High-Power Control: Arduino + TIP120 Transistor

Up until now, we have talked about working with a lot of low-power devices. Sensors, LEDs, ICs, and the like are all capable of being powered directly from your Arduino, but as many awesome 5 and 3.3v components as there are, eventually you will find yourself holding a 12v solenoid, motor, or light and wondering “How the heck am I supposed to control this from my Arduino?” Well today we are going to talk about doing just that from a magical device know as a transistor, specifically the TIP120 Darlington Transistor.High-Power Control Arduino + TIP120 Transistor

The reason I’m covering this particular transistor is because it is readily available, and you can usually pick one up from Radio Shack, Adafruit or other local parts store in a jam, but you can use any NPN darlington transistor like the BD651 exactly the same way.

How this works

WARNING: I am about to simplify the crud out of this, so beware… it is here in an attempt to explain, in simple terms, what is going on.

If you don’t know transistors at all, they are 3 lead components that have 2 simple functions, to switch or amplify (in this example it is setup as a switch). You basically have an In called the Collector, an Out called the Emitter, and a Control called the Base. When you send a HIGH signal to the base (control pin), the transistor switches and allows current to flow from the collector (in) to the emitter (out).

So we connect it so that our motor, solenoid or light is connected to V+ but not ground (V-). Ground is connected to the transistor’s collector. When our arduino sends a HIGH signal to the transistor’s base, it switches the transistor (connecting the collector and emitter) and completes the circuit for the motor, solenoid, or light.Schematic High-Power Control Arduino + TIP120 Transistor

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Hooking it up / What’s the diode used for?

This circuit is pretty simple. This type of transistor is switched by current and not voltage, so we need to make sure to supply the correct current to the base to switch it, so a resistor is connected from the Arduino to the base to limit the current to the proper amount.

For more detail: High-Power Control: Arduino + TIP120 Transistor

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