From Physical Programming



A potentiometer is a three-terminal resistor with a sliding contact that forms an adjustable voltage divider. If only two terminals are used (one side and the wiper), it acts as a variable resistor or Rheostat. Potentiometers are commonly used to control electrical devices such as a volume control of a radio. Potentiometers operated by a mechanism can be used as position transducers, for example, in a joystick. Construction of a wire-wound circular potentiometer. The resistive element of the shown device is trapezoidal, giving a non-linear relationship between resistance and turn angle. The wiper rotates with the axis, providing the changeable resistance between the wiper contact and the fixed contacts. The vertical position of the axis is fixed in the body with the ring and the bolt.

Potentiometers are rarely used to directly control significant power (more than a watt). Instead they are used to adjust the level of analog signals (e.g. volume controls on audio equipment), and as control inputs for electronic circuits. For example, a light dimmer uses a potentiometer to control the switching of a TRIAC and so indirectly control the brightness of lamps.

Potentiometers are sometimes provided with one or more switches mounted on the same shaft. For instance, when attached to a volume control, the knob can also function as an on/off switch at the lowest volume.