Using the UART interface

Using the UART interface
Image from CircuitBasics.com.

UART (universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter) is a communication interface used between two microcontrollers. Data signals are transferred using two lines, one for transmitting signals (Tx) and one for receiving signals (Rx).

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Introduction

Most microcontrollers these days have built-in UARTs that can be used to receive and transmit data. Their UARTs are used for the programming, control, configuration and/or analysis/debugging. These connections are used for remote connections to the microcontroller. This allows access to a microcontroller, using another microcontroller controlled device containing an interface (third party interface). Commonly used interfaces include PC based software which utilises USB to TTL serial converters containing FT232 microcontroller chips (e.g. the FTDI USB to TTL serial converter module), but a direct connection can also be made.

Data signals are transmitted sequentially (in serial), over a single wire, 1 bit at a time. Data signals are received (Rx) from the communicating microcontroller’s transmit (Tx) line and is send/transmitted (Tx) to the communicating microcontroller’s receive (Rx) line.

TTL serial signal
TTL serial signals exist between a microcontroller’s voltage supply range – usually 0V to 3.3V or 5V. Image from learn.sparkfun.com.

Each bit is represented by a ‘0’ or a ‘1’. The supplied voltage of the microcontroller is used to represent these bits. Microcontrollers use TTL (transistor-transistor logic) to send/receive bits. TTL serial signals exist between a microcontroller’s voltage supply range – usually 0V to 3.3V or 5V. 0V (GND) will represent a bit value of ‘0’ and Vcc will represent a bit value of ‘1’. A signal at the Vcc level can also indicate an idle line or a stop bit whereas a 0V signal can also represent a start bit.

Data characteristics

Data format and transmission speeds are configurable. The speed/rate at which data is transmitted is specified as bits per second, or bps. Common data rates used are 9600bps, 115200bps, etc.

Other data characteristics include the direction (“full duplex” will send and receive data at the same time and “half duplex” will take turns to send and receive data) and with or without parity.

RS-232 serial connections

Although there are many similarities, TTL serial connections are different from RS-232 serial port connections. Connecting TTL devices directly to a serial port (of, for example, a PC – 13V) may damage the device. PCs can, however, safely use TTL for serial communication by using USB to TTL serial converters (e.g. The FTDI USB to TTL serial converter module).

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