Wednesday, September 24, 2014

TI Fuel Tank BoosterPack & MSP430F5529 Launchpad - Review


Firstly I want to thank Element14 for allowing me the chance to review this  product and I must say I enjoyed the challenge a lot. This product was definitely changing and I enjoyed collaborating with both Peter Oaks (sharing tips) and Lauren Slater (getting product info). I will attempt to follow the traditional outline for a review but I ended up spending more time understanding the gas gauge and eventually the charger rather than messing around with the Boosterpack as a whole. My main goal in this review was more on the workings of the Gas Gauge and Solar Charger so comments on the actual boosterpack may be at a minimum.

Unboxing
The unboxing was exactly what I expected from a TI product (I have several of their kits). They have a clean form with no clutter and a single page to get you started quickly. There is the usual software to download but as a customer of TI and others I am used to that and expect it (nice to have the latest version before spending hours debugging)

The MSP430-F5529 has a slightly smaller box than the other Launchpads (MSP-EXP430G2, Stellaris) which is nice since it conserves a bit of space on my shelf. Inside is the usual focus on the launchpad with the cable hidden away and a message from the MSP430 team under the launchpad.


The Fuel Tank was also very nicely packed with a TI’s attention to presentation. The battery was in bubble wrap and placed firmly in hard foam to prevent it from bouncing around. The boosterpack was loose in the box. There was no USB cable for charging, thankfully there was one in the MSP430-F5529 and since that kit was not used I had a cable to spare (note to add one for future sales).

MSP430-F5529
The MSP430-F5529 requested an update when I plugged it in. This update appeared to be taking a very long time and finally freezing. Not fully thinking it through and doing the stupid thing I unplugged the board killing the EZ-FET lite programmer on board. Thankfully for the MSP-EXP430G2 that I have I was able to reprogram the programer (if you are wondering how just ask and I will lay out the steps) . After updating the EZ-FET lite again and letting it complete I was able to attempt to run some demo software on it.

I quickly realized that the code for the Fuel Tank would not run natively on the launchpad and that some fixes would be needed to get it working. After spending a good deal of time working with the Stellaris I think the MSP430Ware may resolve this issue, something I may look into at a later date. After a short period trying to get this launchpad to work with the Fuel Tank and releasing it would be some work I moved on to the board that did have code written for them.

MSP-EXP430G2
From my other projects and courses I have gone through, I have a few MSP-EXP430G2s laying around and since there is code for this launchpad and being one of the simplest boards to program I thought I would try with this next.

Unfortunately this to was going to be a project in itself. With the first few tries at compiling the code and getting odd messages (could not find files that were clearly included) I left this board alone and moved to the Stellaris instead.

I have since retired this launchpad with a bit more luck. The compiler now sees all the included files but I have 77 errors that I have elected to ignore for now and write the review without the software running on this launchpad. I am hoping once this review is complete to again attempt to get the software running on the MSP-EXP430G2.

Stellaris
The Stellaris launchpad was my third choice as I have two of these laying around at home. After downloading the TivaC Ware from TI it took a bit of coxing to get everything to compile and work correctly. On my first attempt there were issues with compiliation those were solved after reinstalling TivaC Ware. I then had issues with with getting an output from the launchpad. In that case I’m not sure if it was a baud rate issue or just a bug in the system after reprograming the launchpad a few times I was able to get the board to replay to my requests for its status information

******************************************
 This is a battery demo !    
 Press:    
 1. To see the battery main parameter    
 2. To see the battery State of charge!    
******************************************

After getting the basic operation working I wanted to look through the code to change how things worked and get some extra outputs. It was very clear that the code was NOT written by TI as they generally have comments in their code, however, in this code there were few. At times I was left guessing what the intent of the code was. I was eventually able to get done what I needed to but it took more work than it should have. I will explain more about some of these issues later.

Testing Goals
Once I had a working platform it was time to start evaluating the boosterpack. When I signed up for this road test I had a list of things I said I would test and I have done my best to get the information I said I would. This list includes:

- Reliability of its safety features
- True life of the battery
- Whether it is possible to trick the gas gauge as to how much power is remaining  in the battery - Battery life with current and voltage monitoring to check power consumption
- Low battery protection, to check battery does not go below safe charge values
- See if it is possible to change the safe charge value
- If the battery is discharged below safe values (as noted in the user manual) does the battery charge as recommended and how does this affect its overall performance and life.

During the course of using the Fuel Tank I feel I have successfully covered all of the tests I set out to perform and I will outline the results as I go through the review.

Fuel Tank
When I received the fuel tank I was excited to get started as having a reliable way to receive battery metrics for my ongoing project would be very helpful. After going through the TI Fuel Tank Boosterpack User Guide I realized this is not the usual TI documentation. Having looked through a good few of their data sheets (uC, level shifters, MUXs, etc.) I have become accustomed to documentation that is both easy to read and understand. This document may have been easy to read but following the steps was not easy. There were some steps that seemed to be missing or some that were unclear (step 3, there is no such wording in the drop down menu) and others that were just impossible (Make sure that "Copy projects into workspace" is not checked - greyed out so I could not change the selection). Having used CCS before I was able to work things out and get one working launchpad.

After getting everything started I wanted to make a connector that would easily allow me to measure voltage across the battery as well as current through from the battery. I spent some time trying to work out whose connecter they had used but to no avail. I emailed two people from Element14 and they could not lead me anywhere. Someone suggested I try JST but, although they offered help if I provided pictures (which I did), I never heard back from them.


I had a similar issue with the battery. I was looking for a data sheet to determine what the safe values were for the battery with regards to discharging and recharging. Searching for the part number on the battery turned up nothing and there was no information forthcoming on the battery either.

Reliability
For testing the battery was cycled a few times to see what data could be obtained as well as to test low battery conditions. Also tested was charging and recharging in the middle of a discharge sequence. Some interesting results about the boosterpack and possibly the gas gauge and Li-Ion Charger were obtained. I am not 100% it is the fault of the components or the design, more on this later.

Low battery protection
The first and main issue is low battery protection. I was able to get the battery down to 4% as I was hoping to a) test the recharge lockout and b) see if I could achieve a greater capacity by “reteaching” the gas gauge what low battery is. During this test however I had the output turn on when the SoC was below 10%.


While this may be annoying, it could potentially be dangerous and at the least cause irreversible damage to a battery. With this same cycle there was also no need to boost the battery (as it should per the documentation), it charged up as normal which questions either the safety circuitry for not shutting things down or the gas gauge for saying the battery was lower than it actually was. As an interesting point on a separate cycle a boost was needed when the battery was just below 10%.

Full Charge
For the charging cycle things were not much better. The battery is rated at 1200 mAh and there is an image in the documentation showing remaining capacity at 1304 mAh. I wasn't able to reach 1200 mAh nor was anyone else doing the road test. Even without this there was an issue of incorrect readings. During one charge cycle 1133 mAh was achieved but even then from 949 mAh - 1133 mAh the SoC was at 100% (see graph below).

Related to this is there is no clear definition for 100% charged. Every cycle has given me a diffrent 100% value. In the table below it can clearly be seen that although 100% should not differ too greatly (1% is ~12 mAh) there is a wide range for 100% capacity.

Test & cycle #
Charging = 100%
Stops Charging
Discharging = 99%
1/1
950 mAh
1133 mAh
1122 mAh
1/2
1074 mAh
1096 mAh
1086 mAh
1/3
1036 mAh
1060 mAh
1050 mAh
2/1
880 mAh
902 mAh
893 mAh
2/2
858 mAh
881 mAh
873 mAh
2/3
840 mAh
862 mAh
854 mAh

The graph below shows a similar result using data from test 1. After each cycle the full capacity level is progressively lower. It is also clear the large range for which the battery is considered to be at 100%.

Self Cycling
Another revelation from the above graph was the charging and discharging of the battery even when the boosterpack was left plugged in. There is no mention of such behaviour in the user guide and no apparent reason for this in the code. There may be something in the code to explain this but following the code to find this would take longer than I was willing to spend for an answer. There was a possible explanation the data sheet for the Li-Ion charger. From the brief read it appears there is switching between charging mode and load mode, presumably then during load mode the battery would discharge until a preset value, possibly 90% of full capacity. I will attempt to clarify this and comment on any findings in the comments below.
Inconsistent SoC
A possible minor issue is the reported state of charge jumping after short bursts of charging the battery. With just ~35 seconds of charging the battery jumped from 11% to 28%, this occurred on a few occasions but when looking back at the data there were some questions that made quoting that data less than 100% reliable.
It must also be mentioned that doing the math in reverse does not yield the expected full capacity. As can be seen in the graph below, the calculated full capacity is lower than any of the full capacities achieved with this battery so far. None of the calculate values are above 900 mAh but at 99% the battery is already showing 877 mAh. Unfortunately the test was stopped before achieving 100% but from previous data it can be safely assumed that the battery would have achieved well over 900 mAh.


Inconsistent Discharge Rate
The last issue on reliability that I would like to mention is the remaining mAh divided by the current rate of discharge does not equal how much time is actually left. this was witnessed by counting the ticks between the SoC being reduced by one. When the gas gauge claimed 5 mA was being drawn from the battery (could not measure this without interrupting the test) 5 mAh should be used every hour or 1 mAh approximately every 12 minutes. the reality was the SoC changed by 1 mAh after  20, 29, 27, 11 and 23 minutes. Only one of those numbers is close to the expected 12 minutes.

Wierd Issues
During the testing there were some interesting issues that came up. One was discovered by Peter Oaks when he attempted to use Energia with the launchpad and with his Arduino. The issue he had was that every command needed to be sent twice and the first reply was usually garbage. I decided to do some of my own looking into this and could not see any such behavior with the Stellaris, but there was something interesting. In the image below it can be seen that the I2C clock is being stretched almost into the next command (read command). I am wondering if this clock stretching is somehow not accounted for in the Energia code, thus requiring commands to be sent twice as the first one is ignored due to clock stretching.



Another interesting issue discovered, not really an issue but confusing, is the commands sent. In the data sheet for the gas gauge there is no commands between 0x2D and 0x34 yet in the series of commands 0x2E, 0x2F are used presumably to request remaining capacity since that is the last command issued in the code.

Undocumented command 0x2E

After looking through the bq27510.h file all commands past 0x18 appeared to be offset with no explanation, again if anything is discovered to explain this a note will be added below.

Things still to look in to
Now that the review has mostly been completed I will attempt to look into gaining full access to the gas gauge and see what setting have been set and if anything can be changed to allow for a more reliable performance. There is always the possibility that the device has not been programmed correctly and this is something I would like to look into before using this on any of my devices. TI has a eval board EV2300 that with bq Evaluation Software helps the program the bq27510-G2 correctly. Doing this may help achieve better performance from the battery or at least reveal what can be done to help the overall performance be more predictable.
Something else to look into is the possibility the bq24210 was not set correctly. There are some settings that can be adjusted on this IC that allow you to change the charge rate and possibly how far to charge it. The issue with both of these ICs is how long their data sheets are. For two very small and seemingly simple devices there is a lot to know about them to get them working correctly.
Things to mention
As I close my review there are a few things I would like to mention that may be helpful. If these suggestions were looked at perhaps the next person going through this boosterpack wouldhave an easier time putting it all together.

Firstly the user guide could do with a bit clearer instruction to help the first time user get the boosterpack working without a hitch. On the same note test your code !! I could not find anyone who got the code to run on the MSP430 with out working at it or rewriting the code.

Secondly the schematics while almost complete are hard to read. the text is fuzzy and the two components I wanted more information about had no part number, the battery and the connector.

Thirdly, document that it is possible to get data from the gas gauge even after the output is shut down as long as the launchpad is still plugged in, don't just put a cryptic message. All that is needed is a jumper to the I2C line to pull it high. This helped me in the low power stages to get some of the interesting data I got.

// If the battery capacity is too low
// We cannot read any data from bq27510
// The SDA line is always 0
// In this case, we return -1 to let main program show "charge battery"


Fourth, comment your code. this one was so frustrating because simple things took so much longer than needed just because you first needed to jump around to find what each little part did before you could understand what it is you needed.

Summery
In summary, I had a lot of fun pulling this seemingly simple board apart. It is a great extension to the launchpad series as it allows users to break free from the USB cable. YES, I am saying this is a nifty little board even with all the issues listed above. For critical systems like the rocket project I am working on, these issues can be of concern (but can be worked around) but for the most other projects this can be a great addition. I hope to keep looking into these devices as I feel they could offer a lot of potential to future projects I would like to work on, but I will need a better understanding of them first.



Original post on Element14 can be found here

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