PIR Motion Sensor + LCD Screen + Arduino Uno

For one reason or another, I've recently had the urge to follow in my father's footsteps and start tinkering with electronics. He's basically a wizard. He has fixed a lot of appliances that others tossed out the door without the slightest bit of investigation. I think he did this with the monitor I had hooked up to my very first computer. He just popped open the case, found the problem, soldered some solution in there, and that monitor worked for probably a decade afterwards. Amazing stuff.

Anyway, I have an itch to create a laser trip wire (don't ask). I took a basic electronics class my freshman year in college, so I am already familiar with resistors, capacitors, ICs, breadboards, soldering, etc. It doesn't seem like a very daunting task to create that trip wire, but I'm starting fresh with electronics (it's been a good 8 or 9 years since I last soldered or anything like that).

One of my co-workers mentioned the Arduino as something to get me started on the trip wire, so I started doing some research here and there. The more I read, the more excited I got. I wanted soo badly to buy all of the junk that I'd need to start tinkering with an Arduino, but I didn't think my wife would appreciate that--especially around Christmas time.

Several of my awesome relatives sent me very generous gift cards for Christmas this year, which finally gave me the opportunity to buy a load of stuff for the Arduino without feeling bad. So I ordered loads of stuff. Most of it is here, some of it is still on its way. My Arduino Uno arrived around noon today, and I haven't been able to stop tinkering! It's really a lot of fun, and stupid easy even if you're not a programmer!

I started with the basic "oooh, blinking LEDs!" sort of projects (or "sketches" in Arduino parlance). Then I moved on to tweak those to work with multiple LEDs. There were a few different scenarios I ran though because two of my LEDs weren't lighting up very well. I guess I either hooked them up wrong or I didn't seat them properly... whatever.

The next project was when I hooked up a PIR (passive infrared) motion sensor ($9.99 at RadioShack) and installed a demo sketch that I found on the Arduino wiki. I wasn't quite sure how to wire everything for the PIR sensor, so I took a look at this Make Magazine video to see one way of setting up the circuit. That one simply lights up an LED and makes some noise. I just made mine light up and LED since I don't have a buzzer (yet).

Next I moved on to the LCD. The package came with a 20x4 green-on-black backlit LCD display, a 2.2k Ohm resistor, and a set of pins to connect the LCD to my breadboard or whatever. I actually soldered the pins onto the LCD display board (wow, was that even more difficult than I remember!) so I would have less of a hassle getting all of the contacts working. Getting the LCD to work was pretty easy after that.

Then I took those two projects a bit further. I'm certain others have done this years ago, but I didn't use a sketch that was completely written for me this time so I felt special enough to share :) I added the PIR circuit from before less the LED, merged pieces from both demo programs, and came up with a motion sensor that would flash "INTRUDER ALERT!!" on the LCD screen a few times when triggered. Based on my testing, the sensor works extremely well (once calibrated!!), and it will detect motion well across the open area of my apartment (maybe a bit further than 20 feet)!

I'm quite happy with my work, especially for not having "dealt with" electronics for such a long time. When I tried to share my success with some of my friends, they wanted a video to prove I'm awesome (I guess?). So here it is. Trust me, I know the video is horrible--I speak too quietly (baby sleeping in next room), I stumble over my words (that's just me), and I neglected to even offer you some music to rock out to as I blabber about this stuff.

Here's the program I wrote/modified:

  * //////////////////////////////////////////////////
  * //making sense of the Parallax PIR sensor's output
  * //////////////////////////////////////////////////
  * Switches a LED according to the state of the sensors output pin. Determines
  * the beginning and end of continuous motion sequences.
  * @author: Kristian Gohlke / krigoo (_) gmail (_) com / http://krx.at
  * @author: Josh VanderLinden / codekoala (.) gmail (@) com / http://www.codekoala.com
  * @date:   3 Jan 2011
  * kr1 (cleft) 2006
  * Released under a creative commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0" license
  * http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/de/
  * The Parallax PIR Sensor is an easy to use digital infrared motion sensor module.
  * (http://www.parallax.com/detail.asp?product_id=555-28027)
  * The sensor's output pin goes to HIGH if motion is present. However, even if
  * motion is present it goes to LOW from time to time, which might give the
  * impression no motion is present. This program deals with this issue by
  * ignoring LOW-phases shorter than a given time, assuming continuous motion is
  * present during these phases.

 #include <LiquidCrystal.h>

 int calibrationTime = 10;   // seconds to calibrate PIR
 long unsigned int pause = 5000; // timeout before we "all" motion has ceased
 long unsigned int lowIn; // the time when the sensor outputs a low impulse

 boolean lockLow = true;
 boolean takeLowTime;

 int flashCnt = 4;  // number of times the LCD will flash when there's motion
 int flashDelay = 500; // number of ms to wait while flashing LCD
 int pirPin = 7;    // the digital pin connected to the PIR sensor's output
 int lcdPin = 13;   // pin connected to LCD
 LiquidCrystal lcd(12, 11, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2);

 void setup() {
     // Calibrates the PIR

     pinMode(pirPin, INPUT);
     pinMode(lcdPin, OUTPUT);

     digitalWrite(pirPin, LOW);


     // give the sensor some time to calibrate

     for(int i = 0; i < calibrationTime; i++){


 void clearLcd() {
     // Clears the LCD, turns off the backlight
     lcd.begin(20, 4);
     digitalWrite(lcdPin, LOW);

 void alertLcd() {
     // Turns on the LCD backlight and notifies user of motion
     lcd.setCursor(2, 1);
     digitalWrite(lcdPin, HIGH);
     lcd.print("INTRUDER ALERT!!");
     lcd.setCursor(2, 2);

 void loop() {
     // Main execution loop

     if(digitalRead(pirPin) == HIGH) {
         // flash an alert a few times
         for (int c = 0; c < flashCnt; c++) {

         if(lockLow) {
             // makes sure we wait for a transition to LOW before any further
             // output is made:
             lockLow = false;
         takeLowTime = true;

     if (digitalRead(pirPin) == LOW) {

         if (takeLowTime) {
             // save the time of the transition from high to LOW
             // make sure this is only done at the start of a LOW phase
             lowIn = millis();
             takeLowTime = false;

         // if the sensor is low for more than the given pause,
         // we assume that no more motion is going to happen
         if (!lockLow && millis() - lowIn > pause) {
             // makes sure this block of code is only executed again after
             // a new motion sequence has been detected
             lockLow = true;