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555 Contest

January 24, 2011

Jack Ganssle-January 24, 2011

Win valuable prizes in a 555 timer contest!

In about 1970 Hans Camenzind designed the 555 timer, which was brought to market by Signetics, a company that was once a powerhouse in this industry. Signetics brought out the 2650 eight-bit micro in the 70s, which was pretty influential at the time. Their quirky 8X300 processor never got much market share, but we used it in combination with AMD’s bit-slice 2900 parts to build a graphics processor for an instrument.

The 555 timer, and its variants, are made by around 20 companies today, forty years later, and something like a billion are sold every year. That’s a lot of parts.

This timer is as iconic as the 741 op amp, though the latter has been largely supplanted by more modern single-supply devices. Those of us in the digital world routinely expect ICs to sport hundreds of thousands or millions of transistors, but the 555 manages to offer an astounding array of functionality with just about 20.

A friend used to ask “Is there anything the 555 can’t do?” This is a part that can be monostable, astable or bistable. I keep a copy of Forrest Mims’ slender but awesome Engineer’s Mini-Notebook for the 555 stuffed in with my much more massive The Art of Electronics. Mims’ book was marketed by Radio Shack and still has a $1.99 label on it. In those yellowing pages he shows how to use the 555 in 28 completely different applications, ranging from  a key debouncer to an IR security alarm to a DC to DC converter.

For a good tutorial about this timer check out the one at Sentex on line.

Turns out Chris Gammell of The Amp Hour  and Jeri Ellsworth, whom I have mentioned here before, are sponsoring a design contest. Create a project using one or hundreds of 555s and submit it on line. Their motto: You’ve got 8 pins… and one shot!

They are still angling for donated prizes, and could use some volunteer and perhaps industry support, but this sounds like a lot of fun. Winners will, at the very least, have some great resume fodder. (When hiring I always give points to those whose avocations intersect their vocations).

But act fast – the contest closes March 1. And have fun!

Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at jack@ganssle.com. His website is www.ganssle.com.

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