There have been a number of forum threads by BRCK users whose BRCK's are having issues charging. I have started this thread in an effort to streamline the conversation. Although, on a whole I think BRCK does quite well with communication, on this issue I will confess that I personally have NOT done a fair job of updating our customers as to what is going on but I will start to use this forum topic to track and provide updates on our progress regarding this issue.
The summary of the issue we are investigating is that some BRCKs do not charge, or at least do not charge the way one would expect. The problems have ranged from BRCKs not charging at all, BRCKs not charging above a certain percentage or BRCKs draining when they indicated that they were charging.
First I will briefly summarize our findings up until now. As with many engineering problems, there is not one point of failure but rather multiple contributing factors. As I explain below these include poor quality cables, non-responsive cloud dashboard and false charging indicators. Then I will follow up with a few concrete items that users can try out.
The first issue that emerged was with the charging cables. As many of you may recall, we first shipped BRCKs with a really nice looking yellow and black braided cable. After some complaints about BRCKs not charging we realized that using another cable often gave much better results.
In looking into this we went so far as to develop a USB cable tester circuit. This circuit puts a high current through each wire in a USB cable and monitors the voltage drop. We surveyed a number of different types of cables and sure enough, the black and yellow cables had a much higher voltage drop (i.e. poorer performance) than other cables. This meant that, with those cables, the voltage at the end of the cable at the BRCK was too low for it to properly charge.
With such clearly poor results from the yellow and black cables, once we had sourced another USB cable we assumed that we had solved the charging issue. There is no question that these cables had to be changed but, in hindsight, the cables delayed our understanding that there might be another underlying problem with charging BRCKs.
The second issue that contributed the larger charging investigation was that from time to time the BRCK cloud dashboard was not properly updating the status of the battery. This meant that from time to time users would watch the cloud dashboard, waiting for the charge status to go up and it never would; even though the BRCK itself really was charging normally. We have since updated the various processes that run in the background of the BRCK server to prevent these situations.
The BRCK charging hardware allows for a large 5-18V input voltage as well as the capability to protect itself when the voltage goes beyond that or is reversed. The BRCK firmware also interacts with the charging circuitry to allow for various rates of charging which is specifically useful when charging off of solar panels. The numerous combination of these features means that there are a many of possible situations that need to be reviewed in both the hardware and software. Simply put it takes considerable time to make sure that every situation has been properly tested.
(Rest assured that we did a considerable amount of standard testing during the development of the BRCK with various voltages and currents. The testing we are doing now still includes various voltages and currents but we are covering various battery levels, charging sources, and cables as well as monitoring of the software.)
Fortunately during the course of our review we have not uncovered anything glaringly wrong. But in an effort to make up for my silence on the subject and to demonstrate that we have been working hard on this I will mention some of our findings.
For a number of reasons the firmware developers designed the software so that the BRCK pulses the inner light (which is our way of indicating that the BRCK is charging) based on a signal that is not directly associated with when the battery is actually charging. (For you techies actually an internal register bit in the charging IC.) This means that, in certain situations, the BRCK light will pulse and indicate to the user that it is charging when, in fact, it is not charging. We will change the firmware monitor the status of some other charging indicators to improve this but we do not want to take that step lightly and, again, it is not the root of the issue. This contributed to user frustration as well as masking the issue during trouble shooting.
We also uncovered a single, misplaced bit in the firmware that meant that the BRCK used a slightly lower voltage for charging the battery than it is capable of handling. This simply means that any BRCK is charging a little slower than it should. Once again, this might explain some of the situations that BRCK users have seen but not all of them.
Finally, we also been working directly with engineers at Texas Instruments (the makers of the battery charging chip used the the BRCK) to understand what might be wrong but they too have not uncovered anything obvious. What has made the problem even more difficult to pin point is that we are not able to consistently reproduce it. It varies from BRCK to BRCK as well as with the state of charge of the battery.
Some concrete steps
So what does this mean for those of you who have BRCKs that will not charge; here is a summary of steps you can take to work around this for now:
a) Try a different charging cable. Hopefully no one is still using the yellow and black cables but even so try whatever microUSB cables you have lying around and see if that affects how your BRCK charges.
b) Try a different USB charging source. One thing we have been able to replicate is that, with certain BRCKs but not all, using a 1A (1000mA) USB charger did not work while using a 2A charger did work. Chargers should indicate their output voltage, something like 5V at 1000mA. Also, laptop and desktop computer USB ports work slightly differently than standard USB chargers. Charging a BRCK off of a desktop USB port or a high current laptop port (sometimes these are yellow in color) may give different results.
c) In a two cases the BRCK just needed a good full charge before being used. Try leaving your BRCK plugged in (preferably off - so just the inner light is pulsing) for a long time. For one BRCK it took me 3 or 4 days of being plugged in before it actually was fully charged; after that it seemed to charge normally. Many consumer devices often state that they need to be fully charged before first use, which is a best practice, but during our initial tests we had good results without needing that step and so we did not include that in the setup up procedure.
d) Try a completely different charging source! This will be a bit of work but will have a very good chance of charging your BRCK.
- find a spare wall charger and micro USB cable. Lots of people have extras of these at home but others might need to head down to their local thrift shop or market. Get a charger that has an output voltage between 7.5V to 18V (15V, 12V and 9V are common value) and a current rating of 2A or more. Again, it should be indicated somewhere on the charger.
- cut the end off of the charger and cut the microUSB cable in half
- connect the red wire from the USB cable to the positive wire on the adapter. (Usually this is the wire that was connected to the inner part of the plug that you just cut off but you may have to plug in the adapter and use a multimeter to verify.) Connect the black wire from the USB cable to the other wire. No need to worry if you accidentally mix up positive and negative; if you get it wrong, the BRCK will not charge but it also will not wreck anything. Just reverse the wires and try again. Just leave the other two wires in the USB cable disconnected.
- plug your newly created charger into the BRCK and see how it works.
- WARNING! Your nifty new charger will work great with a BRCK but it will almost certainly fry anything else that it might get plugged into such as a phone or tablet. So be careful where you leave it lying around!
None of these suggestions gets to the root of the problem but they will almost certainly help most people who are experiencing this issue.
Thank you for your extreme patience on this issue and please forgive my very poor communication surrounding this issue. Please post your latest charging experiences here and we will go from there.