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Tips & Tricks for Working with Actuators

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  1. Avoid Brownouts
  2. Using a 5V external power supply.
  3. Always POWER down your Particle to Wire in external power.
    1. Always POWER down your Particle when changing your circuit
  4. Always unplug the external power when rewiring
  5. Check, recheck and double check your wiring

When working with actuators, and especially when you’re working with those that require high current or higher voltages than 3.3V or 5V (USB supply), there’s a couple of things to keep in mind:

Avoid Brownouts

If you’re powering motors or solenoids directly from your Particle board, you will either get a brown out (when the motor is activated it won’t have enough power to run the board and it’ll reboot) or you could damage the board. Simply put, don’t do this and use an external power supply that will provide the right amps to run your actuator properly. To find out what is needed, check your component as many motors are labelled with voltage requirements. If not, check the part number by googling it and looking for the info page on a Hobbyist site like Adafruit or Sparkfun, or finding a datasheet. If you’re looking at the datasheet this information is typically summarized on the first page.

Similarly, if you’re working with Neopixels, you should ideally use an external 5v high amp power supply (1000 - 2000 mA). Your microcontroller can’t supply enough current for longer strips. This will ensure your Neopixel behaves properly.

Using a 5V external power supply.

If you are using an external 5v power supply to provide current to a motor or Neopixel strip, you can also use this to power your Particle device.

  • On the Photon connect the external power supply to the power rail on your breadboard, jump the + to VIN and the - to ground to create a common ground
  • On the Argon connect the external power supply to the power rail on your breadboard, jump the + to VUSB and the - to ground to create a common ground

Using VUSB to Power your Argon

Note: If you use VUSB to power your Argon, do not use the USB port to connect to your computer.

VUSB and external power

Never ever ever power your Particle device using an external power supply rated above 5 Volts. If you use a 12V power supply you will damage your device.

Always POWER down your Particle to Wire in external power.

When you’re adding external power to your circuit, do not connect the external power supply or have your Particle connected to power while you do this

You risk accidentally contacting your Particle device with a live terminal or wire. If you do this, you risk frying components, causing damage and generally a lot of bad stuff could happen.

There’s also a chance you have your wiring wrong, and if you make a mistake while wiring you could also do a lot of damage to components.

Always POWER down your Particle when changing your circuit

Even if your external power is wired up and secure, if you’re going to swap components or elements of your circuits, err on the side of caution: disconnect power to your Particle device and the external power. This protects you, your components and your Particle from damage!

Always unplug the external power when rewiring

Same as above.

Check, recheck and double check your wiring

Before you reconnect your power, take a moment to sanity check your circuit.

  1. Make sure that the external power supply and Particle (3v3) power are separated from one another i.e. there is no wires on the power rail of your breadboard that shares both a connection to the external power supply and 3v3 or VUSB pins.
  2. Make sure the components that will be controlled by your Particle are isolated from the external power supply i.e. there is no shared connections.
  3. Make sure you’re using a diode if working with motors and that your transistor is correctly wired.
  4. etc. etc.

Taking a minute to check these connections will save you a lot of headache. If you accidently mistaking connections, you risk seriously damaging your components and having to start over. That’s time, heartache, and effort you can avoid with a quick check.


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