I was asked this question on an interview: given 8 output pins and 8 input pins on a microcontroller, is it possible to read a 10 by 10 switch matrix without using multiplexor and demultiplexor chips? I'm not sure it's possible...

  • \$\begingroup\$ Given that specific wording, yes. It doesn't prohibit the use of discrete components. \$\endgroup\$
    – user16324
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 14:48
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ ... or many other kinds of chips. The real question is, what are you ALLOWED to use? Also, are we talking about strictly binary outputs and inputs, or do we have things like tristate and analog capabilities? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 14:53

2 Answers 2


I would do something like this:


simulate this circuit – Schematic created using CircuitLab

I use 7 of the outputs and 8 of the inputs to create a matrix of 56 crosspoints, and I put two switches at each crosspoint, for a total of 112 switches. The 8th output is used to control a set of pullup/pulldown resistors for the inputs.

Scan the array twice. The first time, set Out7 low, and pulse the other outputs high one at a time. Look for any inputs going high. This tells you whether the lower switch at each crosspoint is closed.

The second time, set Out7 high, and pulse the other outputs low one at a time. Look for any inputs going low. This tells you whether the upper switch at each crosspoint is closed.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat similar to Charlieplexing................ \$\endgroup\$
    – Nedd
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nedd: Yes, I suppose, if you squint hard enough. It's really just two switch+diode matrices overlaid on top of each other. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:40

With 8 output and 8 input pins you can create a matrix of 64 crossings, with a switch at each crossing. You'd have some issues when multiple switches can be closed at the same time, so you might want to use a diode at each switch. And don't forget the pull-ups for the inputs. That's what can be done in the straigtforward way, and my gut feeling is that is what the interviewer wanted to hear.

If there is no need to detect multiple switch closures correctly you could use a diode matris, so each switch can put its unique code on the 8 inputs. No outputs needed, up to 255 switches can be detected (one input state reserved for 'no switch closed'.)

You could cheat by using chips ather than mux/demuxes, like shift-registers, IO extenders, or even microcontrollers. That will teach your interviewer to formulate his question more precise :)

If the pins have both digital and analog capabilities you can get even more creative. I once designed (but never realy built) a system that could read an NxN matrix with two GPIO/analog pins and a bunch of resistors and diodes. The maximum N was limited by the diode drops, resistor accuracies and A/D bits. (No multiple press capability.) Probably not practical, but nice to fantasise about.

Nedd posted and deleted a Charlieplexing suggestion, which requires pins that can both be input and output. Seems to be excluded by your question, but if you use a few pins to make a SPI or I2C bus and connect an MCP23017 style 16 GPIO pin extender...

  • \$\begingroup\$ What about the other 36 switches? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Drad, I did not read that closely enough :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Regarding your last paragraph, I once worked out a scheme using just switches and resistors that would give evenly-spaced voltage levels to an ADC input. IIRC, 1% standard-value resistors would allow you to connect up to 16 switches to one input. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dave Tweed
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ IIRC my idea was to extend that to a matrix. Either one pin is high and the other A/D in, or vice versa. The output side has an R-chain, the input side diodes to get the value to the A/D pin. Oh, did I mention that the A/D has to be a high impedance input? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 15:30

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