A Single-Chip Personal Alarm

Abstract: This application note presents a single-chip alarm circuit that issues a warning, then an alarm, when toxic or explosive gases are sensed. The circuit is simple and low cost, while offering moderate precision.

This design idea was published in the online edition of Portable Design magazine in April 2006.

Workers in the mining industry and other industrial environments can be subject to toxic or explosive gases. They can benefit from inexpensive personal monitors. While some applications require detailed data logging and information gathering, others require merely a warning signal or alarm. This single-chip alarm circuit offers a modest level of precision and is simple and inexpensive.

Gas sensors often use a bridge configuration. Typically, the bridge output goes to an instrumentation amplifier, and then to an A/D converter or adjustable reference for use as an alarm or display. The circuit of Figure 1 operates from a 9V battery and monitors the output of a sensor bridge. It provides a visual warning and alarm in response to a hazard. The monitored signal appears as a voltage output (VPOUT) from the high-side power monitor, U1:


Where VSENSE is the voltage between RS+ and RS-, and AVPOUT is the voltage gain from VSENSE to POUT.

The MAX4211F high-side power and current monitor is chosen for its AVPOUT value of 40.96. VSENSE equals 25mV/V x VCC in this case. As shown in Figure 1, you can calibrate VIN to adjust the level of POUT as required by the application.

The full-scale value for a typical sensor (the maximum value of VSENSE) might equal 25mV/V × VCC. For now, we assume that 20mV/V (less than full scale) represents a hazardous condition. Therefore, at the alarm condition:

VPOUT = 40.96 × 20mV/V × VCC × VIN = 0.8192V/V × VCC × VIN

Because POUT can be adjusted through the VIN input, you can use fixed thresholds for the alarm and warning conditions:

VALARM = [(R4 + R5)/(R3 + R4 + R5)]VCC = 0.6 × VCC

VWARNING = [R5/(R3 + R4 + R5)]VCC = 0.5 × VCC

Figure 1. This single-chip circuit monitors a sensor signal represented by the bridge voltage. It produces first a warning, and then an alarm as the hazard signal intensifies.
Figure 1. This single-chip circuit monitors a sensor signal represented by the bridge voltage. It produces first a warning, and then an alarm as the hazard signal intensifies.

This dual-threshold, single-adjustment design lets you calibrate the VALARM condition, and obtain VWARNING as an uncalibrated early-warning flag. To calibrate, carefully apply monitored gas to the sensor in the concentration necessary for alarm. Then, adjust potentiometer R2, as required, to set VPOUT. The maximum voltage at VIN should be 1.0V, and the potentiometer should provide at least 10 turns of adjustment.

A simple NPN shunt using a 3904 transistor and 5.1V zener diode generates VCC in the range 4.4V to 4.5V. Because the circuit operation is ratiometric, variations in VCC do not affect the output accuracy. The value of base resistor R1 (3.01kΩ) ensures sufficient base current to saturate the transistor when battery voltage is low (6.0V).

Red and yellow LEDs provide the alarm and warning lights. If the warning light is not required, you can set up a low-battery detector using the liberated comparator, the internal 1.21V reference, and an external voltage-divider connected to VBATT.

Related Parts
MAX4211 Free Sample
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APP 4401:
APPLICATION NOTE 4401,AN4401, AN 4401, APP4401, Appnote4401, Appnote 4401