Driving servo motors with the Arduino Servo library is pretty easy, but each one consumes a precious pin - not to mention some Arduino processing power. The Adafruit 16-Channel 12-bit PWM/Servo Driver Shield will drive up to 16 servos over I2C with only 2 pins. The on-board PWM controller will drive all 16 channels simultaneously with no additional Arduino processing overhead. What's more, you can stack up to 62 of them to control even more servos - all with the same 2 pins!

The Adafruit PWM/Servo Driver is the perfect solution for any project that requires a lot of servos!


This section assumes you do not want to stack the shield with stacking headers. If you want to stack another shield on top, skip to the Stacking Shields section!
Check you have everything you need: assembled shield PCB, 0.1" male header, 4 of 3x4 male header, and a 2 pin terminal block
Break apart the 0.1" header into 6, 8 and/or 10-pin long pieces and slip the long ends into the headers of your Arduino
Place the shield on top of the header pins, they should fit into each of the holes along the edge
Solder each of the pins to secure the shield to the headers

Place the 2 pin terminal block so it faces out. Also place the 3x4 headers so the short pins are plugged into the shield and the long pins are sticking up

To keep them in place, a few pieces of tape will hold them for when you flip the board over.
Flip the board over and solder the terminal block
Then solder one pin of each 3x4 header to tack them in place.
Finally...solder every pin of the 3x4 headers
You're done! Go onto the next sections to learn how to use your servo/pwm shield

Shield Connections

Pins Used

The shield plugs in directly into any shield-compatible Arduino such as Duemilanove, Diecimila, UNO, Leonardo, Mega R3+, ADK R3+. The only pins required to run are the Ground, 5V and SDA + SCL I2C control pins.

For backwards compatibility with old Ardunos, SCL is connected to A5 and SDA is connected to A4. UNOs already have this connection on board. If you are using a Leonardo or Mega and want to use the A4/A5 pins, cut the traces on the top of the board between A4 and A5 and the two pins next to them labeled SCL/SDA.

If you are using a Mega or ADK R2 or earlier, you will have to solder a wire from SCL to D21 and SDA to D20

Connecting other I2C devices

Since I2C is a 'shared bus' you can still connect other I2C devices to the SDA/SCL pins as long as they do not have a conflicting address. The default address for the shield is address 0x40

Powering Servos / PWM

This shield has two power supplies. One is VCC - that is the 5V power from the Arduino, it is used to power the PWM chip and determines the I2C logic level and the PWM signal logic level. When this power supply is working you will see a red LED. The red LED must be lit for the Arduino & shield to work! Plug in the Arduino to USB or a wall adapter to provide it.

To power servos you will need to also connect the V+ power supply - this is the power supply for the servos. (If you are lighting up single LEDs you may not need this power supply.) This power supply should be 5 or 6VDC. You can connect this power through the blue terminal block. There is reverse-polarity protection in case you hook up power backwards.

Nearly all servos are designed to run on about 5 or 6v. Keep in mind that a lot of servos moving at the same time (particularly large powerful ones) will need a lot of current. Even micro servos will draw several hundred mA when moving. Some High-torque servos will draw more than 1A each under load.

Good power choices are:
SERVOS CAN USE A LOT OF POWER! It is not a good idea to use the Arduino 5v pin to power your servos. Electrical noise and 'brownouts' from excess current draw can cause your Arduino to act erratically, reset and/or overheat.

Adding a Capacitor to the thru-hole capacitor slot

We have a spot on the PCB for soldering in an electrolytic capacitor. Based on your usage, you may or may not need a capacitor. If you are driving a lot of servos from a power supply that dips a lot when the servos move, n * 100uF where n is the number of servos is a good place to start - eg 470uF or more for 5 servos. Since its so dependent on servo current draw, the torque on each motor, and what power supply, there is no "one magic capacitor value" we can suggest which is why we don't include a capacitor in the kit.

Connecting a Servo

Most servos come with a standard 3-pin female connector that will plug directly into the headers on the Servo Driver. Be sure to align the plug with the ground wire (usually black or brown) with the bottom row and the signal wire (usually yellow or white) on the top.

Adding More Servos

Up to 16 servos can be attached to one board. If you need to control more than 16 servos, additional boards can be stacked as described on the next page.

Stacking Shields

If you want to plug shields on top of this one, make sure you pick up a set of shield-stacking headers
and solder them instead of the male header

Since this shield only uses the I2C pins and the I2C bus is sharable, you can stack multiple shields on top of each other. You will need to have installed stacking headers & right angle 3x4 connections for it to physically connect. Multiple shields (up to 62!) can be stacked to control still more servos.

You may have difficulty with the 'left-most' header since we updated the transistor to be beefier. Use the 3 ports to the right or solder wires out to get mechanical access

Addressing the Shields

Each board in the chain must be assigned a unique address. This is done with the address jumpers on the upper right edge of the board. The I2C base address for each board is 0x40. The binary address that you program with the address jumpers is added to the base I2C address.

To program the address offset, use a drop of solder to bridge the corresponding address jumper for each binary '1' in the address.
Board 0: Address = 0x40 Offset = binary 00000 (no jumpers required)
Board 1: Address = 0x41 Offset = binary 00001 (bridge A0 as in the photo above)
Board 2: Address = 0x42 Offset = binary 00010 (bridge A1)
Board 3: Address = 0x43 Offset = binary 00011 (bridge A0 & A1)
Board 4: Address = 0x44 Offset = binary 00100 (bridge A2)


Using the Adafruit Library

Since the PWM Servo Driver is controlled over I2C, its super easy to use with any microcontroller or microcomputer. In this demo we'll show using it with the Arduino IDE but the C++ code can be ported easily

Install Adafruit PCA9685 library

To begin reading sensor data, you will need to install the Adafruit_PWMServo library (code on our github repository). It is available from the Arduino library manager so we recommend using that.

From the IDE open up the library manager...

And type in adafruit pwm to locate the library. Click Install

We also have a great tutorial on Arduino library installation at:

Test with the Example Code:

First make sure all copies of the Arduino IDE are closed.

Next open the Arduino IDE and select File->Examples->Adafruit_PWMServoDriver->Servo. This will open the example file in an IDE window.

If using a Breakout:

Connect the driver board and servo as shown on the previous page. Don't forget to provide power to both Vin (3-5V logic level) and V+ (5V servo power). Check the green LED is lit!

If using a Shield:

Plug the shield into your Arduino. Don't forget you will also have to provide 5V to the V+ terminal block. Both red and green LEDs must be lit.

If using a FeatherWing:

Plug the FeatherWing into your Feather. Don't forget you will also have to provide 5V to the V+ terminal block. Check the green LED is lit!

Connect a Servo

A single servo should be plugged into the PWM #0 port, the first port. You should see the servo sweep back and forth over approximately 180 degrees.

Calibrating your Servos

Servo pulse timing varies between different brands and models.  Since it is an analog control circuit, there is often some variation between samples of the same brand and model.  For precise position control, you will want to calibrate the minumum and maximum pulse-widths in your code to match known positions of the servo.

Find the Minimum:
Using the example code, edit SERVOMIN until the low-point of the sweep reaches the minimum range of travel.  It is best to approach this gradually and stop before the physical limit of travel is reached.

Find the Maximum:
Again using the example code, edit SERVOMAX until the high-point of the sweep reaches the maximum range of travel.  Again, is best to approach this gradually and stop before the physical limit of travel is reached.

Use caution when adjusting SERVOMIN and SERVOMAX. Hitting the physical limits of travel can strip the gears and permanently damage your servo.

Converting from Degrees to Pulse Length

The Arduino "map()" function is an easy way to convert between degrees of rotation and your calibrated SERVOMIN and SERVOMAX pulse lengths.  Assuming a typical servo with 180 degrees of rotation; once you have calibrated SERVOMIN to the 0-degree position and SERVOMAX to the 180 degree position, you can convert any angle between 0 and 180 degrees to the corresponding pulse length with the following line of code:
Download: file
pulselength = map(degrees, 0, 180, SERVOMIN, SERVOMAX);

Library Reference



This function can be used to adjust the PWM frequency, which determines how many full 'pulses' per second are generated by the IC. Stated differently, the frequency determines how 'long' each pulse is in duration from start to finish, taking into account both the high and low segments of the pulse.

Frequency is important in PWM, since setting the frequency too high with a very small duty cycle can cause problems, since the 'rise time' of the signal (the time it takes to go from 0V to VCC) may be longer than the time the signal is active, and the PWM output will appear smoothed out and may not even reach VCC, potentially causing a number of problems.


  • freq: A number representing the frequency in Hz, between 40 and 1600


The following code will set the PWM frequency to 1000Hz:

Download: file

setPWM(channel, on, off)


This function sets the start (on) and end (off) of the high segment of the PWM pulse on a specific channel.  You specify the 'tick' value between 0..4095 when the signal will turn on, and when it will turn off.  Channel indicates which of the 16 PWM outputs should be updated with the new values.


  • channel: The channel that should be updated with the new values (0..15)
  • on: The tick (between 0..4095) when the signal should transition from low to high
  • off:the tick (between 0..4095) when the signal should transition from high to low


The following example will cause channel 15 to start low, go high around 25% into the pulse (tick 1024 out of 4096), transition back to low 75% into the pulse (tick 3072), and remain low for the last 25% of the pulse:

Download: file
pwm.setPWM(15, 1024, 3072)

Using as GPIO

There's also some special settings for turning the pins fully on or fully off

You can set the pin to be fully on with

pwm.setPWM(pin, 4096, 0);

You can set the pin to be fully off with

pwm.setPWM(pin, 0, 4096);


Can this board be used for LEDs or just servos?

It can be used for LEDs as well as any other PWM-able device!

I am having strange problems when combining this shield with the Adafruit LED Matrix/7Seg Backpacks

The PCA9865 chip has an "All Call" address of 0x70.  This is in addition to the configured address.  Set the backpacks to address 0x71 or anything other than the default 0x70 to make the issue go away.

With LEDs, how come I cant get the LEDs to turn completely off?

If you want to turn the LEDs totally off use setPWM(pin, 4096, 0); not setPWM(pin, 4095, 0);

Downloads & Links

This guide was first published on Jun 20, 2013. It was last updated on Jun 20, 2013.