NXP's Quick-Jack transforms an audio jack into a multi-purpose, self-powered data port



Smartphone Quick-Jack Solution eval board

NXP Semiconductors announced the novel & versatile Smartphone Quick-Jack Solution that simplifies connecting a variety of external devices to smartphones for self-powered data communications. Adapting the standard 3.5mm audio jack found on smartphones, the Solution creates a universal interface for external sensors, switches, peripherals and other devices. Inspired by the University of Michigan's Project HiJack, it gives mobile, consumer and industrial product designers simple, plug-and-go connectivity for adding features to a variety of applications, from wearable medical and fitness devices, gaming controllers, and toys, to diagnostics and maintenance tools.

Many app features depend on connectivity with external devices to collect readings from sensors, control switches, data collected by external meters, as well as act on user inputs from keyboard, wands, or joysticks and more. For these types of apps, tying up the phone's high-bandwidth USB/Lightning port is unnecessary. While wireless connectivity offers user convenience; it can also increase BOM cost in small devices and requires experience working with wireless protocols, and an external power source. By repurposing the audio jack, the Smartphone Quick-Jack solution makes communication with external devices as easy as plugging in headphones.

"Smartphone user interfaces and connectivity features have revolutionized personal communication. The new Smartphone Quick-Jack Solution makes it exceptionally easy to take advantage of those same appealing features when designing end products, from something as sophisticated as a portable air-quality monitor, to something as rewarding as a child's toy with changeable/uploadable features," said Jim Trent, vice president and general manager, business line microcontrollers, NXP Semiconductors.

"We initially designed HiJack to create a universal way to connect low-cost sensor devices easily and securely to any brand of smartphone, tablet, or even PC," said Prabal Dutta, Assistant Professor, EECS , University of Michigan. "Today, the applications for audio jack connectivity have exploded, from our original vision of low-cost measurement instruments, to mobile entertainment, secure card readers, remote controls, personal medical monitors and many more."

For end-product designers, the Smartphone Quick-Jack Solution puts appealing smartphone UI features at their fingertips for data display, controlling switches, monitoring sensors, collecting diagnostics and other field data. The phone's wireless connectivity supports data upload, storage, firmware updates, and general communication with the cloud, without the need to configure extra hardware or software.

For smartphone app developers, the solution provides plug-and-go data connectivity and power for external devices, making it simple to add sophisticated, user- or environment-aware inputs and features into smartphone apps. It also creates a secondary data/control channel for use when the USB/Lightning port is busy. The Smartphone Quick-Jack Solution comprises a small board, a free example app for popular smartphone OSs, and design documentation.

The board houses:
· The LPC812 microcontroller to handle decoding/encoding of the Manchester algorithm (enabling use of the left audio channel for data transport) and communication with external peripherals
· Source code for the LPC812 is available free and is ready to use with NXP LPCXpresso tools.
· A standard extension header for easy connection of sensors, switches, HMI peripherals, or data- collection devices
· An energy harvesting circuit that draws power from the smartphone over the right audio channel to power the board and attached components
· An onboard miniature joystick to visualize data/signals and control the smartphone UI in the example application

In conjunction with the launch, NXP will host a competition whereby designers can submit ideas on what application they would create if they had a Quick-Jack board and enter a free drawing to win one of five boards to help their idea become a reality. The contest is now open and entries will be accepted until June 20, 2014.

Smartphone Quick-Jack

NXP Semiconductors