ULN2803 as a relay driver?

A ULN2803 is an Integrated Circuit (IC) chip with a High Voltage/High Current Darlington Transistor Array. It allows you to interface TTL signals with higher voltage/current loads. In English, the chip takes low level signals (TLL, CMOS, PMOS, NMOS – which operate at low voltages and low currents) and acts as a relay of sorts itself, switching on or off a higher level signal on the opposite side.



A TTL signal operates from 0-5V, with everything between 0.0 and 0.8V considered “low” or off, and 2.2 to 5.0V being considered “high” or on. The maximum power available on a TTL signal depends on the type, but generally does not exceed 25mW (~5mA @ 5V), so it is not useful for providing power to something like a relay coil. Computers and other electronic devices frequently generate TTL signals. On the output side the ULN2803 is generally rated at 50V/500mA, so it can operate small loads directly. Alternatively, it is frequently used to power the coil of one or more relays, which in turn allow even higher voltages/currents to be controlled by the low level signal. In electrical terms, the ULN2803 uses the low level (TTL) signal to switch on/turn off the higher voltage/current signal on the output side.

The ULN2803 comes in an 18-pin IC configuration and includes eight (8) transistors. Pins 1-8 receive the low level signals, pin 9 is grounded (for the low level signal reference). Pin 10 is the common on the high side and would generally be connected to the positive of the voltage you are applying to the relay coil. Pins 11-18 are the outputs (Pin 1 drives Pin 18, Pin 2 drives 17, etc.).

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