Saturday, December 7, 2013

Piezo sensor - part 1

I'm working on a small project in which I'm trying to find out if I can output a sound on a piezo while reading the force exerted on it. It's like a small piano where the input is also the output.

I did something similar with LEDs where I measured the light level by first reverse polarising the led and then measuring the discharge time (capacitance).

To have an idea with what levels I'm dealing some measurements were in order. Two sets of measurements were taken, one with the original molded plastic housing and one with the housing removed and two wires solder to the piezo. I'm using a normal buzzer, the cheapest I could find, so that I can buy several of them. Raw buzzers should be 10x cheaper than what I paid.

This is a light tap on the table while the sensor is sitting about 1m away pressed against the table. The housing was on. Around 1Nm of force from a lighter.

A stronger tap under the same conditions, around 5Nm.

The same stronger tap 15cm away from the sensor.

This strange waveform was measured while I was cracking the housing open with a plier. The peaks are over 40V.

With the sensor exposed I pressed lightly with the finger (first peak) then removed the finger and applied constant pressure.

With the piezo placed under a notebook (the paper one) I first very lightly tapped the notebook and then applied increasing pressure. The signals are much stronger, probably because the crystal and vibrations are better confined.

With the sensor held by wires in blew air lightly on it and then a bit stronger.


In trying to break the piezo out of the housing I bent it quite badly. I believe as long as the crystal is not badly damaged (in my case only the metal substrate was bent) the sensor will still work just fine.

The housing connected the buzzer via small springs. Soldering wires on the exposed piezo can be hard but doable as long as you only tack some solder and then the wire. Keeping temperature too long will likely cause the crystal to lift off the substrate.

The voltage response from the piezo is much higher when used without the (resonant?) housing. It is also much higher when confined within a space but I doubt it's ability to output sound with a 3.3-5V signal. Luckily, the sensor responds really well to taps in free air as well.

The force response is surprisingly accurate. You can detect slight vibrandos in the finger, air pressure changes possibly even heart pulse. Unfortunately it's DC-centered so it cannot be used for absolute measurements. However its AC response is really good and linear.

I can see a lot of applications for these kind of sensors in areas where they might be yet used:

  • wind/pressure changes
  • tap sensing
  • heartbeat monitor
  • traffic weight detection
  • MAF (mass air flow) sensors since the pressure is varying on each stroke
  • active vibration dampening systems (vehicle suspensions)
  • detecting noises and resonance for sound applications
I have an idea where they might be currently used:

  • window breaking detection
  • vehicle traffic counter
  • vibration sensor for alarms
I was using the 1Mohm input from the oscilloscope so a 5-20k input from a microcontroller might yield unmeasurable signals. Still, I will try to achieve some levels of input without any other active components. The clamping diodes on the microcontroller should handle the HV peaks just fine.

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