AUTO DRIVE: The automation of automotive USB-C mobile device testing

2021 March 17

The need for USB-C and power delivery ports in automobiles is speeding up, and the auto industry is adapting to the new demands. As the engineer in charge of testing, you’ll need to up your automated validation testing game. 

We live in an on-the-go world, and our devices travel with us in our cars. We expect -- and demand -- that those devices keep charged and ready. The automobile industry is responding and we’ll soon be able to not only charge, but supercharge, every single device in our cars. If you’re a car owner, you’re rejoicing. If you’re a test engineer, your life just got harder. 

USB Type-C technology makes testing harder and more complex

In the USB world, Type-C technologies put the pedal to the metal: high-speed data transport, sophisticated power delivery, high-charging capacity, universal connectivity, and reversible plug orientation. 

Automakers adopted this technology early and quickly. Consumers loved the innovations, and now USB Type-C technology applications can be found in all modern automobile makes and models.  If you’re a testing and quality engineer, you are caught between manufacturers wanting to push the limits of USB-C technologies in automobiles and the consumers who expect the technology to be easy-to-use, reliable, and safe -- no frying of devices will be allowed!  

We designed and built the Acroname Programmable Industrial USB Type-C 4-port Switch to meet your needs — the engineer testing the limits.  

Automated Validation Testing Challenges

USB Type-C testing is complex and complicated. Like all newer-faster-better-more-powerful technologies, the circuitry is fragile and persnickety. Assembly complications, shorts, and connectivity problems add to the testing challenges in production and manufacturing environments.  

USB Type-C Testing has a number of challenges: 

  • USB Type-C Connector is symmetrical in a 24-pin 8.4 mm x 2 mm form. 

This design can deliver up to 100W of power and enables fast-charging applications while simultaneously delivering data. 

But the small pin pitch increases the risk of pin-to-pin short circuits that are especially devastating for the sideband use (SBU) and the configuration channel (CC) pins. 

  • Downstream circuitry in units under test (UUT) needs to withstand 20 V. The CC and SBU pins are directly adjacent to the Vbus pins. A short to these pins will likely expose downstream circuitry to 20 V, causing catastrophic damage to units under test (UUT).

  • Each USB Type-C port has 2 CC pins that allow cables to be “flippable.”  Consumers like the “always connects the first time without flipping the cord a gazillion times” feature. But with two valid orientations, test automation becomes more difficult. 

  • Strict safety-ground isolation requirements are needed between the test-control computers and the UUT — while maintaining USB data connectivity. 

  • USB Type-C devices are versatile and connect to AC/DC power, display ports, Thunderbolt, USB Micro-B, USB-A, and USB-B. Overlapping standards for each component require monitoring and control in real-time.

  • Devices and hosts need to support Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay™. These applications have blurred the line between “hosts” and “devices.”    Engineers need a platform that allows testing of numerous hosts and devices in various orientations and roles. Enter Acroname. 

The Acroname USB-C Switch: Built for control freaks like you 

When USB-C technology sped onto the scene, Acroname realized that a new automated validation testing paradigm was needed. This new paradigm needed to address key shortcomings in past production test systems: long test cycle times; frequent system maintenance, and unplanned production downtime due to equipment failures. 

The Acroname Programmable Industrial USB-C 4-port Switch can withstand rugged and reliable testing -- all while giving you the flexibility, control, and measurement tools you need for a new testing paradigm. 

You can program the switch to select one of the four available USB-C ports to conduct hot-plug and unplug operations, enable and disable individual ports, monitor current, and voltage and automate connector orientation flip operations. 

The USB-C-Switch can individually control the high speed, SuperSpeed, CC, SBU, and powerlines. 

Advanced USB-C features are also supported -- including USB Power Delivery (USB-PD), alternate modes such as DisplayPort and HDMI, and Apple CarPlay™ and Android™ automotive protocols. 

This is where the “switch” comes into play. Moving from Apple CarPlay to Android Auto is simple, while giving you more control. . (The Universal Orientation Cable - UOC - is required (C38-USBC-UOC) for automated USB-C connector flip functions.) 

The USB-C-Switch is bi-directional, allowing it to be used in 1:4 or 4:1 configurations. Keep-alive charging is available to sustain battery-powered devices when they are not selected. 

We designed the USB-C-Switch to withstand electrostatic discharge strikes up to ± 15kV strikes. This best-in-class design prevents the corruption of data lines, components, and circuitry. 

All Acroname products are designed, assembled, and tested in the USA. Our customer service and sales teams are based in Boulder, CO. 

(Don’t know if you need a USB Hub or USB Switch? Read this.)

BrainStem®: the intelligence that powers the testing

Acroname's BrainStem® technology bridges the gap between hardware and software systems. Developed and trademarked by Acroname, the concept behind BrainStem is based on the human nervous system's data gathering, interpretation, and transmitting processes. BrainStem® gathers data, interprets the environment, and transmits messages to all components. Just like the brain is the control center for the human body, BrainStem® is the control center of the testing body. 

BrainStem is scalable and usable

BrainStem relays information across industry standardized interfaces such as serial, I2C, USB, Ethernet, and BlueTooth. Each controller has an embedded virtual machine kernel that allows for rich and reactive embedded application execution, reflexive software creation, and direct hardware access using a structured packet format. The BrainStem network can support more than 100 microcontrollers, and each microcontroller can have several subordinate networks of devices, sensors, or interfaces.

The BrainStem platform and associated APIs provide powerful computers easy access to sensors and actuators. Since these devices exist across such a wide application range, BrainStem modules are designed to be as generalized and adaptable as possible.

The USB-C-Switch complements Acroname’s programmable USB hub products, providing a full solution suite for customers who need to quickly and simply automate USB switching and port handling functions. Test engineers have the tools to manage USBs. 

In action: Acroname and Kentigen create a new testing paradigm

The result: a low-maintenance, high-throughput, scalable automated test system

Kentigen, a major European test automation service, needed to develop a next-generation, end-of-line (EOL), automated production test-system for an automotive USB-C hub module. The solution needed to add USB-C-specific features and address key shortcomings like long-cycle times, frequent system maintenance, and unplanned production downtime due to equipment failures. 

Acroname created a new paradigm for test-system development, micro-FCT, and an end-of-line functional test system that met strict automotive test requirements for USB-Type-C hubs. 

You can read the white paper here

Acroname: Testing the limits

The Acroname Programmable Industrial USB Type-C 4-port Switch helps you test -— and make better — the technology that consumers use every single day.  

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