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Audio jack transforms into self-powered smartphone data port

29 May 2014

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 Smartphone Quick-Jack Solution

NXP Semiconductors N.V. has simplified connecting a variety of external devices to smartphones for self-powered data communications with its Smartphone Quick-Jack solution. 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.

"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."

Peripherals based on the Quick-Jack solution make it possible for the phone to read sensor data, which can then be stored, displayed, and quickly transmitted to the cloud. In a wearable health monitor, for example, the Quick-Jack solution can be used to track a patient's heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Sensor data can be displayed on the phone, for use by the patient, and can also be transmitted to the cloud for use by caregivers.

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