Three years ago, I had no idea what Chargie was going to become – world’s #1 phone battery protection system. I knew the basic principles of charge limiting and the positive outcomes it has on battery health, but at that point in 2019 they were only theoretical, or based on what others had studied.
Now, there are over 27,000 Chargie devices out there and countless testimonials of people using it and telling us (publicly or over email) how Chargie had changed the entire course of their battery life and how it saved them money, time and effort.
For the past three years, I’ve been preaching to people to not fully charge their phones, or do it as rarely as possible. Well, all this time it seemed obvious to me (and some other battery-obsessed freaks) that you also shouldn’t let your phone discharge to 0, because it also causes harm to the battery (maybe even more than briefly letting it go to full).
One of the best perks modern society has is the instant fulfillment of everything: one-hour home delivery, home office, ultra-fast charging of batteries of devices ranging from smart watches and phones to electric cars.
Electric cars and phones are not much alike, when it comes to battery management. The first have huge battery capacities and don’t ever fully charge nor discharge, have complex management and cooling systems, while the latter are mostly glass slabs with huge processing power and no cooling. What’s even worse is that they’re most of the time covered in a heat-insulating plastic cover. Why is that worse? It’s not for the phone’s aesthetics, obviously, but for the battery.
Aside our phones, most of us have a multitude of battery-powered devices laying around… not really using battery, but plugged in all the time.
After a while, that Bluetooth speaker, smart radio, smart watch, drone, your kids’ LEGO battery pack or even flash light… will not have the same battery it did when it was new. That’s because they’ve been kept plugged in A LOT. Which sucks, if you ask me, because it shouldn’t be like that – you should just plug them and they should stay healthy, since you don’t have to worry when to unplug each and every device you have around your home.
When you start manufacturing with no experience in manufacturing whatsoever, you have to learn from others and invent. And not be afraid to change the design when it makes sense. You want to make things happen, no matter how bad they might come out at first.
There are some people who might object to this point of view, but that’s the way it happens on so many levels, simply because every little thing you do requires experimentation and money, which all take time. And time is the only resource you have, really. Take a look at Tesla and compare their 2007 product with the newest Model 3 (different scales, I know, but the same phenomenon).
On the other hand, when Chargie started growing, other possibilities came along. Like it’s the case with our new resin printer, the Anycubic Mono X.
About resin printing
Resin printing is the culmination of technology advances in 2021, as far as I can see. The fact that it just became affordable is even more wonderful.
Basically, from bottom to top, you just have an UV lamp, a monochrome 4K LCD screen, a resin recipient with a very transparent bottom and an aluminum platform that goes up 0.05mm at a time with each layer. The 4K LCD opens and shuts its pixels according to the current layer’s image (you can compare this to a CT scanner’s image).
The result is that parts come out at hugely higher speed, since it doesn’t matter if you only do one or if you do 80 pieces at a time, the layer’s exposure time is the same (about 2 seconds).
The fun fact is that the parts come out with an outstanding quality. You can extrude text that only has 2mm height, you can do a lot of things you really can’t do with classic FDM printers, with 30 times more speed (only depends on the screen’s size). Your parts don’t bend, don’t melt at 50 degrees Celsius and are not flammable. And you can use a neutral base resin (transparent or opaque white) which you can colour to your liking, and you get translucent or opaque parts. Very neat.
The not to fun fact is that the resin is more expensive than PLA filament, that you have to wash the resulting parts with isopropyl alcohol for 10 minutes, then expose them to sunlight (or a UV lamp) for another couple of minutes on each side, to perform a final curing of the resin. All in all, the entire process is much messier than FDM but again, the resulting pieces’ quality is outstanding.
When things go bad, though, you’ve just lost 80 half-cases and almost half a kilo of resin, which is quite a lot (the one below just happened as I was writing this and the resin from the vat finished, leaving some of the parts incomplete).
Starting out small
At first, Chargie’s cases were made out of heat-extruded PLA at about 200 oC. If you do it slowly, the parts come out very nicely, but you need to go slooooow. Which is not an option for even small-batch production processes, or you need dozens of printers doing the same thing and eating a huge amount of energy. And you can’t have layer heights of just 0.05mm like you do in resin printing, since the layers are really printed one at a time.
The advantage, though, is that you can change your mind whenever you feel like, and you don’t have to spend a fortune on new plastic molds. They DO NOT come cheap (5-figure numbers), and can only be made by specialist engineers, pose very high quality issues when they don’t make them well and you really don’t have any control over their quality until the next batch, thus making the feedback very delayed and so 20th century. On the other hand, 3D-printing, whichever flavour you choose, is very flexible and its quality is all under control, with bearable quirks (I’m talking about FDM, because resin’s quality is already outstanding and can be compared to top-notch plastic casing).
So for a startup in 2021, resin-based 3D printing is the only way out of this issue with the least amount of investment.
Serving the purpose
For Chargie, which is a device that most of the time sits hidden under a bed, casing quality is not functionally important – it has to be there to give the device mechanical sturdiness, but otherwise I thought FDM printing is a good tradeoff between price and quality.
The visual qualities of a product are, on the other hand, the ones that impress most, and I can say it loud now that I’ve never looked back at PLA printing once I started doing resin.
Chargie is now ready for medium volume production. 2021’s chip crisis is another big hit on production from Lighty Electronics to Tesla and Samsung, but that’s a story for another post.
It more or less does the same thing as Chargie Founder Edition, but more accurately and now it also measures the power drawn from your charger and displays it in the app. On top of that, I added functionality that cuts off power below a configurable threshold, or above a certain limit, to protect power surges or short circuits. Of course, your phone and charger also have this, but an extra protection measure is never bad. Android Auto support has also been implemented in hardware, a function waited by so many.
We had a few issues with the PCB assembly factory in China that led to a big delay (about a month) in deliveries. However, that is now history. All of the Chargies have been put into cases (still 3D-printed for now) and now they’ve shipped all over the world to the patient customers who waited dearly.
The effort has been huge – over 18 hours a day of work, answering to emails and making sure everything goes as planned, including finishes to the firmware, app and hardware. We even had to change all of the quartz crystals in every device, because of a human error at one of our parts suppliers.
But here we are. We prioritized UK deliveries because they’re going out of the EU on Jan 1st, and there’s no telling right now of how customs officials will behave after that date. So we packed them in one big parcel on Thursday and shipped them to a trusting partner in London via DHL, who re-shipped individual packs using Royal Mail’s next-day delivery with a tracking number, which means UK customers who preordered up to Dec. 19 will receive them first. I think we will implement this type of shipping with other countries too. Customs formalities are more complicated than with DHL if it’s not an EU country, but it might just work better in the long run. So expect a new, hybrid, piggybacked delivery method that’s faster, cheaper and better than normal post.
Well, not everyone’s experience has been the same. Others wanted to give out Chargies for Christmas, but unfortunately it wasn’t possible. However, this is not the norm and we’ll try to do better next time. I’m sorry for all those ruined plans. Our next stock will be double (we hadn’t expected such a surge in orders) and we will continue to restock well before it’s over.
I’m personally glad that the Chargie idea caught so well and that people are aware of their batteries’ degradation and want to protect what they already own. This is anti-consumerism at its finest.
So yes, we’re shipping more than just a product. We’re shipping parts of our lives, thousands of hours of hard work, sleepless nights, early mornings and the promise to innovate further. Very few people can say they made it to this point – having an actual product that sprung out of their minds, then make it and ship it to real customers, who use it in their real lives.
Thank you for all your patience, trust and involvement in the Chargie project. It means a lot and it fuels its own progress and the other innovative gadgets I have in mind.
We, as a species, have evolved by eventually setting ourselves on top of the entire food chain. Nevertheless, the days of wandering for food with our empty bellies still haunt us genetically and that may be the reason why we sometimes make irrational decisions as to whether we actually need to have our supplies full or not: electric car battery, refrigerator, gas tank, stomach and our phone battery.
The scenario is simple:
Joe wakes up. He takes a look at his phone, it’s 7am. Battery is at 75%, because he used Chargie to stop it.
Joe eats his breakfast, sips some coffee while browsing through some news and his Facebook feed, maybe some e-mails. Battery goes down to 70%.
Joe drives or takes the subway or bus to work, maybe he uses the power-hungry Waze, or scrolls through his Facebook feeds. Battery drops to 50%. At this level, the phone doesn’t get very hot because the internal resistance hasn’t dropped much yet, the battery has about 3.7V (ideal).
He places his phone on the wireless charging pad at work. The pad also has a Chargie attached before it, so Joe’s Chargie app on the phone detects that it’s being charged, tests the power line, decides that it’s not the home charger, and looks for the work charger. After blinking the power a few times, it connects and quietly recharges the phone to 65%
Joe uses his phone throughout the day, the battery oscillates maybe between 40% and 60%, but is stopped every time it reaches 65. Battery degradation: almost zero.
After work, Joe gets back home. Before leaving work, he pumps some more power into the phone by setting Chargie to 70%.
So maybe he goes to a bar, maybe he picks up his wife or kids from somewhere, it gets late.
Joe goes to sleep at about 11pm. His battery, in its high 30s, is still giving him enough power without having been stressful throughout the day.
Cycle repeats. Battery lasts forever without a hitch. Joe only takes it to 100% on occasion, which is by far less damaging than otherwise keeping it there all the time with no practical purpose.
So what’s the catch, you may ask.
Had Joe not used Chargie, the battery would’ve been at 100% or in its high 80s or 90s all day long. After a year, Joe’s battery would’ve started to die on him on long journeys or at times when he’d needed that phone. Joe would’ve been unhappy.
By only taking the charge to 70% or 60% or the lowest usable value for the day, Joe still has enough power in it and he’ll be able to use his phone at full capacity and speed for a much longer time. Should he decide to buy a new phone, the old one would still have a long fight until becoming technologically obsolete.
Joe is happy and so is the planet, because you know, recycling and reusing more are closely linked to lowered pollution levels of all kinds. And Joe’s battery is still at some 95% capacity after 5 years of usage. In a perfectly functioning phone, after an absurd amount of usage.
Bottom line: you don’t need a 100% charged phone if you work in an office where it sits on a charger all day long, anyway.
This practice just degrades your battery and the old 100% is not the same 100% after a while. The battery starts to get hot, the phone runs slower to prevent further damage by overheating, and after a year and a half you end up selling it for nothing or taking it to a repair shop. And buy a new, glorious phone that does about the same stuff the old one did, but faster – mostly because its new battery can still do it.
It’s exactly a year since I’ve sketched the first Chargie schematic. I can’t believe it went so fast!
Today I’ve compiled version 1.18.06 of the app, the best so far. Now Chargie can do much more than it could back in May when version 1.0.0 came out.
I remember the first customer at Maker Faire Vienna in May – he was a very young dude, saying he’d dreamed about such a device for years – that’s what’s truly fulfilling about inventing and making stuff.
Knowing that your creation will enter people’s homes, will satisfy their needs, that some of them will be actively involved in the very core of your product’s development with their original ideas, is something few people experience in their lifetime.
It’s been an honor knowing you all from around the world. We’ve sold more than 1300 Chargies on every inhabited continent, in most of the countries where there’s a smartphone.
It’s been a good time – with real feedback, as deserved – good or bad.
Let 2020 be a year of progress for this project and let batteries live well for your entire phones’ lives.
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