Instructables

Make a Voltage Controlled Resistor and Use It

This is a three-in-one Instructable:
1. Make a Voltage Controlled Resistor
2.Use it to make a Voltage Controlled Oscillator
3.Use it to feed a signal into a laptop's microphone input.

The voltage controlled resistor is a very useful element in electronics. The one in this instructable takes a minute to make and does not require too much electronic knowledge to operate. It is made out of an LED and a Cadmium Sulfide (CdS) photocell. The LED changes light intensity with change of voltage/current. The photocell is a resistor that changes resistance with change in the intensity of light striking it.

To build a voltage controlled resistor, you need to glue the LED to the photocell then paint the whole assembly black to shut out ambient light. That's it!

The voltage controlled resistor can also be used to:
.Control devices like the volume of an amplifier
.Control gain in automatic gain control circuitry
.Feedback signals to control motors and robotics.
.Amplitude Modulate (AM) a signal.

Check out my other Instructables:
MAKE A HIGH VOLTAGE SUPPLY IN 5 MINUTES
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Super Easy E-mail Encryption Using Gmail, Firefox and Windows
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Make a Rechargeable Dual Voltage Power Supply for Electronic Projects
SODA CAN HYDROGEN GENERATOR


 
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Step 1: Application: Voltage Controlled Oscillator

A voltage controlled resistor can be used to change the frequency of an oscillator. When a voltage controls the frequency of an oscillator, it is called a voltage controlled oscillator or VCO for short.

VCOs are used in FM modulation, mainly. In this case, it used to make a two tone siren which you can see in operation in the video below



(Note: the flashing LED is part of the voltage controlled resistor assembly, I did not paint it black to show how it operates. My hand is changing the pitch of VCO because it is shutting out the ambient light that affects the exposed photocell)
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ionia235 years ago
It must be me.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but with this design, as the LED light increases the photocell will decrease resistance. Simply put, bright light shining on the photocell will allow current to flow from the AC source to whatever you plug into this adapter.

It won't work the way you'd expect it to. Say you were trying to use this as a trigger for a light.

Led's require little current so you could take a speaker wire pair, connect it to your control wires on this box, and get an incandescent light to flash in time with the music.

Wouldn't work. No LED light = Outlet is live. LED light = Outlet is off.

That would have to be reversed.

PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong or mssed something. I really want to be wrong about this.
You're wrong.  : )  Consider a residential street light:  as dusk approaches, less light shines on the photocell until the street light comes on (light is low = resistance is LOW).  As dawn approaches, more light shines on the photocell until finally the street light turns off (light is high = resistance is HIGH).  Another example:  You walk into a store and a buzzer rings.  What has happened is that your leg has momentarily blocked a beam of light shining across the doorway onto a photocell on the opposite side:  the resistance of the cell has gone from HIGH (light shining across doorway) to LOW (light blocked by leg), allowing current to flow to the buzzer, which sounds.  Simply put, the resistance of the photocell INCREASES as more light shines on it and DECREASES as less light shines on it. 
wait... i thought resistance decreases with more light, thus letting more power though it. so in your case, the lamp would be on during sunlight and off at night. you need to invert that signal and change it to a either ON or OFF (binary) signal with a chip, and have the signal amplified with a relay to turn on or off the 400W street light.
-max-4 years ago
for more efficiency, use a reflective paint for shielding.  like metallic silver or metallic gold paint;  or plain white paint. or even siple piece of tin (aluminum) foil or aluminum tape.
burzvingion7 years ago
It is slightly misleading to call this a voltage controlled resistor. A more proper term would be opto-isolator. While it will work well in a variety of applications, a faster and more accurate alternative might be to use a digital potentiometer. They are available in various configurations, maxim has quite a few app notes on them.
It would be more accurate to call it a -current- controlled resistor, in that the current vs light output from an LED is fairly linear over a wide range. While it is true that the resistance vs light of a CdS photocell is not linear, for audio applications you rarely want linearity.
It is not misleading!! You are right in that it is an opto-isolator but it is a voltage controlled resistor. Think about it: 1 change the voltage applied 2. the resistance of the photo cell changes What is your criteria for a V.C.R.?? This soluton has been used even before LED's with incandecet bulbs. It was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. And is very cost effective, and simple. How does much does a digi-pot cost and the supporting parts to develop the digit input??
My apologies. I did not intend to imply that it would not work, merely that it may not be optimal for certain applications. Particularly where a quick response time or linear response curve are desired.
Thanks. Every application has its own options and optimal solutions. I need to check my spelling- Incandescent- not incandecet . also to many does's.
Sandisk1duo6 years ago
you should use a high intensity LED instead of the red
Biotele (author)  Sandisk1duo6 years ago
The red LEDs where the only ones that I had that were rectangular. Rounded LEDs are harder to glue. Changing the type of LED changes the transfer function. The cadmium cell best respond to green light.
I've done this for years, you just sand the end of the LED flat. You aren't even worried about it being smooth since it is glued onto the photocell.
Biotele (author)  Polymorph6 years ago
What do you use them for?
A number of things, anywhere I need a variable resistor and it is easier if it is isolated (versus using a FET as a variable resistor). I've used it as part of an AGC circuit. Used several to modify a Radio Shack digital echo box into a nice Effects box that would vary the echo depth, timing, volume, etc. so it would act as a multi-effects guitar pedal. Made VCO with a 555 timer. Remote wired volume/balance/tone controls. Etc. CdS photocells are most sensitive to green/yellow light, so I usually use a yellow LED (less forward voltage than a green LED).
Biotele (author)  Polymorph6 years ago
they are perfectly suited for AGS in the audio range and they are less of a headache to design than jfet in the feedback loop of an op-amp. They can be used as digitally controlled variable resistors with a voltage hold circuit. I even linearized them by using a reference CdS in a feedback loop matched with the working CdS ( I glued the CdSs side by side and used one LED for both).
And they have a faster attack time (ie, change to low resistance with light) than decay (ie, change to high resistance with less light) that is well suited to AGC. I like your idea for linearization.
Glue to the photocell!
i agree that they are harder to glue, but you get a lower resistance as a final product. also, what wattage are those photocells?
Biotele (author)  Sandisk1duo6 years ago
you can easily fry them at moderate voltages, I guess a 1/4 watt.
Derin6 years ago
be careful with cadmium it is both toxic and recognised as calcium
recognized as calcium in your body?
yep,it acts like it has calcium,instead it has CADMIUM in it.So that spreads the poison and gives it a permanent home.
crap! i'm gonna recycle away my NiCad batteries! <-after i drain the last bit of life out of them
oh yay NICD OUT!NIMH IN!!
ya, but NiCad batteries can take a beating when you re-charge them, since i don't like to go on a quest to find my only charger, i usually just charge the batteries with my variable PSU
jcomtois6 years ago
Nice concept. This voltage controlled resistor is like an analog opto-isolator, very cool. I just finished a similar "digital" version for controlling 110V outlets. Someone below mentioned driving the LED in pulse-width modulation fashion and it occurred to me that this would be a good way to completely isolate digital noise from an analog circuit because not only are the two circuits electricall isolated, but the CdS cell also has a such a comparatively long time constant.
Biotele (author)  jcomtois6 years ago
This is precisely an analogue opto isolator. I could not find ones that are ready made and affordable so I made them myself.
yep, that's how I got into Instructables. Have you plotted the response curve of any of these? How linear are they?
Biotele (author)  jcomtois6 years ago
Yes it is in step 4. It is non linear, of course, which give this device the ability to mix signal like a diode.
Sorry, I was skimming the site and missed it.
lucianoabcd7 years ago
Have you tried reading the mic input with some program (I mean other than a wav recorder!) ?? I've always wondered whether the microphone could be used as a cheap and easy signal input port...
Biotele (author)  lucianoabcd7 years ago
Yes, I used Audacity. One of the main motivation behind this instructable is to use the mic as an easy Analog to digital converter.
I would like to use some dll or ocx from inside a vb or c program... And going beyond, I'd like to try this as an input system for my pocket pc, lol !!!
Biotele (author)  lucianoabcd7 years ago
You can do that. Some pocket PC don't have a mic input, so you need to hack out the mic and solder the decoupler instead. You need to make sure that the internal mic has a voltage on it, or else you need to supply a voltage to the CdS.

As for the program on pocket PC you can try Bioera

http://www.bioera.net/
Try a program called scope
Biotele (author)  Brandon1212337 years ago
what I need, is a program like labview but limited to microphone input. That will be ideal.
therian7 years ago
can anyone please give resistor or voltage controlled oscillator circuit (not 555 or variable diode one)
therian therian7 years ago
something what can make radio frequency
therian therian7 years ago
like RC oscillator circuit ( cant find any)
rc jedi7 years ago
i thought of it one time to solve some servo control mixer issues like used in r/c planes, but aren't cds a bit slow? not in human terms but in freq 50hz or faster? if true, could photo transistors in linear mode substitute? thay are faster. your project has lots of applications, thanks for doing the work, we now have a circuit example to follow!
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