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2.6.3 - Typical Analog Input Connections

Typical Analog Input Connections Overview

A common question is “can this sensor/signal be measured with the U3”. Unless the signal has a voltage (referred to U3 ground) beyond the limits in Appendix A, it can be connected without damaging the U3, but more thought is required to determine what is necessary to make useful measurements with the U3 or any measurement device.

Voltage (versus ground): The single-ended analog inputs on the U3 measure a voltage with respect to U3 ground. The differential inputs measure the voltage difference between two channels, but the voltage on each channel with respect to ground must still be within the common mode limits specified in Appendix A. When measuring parameters other than voltage, or voltages too big or too small for the U3, some sort of sensor or transducer is required to produce the proper voltage signal. Examples are a temperature sensor, amplifier, resistive voltage divider, or perhaps a combination of such things.


Impedance: When connecting the U3, or any measuring device, to a signal source, it must be considered what impact the measuring device will have on the signal. The main consideration is whether the currents going into or out of the U3 analog input will cause noticeable voltage errors due to the impedance of the source. To maintain consistent 12-bit results, it is recommended to keep the source impedance within the limits specified in Appendix A.


Resolution (and Accuracy): Based on the measurement type and resolution of the U3, the resolution can be determined in terms of voltage or engineering units. For example, assume some temperature sensor provides a 0-10 mV signal, corresponding to 0-100 degrees C. Samples are then acquired with the U3 using the 0-2.44 volt single-ended input range, resulting in a voltage resolution of about 2.44/4096 = 596 µV. That means there will be about 17 discrete steps across the 10 mV span of the signal, and the temperature resolution is about 6 degrees C. If this experiment required a resolution of 1 degrees C, this configuration would not be sufficient. Accuracy will also need to be considered. Appendix A places some boundaries on expected accuracy, but an in-system calibration can generally be done to provide absolute accuracy down to the linearity (INL) limits of the U3.

Speed: How fast does the signal need to be sampled? For instance, if the signal is a waveform, what information is needed: peak, average, RMS, shape, frequency, … ? Answers to these questions will help decide how many points are needed per waveform cycle, and thus what sampling rate is required. In the case of multiple channels, the scan rate is also considered. See Sections 3.1 and 3.2.