The Origins of SimulCharge
By: Roman Wynnyckyj
5 Min Read
22 Aug, 2021
The story of SimulCharge
a story of perspiration, inspiration & desperation
I’ve heard it said that a successful product is a combination of perspiration, inspiration, desperation and pure, raw luck. Yes, desperation is part of the equation! Sometimes in a positive and sometimes in a destructive way. But, as they say, nothing focuses the mind more than a noose around your neck. And nothing focuses your efforts more than the prospect of total failure.
I’ve also heard another take on the same idea: a good product is the result of being at the right place, at the right time, with the right idea and with a serving of luck. In both statements, the term “luck” is positioned as the final item. In many ways, the story of SimulCharge is a testament to this wisdom.
Before I go on to the actual retelling of the story of SimulCharge I should make this clear: I do believe that SimulCharge adapters are indeed successful products. As such, I fall under the purview of the two quotes above.
In the beginning…
The adventure to SimulCharge came about when a previously unknown client described a project they were doing for Quiznos, a long-time customer of ours. They had an idea to create a loyalty program for customers purchasing a certain quantity of products.
Now, for those who are still young and read the above statement and say: “Big deal, everyone does that,” I say: “You’re showing your ‘lack’ of age and proving how quickly technology is advancing.” Back in the hallowed days of 2013, loyalty programs were still rare and mostly something for the future.
The issue for our “Mormon Friends” – they were from Salt Lake City and wore their Mormonism on their sleeve (yes, I did get a Mormon bible from them, in Ukrainian nonetheless, but no, I did not get converted) – was how to get the information from the cash register into their loyalty system. Exchanging the cash register with an enabled system was out of the question. So, their idea was to intercept the data at the receipt level.
Actually the idea was quite sound. When the cash register printed a receipt, the data was being sent via a serial port to a printer. The idea was to intercept this data and then send it to a tablet for analysis. In 2013, LAVA was known as the Source for Ports. So when our Mormon Friends started looking for solutions, our name came up.
The initial interception of data was not a problem. We devised an interface that duplicated the data, then sent it via a USB-enabled serial port to a USB Host. However, other issues quickly crept up. They all had to do with the tablet having to be placed into Host mode but also simultaneously being charged. The tablet in question was the original Galaxy Tab. The one with the funky 32-pin connector. (Yup, this was in the early days of tablets and things were a bit topsy-turvy!)
The issue of how to simultaneously charge a tablet while it was in Host mode piqued LAVA’s interests. We started doing research and discovered that we were not alone. Many people, enthusiasts, were experimenting with all kinds of methods. Most of these were being described on chat boards. No one really had a solution, but we figured there had to be one.
We tried different timing methods, different sequences of enabling different modes, read through Android source code, etc. A week of tireless prodding later, we found a solution! Remember that luck portion? What we found was definitely a stroke of luck. A certain very specific sequence that happened to occur by complete “fluke,” worked. And when I say, worked, I mean consistently and reliably. We had a solution.
And so it began – the next pages in the story of SimulCharge
Our Mormon Friends were ecstatic. We built them a product and they sold the idea to Quiznos. LAVA, in the meantime, was trying to figure out where else we could market this device. To put that into context, I need to state that the device was quite small but very labour-intensive. The 32-pin connector was hard to get and even harder to wire up. A wire led from the connector to a PCB with a small CPU on it that handled a state machine for all the various connection states. On top of all that, LAVA did not have an enclosure for such a device.
The next chapter in the story of SimulCharge
Again, 2013 seems so long ago, technologically speaking. At the time, 3D printers were just starting to be practical. The enclosure question was resolved by buying a 3D printer and actually printing a tiny two-part enclosure. The enclosure quality was horrific and, as such, we presented the product as a hobbyist-only product.
Somewhere in this period, Lady Luck struck again, but this time she really came through. In parallel with LAVA’s struggles to release a product in a completely unknown area and certainly outside LAVA’s zone of comfort, a major Canadian retailer was looking at creating a “Customer Facing Device” and using it to eliminate pre-printed lists of automotive windshield wipers and subsequently automotive light bulbs, oil filters, batteries etc. Simply put, this company wanted to take a tablet, hook it up to the internet and create a kiosk solution.
Like our Mormon Friends, they ran into the same problem: how to make a tablet a Host device but still allow it to be charged. The Samsung rep working with this retailer was told by his technical staff in South Korea that such a device was not possible. Somehow, being technically savvy, he came upon our device, purchased two, and sent one to Korea to prove a point.
The die was cast. Korea came back with a different plan, looking to implement a similar system into one of their new tablets. LAVA was engaged as a proving ground and designer of the external adapter.
Let there be light
Many trials and tribulations followed. But in the end, not only was the SimulCharge product line born, but a whole industry of peripheral-enabled kiosks was started. The Canadian retailer successfully deployed over 2,500 units of the LAVA Kiosk in their chain of stores. LAVA can honestly say that it was at the forefront of this technology and, through it, an innovator in the field of Battery Modulation and Lithium Battery Longevity and preservation, technologies that today are becoming mainstream. But that is another story…