blue pulse you see at the left side of the screenshot above does most of that, that’s why it is so wide.

Time consumed handling a regular timer overflow interrupt

Speaking of time consumed handling interrupts. It’s quite significant as you can see here: About 5 microseconds for a normal (just counting) interrupt. That’s 20% of CPU time while sending pulses (5us every 25us). That’s muuuch more than I ever imagined it to be. That’s about 80 instructions. I’m writing in C so I’ll have to check the assember code produced by the compiler to see what’s going on.

Click here for the next post of this series:

4 thoughts on “Arduino Ultrasonic Anemometer Part 7: Basic software”

  1. In the end, who was the culprit in the original ISR routine ? the digitalWrite instructions ? It’s the usual suspect . Did you resort to assembler by preference or was that a rationnal choice ? I ask because I don’t know anything about Assembler and I like understanding the code I’m reading :p Plus, I think you already know but you can very well perform port manipulation in low level C code. So I’m surprised you choose Assembler to resolve such issues.


    1. I didn’t look into the assembly code produced by the compiler in detail. digitalWrite probably contributed to the problem. What I did notice was that the compiler is very generous with its use of registers which makes the context switches very costly. each register costs 2 clock cycles to save and another 2 clock cycles to restore.
      I was entirely new to assembly myself. This project is the first thing I’ve ever done in assembly. I found it very interesting and pleasing to work in assembly for low level task. I wouldn’t want to write anything larger in assembly but for small, performance critical ISRs like here I find it the tool of choice.
      BTW: I bought the book “Some Assembly Required” by Timothy S. Margush and can highly recommend it.


      1. Ho it’s Assembly in english. Pardon my french habits 🙂 The reference is noted, I will definitely check it out. Thanks


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