Turning Off a Nightlight with a 555 Timer

Several months ago, my sister gave my 4 year old son this simple little dragonfly nightlight. It has an RGB LED running off of two coin cell batteries that just slowly cycles through all the colors. Simple and effective – my kid loves it. Two things we learned from having this light:

  1. I’ll be damned if my boy could remember to shut the damn light off in the morning.
  2. Coin cell batteries can get expensive (see #1).

Frustrated one day, I mentioned to my boy half-jokingly, “We should build something to make the light automatically turn off.” To which he replied, “Yes daddy, and I want it to shut off after 20min.”

Which brings me to lesson 3: if you mention an idea to my son, he expects it to come to fruition (see Halloween Robot Costume). Clearly he’s on the management track.

I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. The first reaction was to use a microcontroller. It would be pretty simple to use a Netduino to write code to just turn a pin off after 20 minutes. A few problems with the initial approach. First, the Netduino needs a 3V source and the night light requires 6V; so I would need effectively 2 power supplies and have the Netduino switch the power off to the night light via some sort of transistor. Not to mention that I would be throwing away $30 on a microcontroller for something so small and trivial.

After Googling with Bing for a while, I came across several explanations on using a 555 timer as a monostable multivibrator. And who doesn’t like vibrators? Am I right? A monostable vibrator generates a pulse for a certain amount of time when a trigger is applied. In my case, I want this one-shot to last about 20min to keep the night light on.

I began by designing this on my Windows Phone and Surface RT. Yes, I’m a former ‘Softfie and I drank the Kool-Aid hard. And yes, I’m still listening to music on my Zune, so suck it. I used the iCircuit app, which is available for both devices (and apparently the iPad, too, if you’re into that sort of thing). The app is great for playing with a design, with many simple components to choose from. I loved that the Windows Phone version had sample circuits available to play with. And of course one of the samples was, you guessed it, a monostable multivibrator using a 555. The one disappointing thing is that pin numbers aren’t given in iCircuit. I loved how you can put a scope at any spot in the design and see exactly what’s going on. Very informational and educational.

Good, I got a sample working in iCircuit. But now how do I get this to give a 20min pulse and then shut off? From looking at the datasheet for a 555, we see that the formula is approximately: t = 1.1 * R * C (where t is in seconds). Well damn, that’s easy enough. I know that I have a bunch of 100u capacitors. So using a 100u cap, let’s see what resistor I would need to yield 20 minutes:

20min * 60 sec/min = 1.1 * R * 100u

1200 = 1.1 * R * 0.0001

1200 / 1.1 / 0.0001 = R

10.9M ohms = R

Yikes! That’s big. And I don’t seem to have any in my supply. But I did have 5 1M ohm resistors. Let’s see how close this comes:

t = 1.1 * 5M ohm * 0.0001F

t = 550 sec

Hmm, 9 minutes – close enough. I wired this up in iCircuit and it worked like a champ. I also added a simple SPST switch to act as the trigger. Here’s the result:

Next step – wire it up on a solderless breadboard. The biggest challenge was to figure out the pin out of the 555. Again, I referred back to the 555 datasheet. Initially I used a small resistor of 150K and an LED for the output just to make sure things would work without having to wait the entire time. Everything was wired up. I put the batteries in. The LED turned on. Yay! I hit the switch to trigger it again. And…



I double checked my diagram, resistor and capacitor values, swapped out my test LED. Nothing. Sad face. But then I triple checked the datasheet. Something smelled fishy.

If you look at the iCircuit diagram above, we see that the trigger is negated. But according to the datasheet for my NE555 component, the trigger on pin 2 is not inverted!


Simply wiring the switch to connect to GND completely resolved the issue. Here’s a picture of the breadboard with the completed working circuit:

The next step is to solder this altogether and nicely package this up with the dragonfly light attached. We’ll see how this pans out.

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3 Responses to Turning Off a Nightlight with a 555 Timer

  1. Jerry Albro says:

    It’s a super little chip. Very good call skipping the duino route, that’s a nuclear weapon to kill an ant in this case. I would’t have caught the TRG issue without reading the words, not pix, on the datasheet too. Neither did the circuit sim people I guess.

    There are a lot of examples at CircuitLab you can try too. This one ( https://www.circuitlab.com/editor/#?id=7a39r8) is like yours but uses a transistor to drive 3 LED’s, rather than have the 555 absorb the load.

    Nice work!

  2. Alex Hofmans says:

    Im trying to do a similar thing, except i want to make it using a mercury switch, do you know if its possible to do it if the switch is only connected for a very short period of time?

  3. There are thousands of blogs that requires comments on them. What is the intention of blog comments?

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