The Origin of Battery Modulation: How a Bloated Battery Led to Innovation

By: Adam Swimmer

4 Min Read

6 Mar, 2022

LAVA SimulCharge adapters are known for providing compatible mobile devices with simultaneous charging and access to data from USB-enabled peripherals and Ethernet. Our e Series adapters also include RBM technology that provides overcharge protection through Battery Modulation. This article looks at how a problem faced by a major Canadian retailer led to the creation of RBM.

The Canadian retailer has a chain of stores that sells automotive parts, hardware, kitchen supplies and more. In 2014, the company was working with Samsung Canada to develop a kiosk solution for an in-aisle product lookup device using the Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 tablet. The kiosks were meant to replace the physical product catalogues used in automotive aisles, which would save the retailer millions of dollars in printing costs, as the books would regularly be destroyed and need to be placed multiple times per year. Having heard about LAVA’s SimulCharge adapters, Samsung reached out and brought the company into the fold. The final result was a mini-kiosk, which featured a SimulCharge adapter with Power over Ethernet (PoE), Ethernet and USB integration to support a USB-enabled barcode scanner. The retailer ordered around 3,400 units, with an initial pilot of 750 units being shipped across Canada.

Around 11 months, 12 days and three hours later, a few hundred units started being RMA’d after their batteries had expanded and warped. Some of the batteries had expanded to the point where they had cracked the tablet screen and/or the enclosure. This phenomenon is now known as battery bloating, where overcharging, heat or a mix of the two can cause the battery to literally expand, but back then research on lithium-ion batteries was extremely limited and all of this was new for LAVA, Samsung and the retailer.

It was discovered that a constant trickle charge (which these kiosks had because they were plugged in 24/7) could damage the battery’s chemistry. However, it was also suggested that the enclosure itself might be causing the problem, with the tablet overheating due to its proximity to the LAVA adapter. While it’s true the PoE power input does cause the adapter to heat up a bit, this theory wasn’t fully supported by the data collected. LAVA performed heat analysis tests with FLIR devices and other methods, which determined that heat generation wasn’t the main cause of the problem.

Despite the warping issues, the retailer was quite happy with the kiosks and wanted to put in an order for an additional 2,500 units. Even with their problems, the kiosks proved to be a better, cost-effective choice than switching back to paper look-up books. However, LAVA stands by the quality of its products and so wanted to make sure the issue was resolved before fulfilling the order.

LAVA engineers pored over every paper that had been written about lithium-ion batteries and their charging cycles and finally came up with a solution: Battery Modulation, which prevents the mobile device from overcharging.

An RBM-equipped adapter lets the user set an upper and lower charging threshold for the mobile device through the LAVA Tablet Manager (LTM) app. When its battery level hits the upper percentage, the adapter turns off charging and the mobile device discharges until it hits the lower threshold. Now, the LTM app can be downloaded from the Google Play Store but back then, LTM version 3, as LAVA’s developers called it, was more difficult to load and set up. The app was installed onto the Galaxy Tab 4 through Samsung KNOX, which provided deeper level access to Android settings.

To test the effectiveness of Battery Modulation, LAVA engineers took two bloated kiosks and plugged them in for two months (one had Battery Modulation, the other did not). The one without Battery Modulation bloated even further while the one with Battery Modulation didn’t get any worse.

As an added safety feature, LAVA also adjusted the kiosk enclosure to provide a gap between the adapter and the tablet. This allowed airflow to help it cool down and would resolve any issues from the heat generated from PoE, or the tablet itself.

LAVA also suggested that the retailer should adjust the tablets’ display brightness. The retailer was running the tablets at 100% brightness 24/7 (even when the store was closed), which was causing the kiosks to generate a significant amount of heat even when they weren’t in use. LAVA included a Screen Brightness Management control feature in RBM. Also configurable through the LTM app, you can set two brightness settings for different times of the day. This allowed the retailer to keep the displays at 100% while the stores were open but reduce it by 20% after hours.

The origin of RBM is an example of how a problem can lead to innovation. If it weren’t for the battery issues experienced by the Canadian retailer with its kiosks, LAVA might never have invented this technology and released a more-advanced line of Enterprise SimulCharge adapters. LAVA incorporated this RBM technology into a new line of SimulCharge adapters, the eSTS adapters for Micro USB Samsung mobile devices. Later, LAVA also introduced SynC+ adapters (now known as eSynC) with RBM technology for USB-C devices. To this day, LAVA and its staff are regarded as the go-to experts in battery protection and modulation; with its RBM-equipped adapters being used in over 50 countries around the globe, from small owner operator businesses all the way up to the US military.

To find out more about RBM technology, check out LAVA’s website.