TECH: Basics of Switches and the Switch Matrix

Author: Clive Jones
Date: 1996/05/14
Forum: rec.games.pinball


Hi Chaps.

Okay, so last time I may have been a little technical with my WPC switch matrix description (or so I was told in private mail) but, most of us probably understand the basics, but for those newbies who don't - I've put together a beginners guide to understanding the switches and the matrix.

(oh yeah, the wasps seem to have left my workshop alone now - many thanks to that curry!).

Understanding Switches

Switches fall into two catagories - Electro-mechanical and Solid State. Most switches used in Pinball machines are Electro-mechanical - Microswitches, Blade switches, Tilt bobs etcetera. These switches have moving mechanical parts and are subject to the laws of physics governed by the materials they are made of - steel, copper, whatever.

There is one inherent problem with interfacing microprocessor based systems and mechanical switches - it's called 'bounce' (yes the thing that goes 'boing, boing').

Everytime a mechanical switch closes, the contacts do not settle immediately, they 'bounce' a number of times before they come to rest in their final closed position. A microprocessor (uP) running at high speeds as they do (typically executing a million plus instructions per second) is fast enough to detect each of these bounces as a real (valid) 'make and break' action, and, each will be acted upon independantly, to overcome this a switch 'debounce time' is introduced.

What's debounce timing? - Well, when the uP detects a valid switch closure, lets say, a stand-up target worth 1000 points, the uP makes a note of it, then waits for a period of time (which is usually governed by 'debounce' software timer) and then checks the switch again. If the uP finds the switch is still closed, it processes the switches action (it adds the targets value to the score).

The length of debounce time required is usually given by the switch manufacturer in the switch data sheet, which the software engineer can then base his software timing on (in some cases slightly longer to get a definate 'clean' switch register).

If you removed the debounce timing and shot the 1000 point target - you may well rack up more than 3000 points for a single hit!

Solid state switches are switches with no moving mechanical parts - Opto sensors are a prime example and are used commonly on current tables. They have their plusses and their minuses - they are more expensive than mechanical switches and require additional circuitry, but, do not suffer the contact wearing problems of mechanical switches. Also, because they have no moving parts they do not require 'debouncing' which makes for less 'house keeping' code and more overall switch processing speed.

I should explain what an Opto-sensor is. 'Opto' means 'light', most opto-sensors use infra-red light, which, is not visable to the human eye. Most opto's have a transmitter and a reciever which is seperated by air. The transmitter is usually an infra-red LED (light emmiting diode) and on the recieving end - a transistor who's base region is sensitive to infra-red light.

I've knocked up a little circuit here to explain how the opto-sensors works;


      +5 volts

          ^
          |
          +------[180]-------------.             |\
          |                        |          (a)|  \
          '------[270]--.          +----[2k2]----|[]  >O------ on (low)
                        |          |             |  /
                       === --.   |/              |/
                  LED  _v_    -> |\. NPN Tran.
                 Trans  |          | receiver     Schmitt Invertor
                        |          |            (74LS14 or similar)
                        '----------+
                                   |
                                   |
                                   |
                                   v

                                0 volts


The beam of infra-red light ( signalled by the arrow between the LED transmitter and NPN transistor receiver - sorry I couldn't draw the emitter arrow) is unbroken - not interrupted, the current can flow through the transistor because it's been switched on by the infra-red sensitive base which is receiving light from the LED, this deprives point 'A' of enough voltage to actually trigger the Schmitt trigger inverter. If the beam of light is broken the voltage at point 'A' goes up as it's no longer flowing through the transistor which is now 'off' - this triggers the inverter into action forcing the output to change state (go low) which with be detected by the electronics 'scanning' the circuits output. This is commonly known as an 'Opto-interrupter' - were the beam of light is interrupted and causes a state change (don't get this confused with uP interrupts which we discussed in previous posts - they are not related). A schmitt trigger is used to provide a 'clean' pulse (well in my design anyway).

The matrix

What is it? why? and how does it work?

Well, we need our targets, ball troughs, ball locks, tilt and other switches to be read by the uP so we can have them acted upon when they close (their exact function is determined in software). If we have 64 switches in a pinball machine that need to be read individualy, then we need 64 seperate inputs that can be looked at - this costs us alot in hardware and alot in PCB space and ultimately alot out of our pockets, so a compromise is reached - read the switches on an 8 x 8 matrix, which reduces cost but gives us the problems of a more complex switch system.

There's nothing wrong with a matrix, it solves the problem very elegantly, and is fairly easy to troubleshoot, until we loose row or column which means upto 8 switches are no longer responding.

The switches are arranged in a series of 8 x 8 as we've already mentioned - there are 8 rows and 8 columns - if you draw 8 horizontal lines on a peice of paper - these are the rows, if you then draw 8 verticle lines down the page intersecting the row lines - these are the columns (like the columns that hold buildings up!). If you now count the number of times the lines intersect - you will have 64, each of these represents one switch in the matrix.


         col1  col2  col3  col4  col5  col6  col7  col8

row1>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----.
      sw1 | sw2 | sw3 | sw4 | sw5 | sw6 | sw7 | sw8 |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row2>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
      sw9 | ... |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row3>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row4>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row5>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row6>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row7>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
row8>-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+-----+
     sw57 |sw58 |sw59 |sw60 |sw61 |sw62 |sw63 |sw64 |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
          |     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
ret1<-----'     |     |     |     |     |     |     |
ret2<-----------'     |     |     |     |     |     |
ret3<-----------------'     |     |     |     |     |
ret4<-----------------------'     |     |     |     |
ret5<-----------------------------'     |     |     |
ret6<-----------------------------------'     |     |
ret7<-----------------------------------------'     |
ret8<-----------------------------------------------'

(just for the tech's - the switch numbers are 'physical' not 'logical' (11-88))

Each area identified SW'nn' - would look like this;



                              col'n'              col'n'+1
                                |                   |
                                |                   |
row'n'   >----+-----------------|-+-----------------|-+---
              |                 | |                 | |
              |   sw1           | |   sw2           | |
              |    __           | |    __           | |    _
              '---O  O---[>|--. | '---O  O---[>|--. | '---O
                               '+                  '+
                        diode   |           diode   |


                                |                   |
row'n'+1 >----+-----------------|-------------------|---
              |                 |                   |
              |                 |                   |
              |    __           |                   |
              '---O             |                   |
                                |                   |
                            (return'n')      (return 'n'+1)


You will notice a blocking diode in the switch path between the row and the switch column this is extremely important as we'll see. The matrix arrangement for the switch and the diode is common throughout the whole matrix (the diode is not always connected to the switch - Gottlieb used 'diode strips' which were located under the playfield)

Now then, a couple more points to clear up before we push on.

You may have noticed the signal input arrows (>) at the row insert points, this is where the inputs to the matrix are - there are obviously 8 of them. They are often refered to as 'strobes' or 'sends', personally I like the term 'send' as the other end has 'returns' (<), true the signals do 'strobe' on and off sequentially (much the same as a strobe light) but whatever you call the signal it is purely subjective (you could call it the 'row on pulse' for example).

Also, only 16 different coloured wires are required, again - 8 for the rows (or 'sends' or 'strobes') and 8 for the columns (or returns). Simple eh?

Now all we have to do is 'drive' some power through the rows and check the switch returns the other end to see if we get anything back for the uP to read (indicating a closed switch).

Interfacing the Matrix with the Microprocessor

The switch matrix cannot be directly connected to the uP - it doesn't have the power to 'drive' the matrix (and if the matrix shorted - you'd probably be picking the CPU out of the back of your head), so, we have to provide a suitable interface between the uP and the matrix - enter the most common interface chip for pinball machines on the planet - the 6820/1 PIA (Peripheral Interface Adaptor).

The 6820/1 has two 8 bit ports which can have any of the 16 pins configured as an input or an output - what a coincindence - we need one 8 way output port ('sends' or 'strobes') and one 8 way input port ('returns' - to read).

One port is called 'port a' and the other 'port b'. The uP can write to the output port which inturn will drive a higher voltage through the rows ('sends' or 'strobes') which will return into the input port of the PIA which our uP can safely read without burning up!

The PIA doesn't usually drive the matrix directly from it's output pin's either, instead, a driver of some form is used (a pull-up resistor or driver transistor is common). The PIA 'b' port can actually output more current than the 'a' port (2.5mA) which would probably be enough, but, would offer no protection to the PIA if the matrix shorted and would significantly shorten the life of the chip (you'd be 'loading' the output), so it would be good pratice to protect the output pins using drivers as it also adds more power to push through the matrix too which gives us a healthy signal.

If higher current drivers are used - current limiting resistors need to be added to the input pins to reduce the current to a safe level for the PIA to read, otherwise the PIA port input stage would burn up.

Another use of drivers involves not sending 5 volts through the matrix but higher voltages - 12 or 24 volts springs instantly to mind. A driver transistor can be switched on with a 'pre-driver' transistor which, in turn is switched on by our PIA (port 'b' only - port 'a' does not have enough output current), the pre-driver runs from the 5 volt rail whilst the driver runs volt from the 12 or 24 volt rail, which then pushes the higher voltage through the matrix. This method is known as 'level-shifting' - we're 'stepping' or 'shifting' up to higher voltage/current.

Similarily our PIA cannot read 12 volts or there abouts (don't try this at home, otherwise you may be picking another chip out of the back of your head!)- so the input has to be shifted back down again to a safe level (5 volts or less). You could use zener diodes or comparators (as with the WPC).

So when the uP 'writes' data to the output port of the PIA it is effectively 'driving' via proxy the switch matrix;


 row8 row7 row6 row5 row4 row3 row2 row1 ('sends' or 'strobes')

|bit7|bit6|bit5|bit4|bit3|bit2|bit1|bit0| - the PIA output port (byte)

The uP then reads the input port to look for an active return line which will appear as an active bit in the input port register, which then would indicate a closed (or 'jammed' if in self test) switch. The uP would then initiate the debounce time, after which it would then check the input port register again to see if it was still closed.


 ret8 ret7 ret6 ret5 ret4 ret3 ret2 ret1  - ('returns')

|bit7|bit6|bit5|bit4|bit3|bit2|bit1|bit0| - the PIA input port (byte)

Finally (if it is closed) the uP executes the process associated with the switch - scoring, tilt, ball in lock or whatever.

The diodes remain in the matrix to prevent the voltage leaking back onto another line and giving a false switch registration when a switch closes.

Scanning Method

The uP via the PIA + driver electronics sends a voltage down row1 - it then checks the returns for an active bit - this would indicate that a switch or switches (1-8) are closed. It would then turn row1 off and row2 on and check the input port again for closures (switches 9-16 this time) and so on until all 8 rows and been turned on an all 8 returns had been checked.

The uP has to obviously perform this scanning routine a number of times per second checking for new switches closing and previously closed switches opening again.

Well, I think that's it,there are a couple of loose ends - not all matrix's use PIA's, some use transistors, comparators, pull-up resistors to push a higher current through the matrix as well as other interface methods to the uP.

Have fun.

Clive
<c.jones@sni.co.uk>