After sitting down with some of our Engineering team in the video above, we decided to go a little more in depth with our Senior Electrical Engineer Sterling Robison.
What do you do here at Goal Zero?
I’m Sterling Robison and I am an electrical engineer here on the product development team at Goal Zero. I spend part of my time designing new products that will go out on shelves and the rest researching core technologies that will be building blocks for later products. That’s basically what I do here.
What is the Venture 30?
So the Venture 30 is designed to be the all around, greatest, most rugged, smart power pack that’s out on the market. We’ve put a lot of attention to detail on all the different electronic features and mechanical features making it tough and weatherproof. We made sure it was compatible with anything out there under the sun that you would want to charge. We also wanted to make it charge just as fast as any of your original equipment would. It has some fun little tricks included in there with the lights, different operating modes and things like that which give it some differentiation from all the other generic stuff that’s out there.
who was it designed for?
I think everybody had the rugged outdoorsman in mind, people that need to rely on this stuff in harsh environments. That definitely shaped what the product became, but in the end I think anyone can benefit from those features which for some are a requirement, and for others are a nice benefit when using the product in their day to day lives.
What was your involvement with the project?
They handed me a list of specs and basically said, “do this”. There was a lot of ground work that went toward figuring out the best parts, circuits and other components that could meet those specs. I did a lot of hardware design up front, followed by all the firmware design. The Venture has some brains built in – a microprocessor talking to a bunch of components and sensors which make the whole thing work.
What do you mean by brains?
One of the key features that separates the Venture from all the other power banks out there is its ability to emulate ten different manufacturers charging profiles. So, regardless of whether you have a Samsung, LG, Apple or any other device, the Venture can go through the profiles and apply the quickest charging one to your specific device.
Other than that it has a bunch of other lighting modes packed into it that you can select and set up. It has a lot of built in protection built in so you can’t kill it or the thing you connect to it by plugging things in wrong. It has some smarts in there to update the programming in it if need be. It also has some programming to keep the idle usage power down really low so when it’s not in use that you can be sure the power will be there for you when you need it weeks or months down the road. It’s constantly checking for fault conditions and reacting. It also has a unique user-interface which gives people information about power in and out in a way most people will find intuitive. That’s all I can think of off of the top of my head right now.
Other than that, what makes it unique to the market?
I think the main thing is that most other power banks out on the market have a static USB port. It does one thing and one thing only. It’s not trying to figure out what your device wants, it doesn’t care how slowly your device is getting charged. If it has a light it is usually next to useless, whereas on the Venture you have a really bright light built in that will last forever and that has a lot of different modes built into it that you can use for whatever the situation demands.
On the mechanical side, it’s really rugged. It can stand up to a lot. You can drop it or leave it out in the rain. Basically you can count on it. It’s not just some cheap “fly by night” no name product with the cheapest electronics and battery stuffed in it.
What were some of the challenges with the project?
There’s always the usual challenges, trying to balance features, cost, schedule and all that stuff. That was especially hard with this one since we had such an aggressive schedule and a really tight price target that we were trying to meet. On top of that, the nature of the device being sealed inherently presented some challenges. There was a lot of attention that went into the thermal performance of the thing, to where you can actually run those high currents into your device without any ventilation. That was probably the number one challenge.
What was the most fun part of the project?
There were a lot of ups and downs, a lot of late hard nights. There were times where I thought it was done and then some bug comes up and I’m back to square one. I think probably the most fun part, and this still happens, is when we get feedback in from people that are out using it in exotic places doing crazy things and a lot of their gear quits but the venture is still going strong. I love hearing things come in from people in the real world using it.
Why buy the Venture?
The battery is pretty future proof. As technology moves along, or if you switch devices, you know that with the Venture and it’s broad base of support that it will still work. You don’t have to worry about moving on to something else.
I mean, there’s the electronics side where you have the compatibility where it will charge as fast as anything out there including what comes with your phone. Then you have the rugged mechanical side where you don’t have to mess around with plugs or anything. You can drop it in a puddle, pull it back out and know that it’s going to still work. It can fall off the ledge, fall down the stairs and it is still going to work. It really is a cut above everything else out there.
How will you use it in your personal life?
I’ve been using it as kind of my only charger for about 6-8 months at this point, all along the prototyping cycle. My favorite way to use it is as a reservoir between the wall and my phone. Your wall cord doesn’t reach the patio but your phone’s dead? No problem. I know I always have power whether I am headed to the airport, out mountain biking or whatever. It’s just every day, every way.
What do you like the most about being an engineer here?
I like the opportunity to make a difference in a little bit broader way by creating products that people not only enjoy or appreciate, but that they can really benefit from. I like having a voice in shaping what products Goal Zero does, what technologies we use, and how things work. It is fun trying to make sure everyone has a great experience with our product.
Anything else you want to say about the venture?
I mean, read your manual, it is all in there. One of the cool features we put in there was the shipping mode. If you’re going to be boxing your stuff up and sending it to the other side of the world and you’re going to show up a few months later, there’s a way to hold down one of the buttons and get it to completely turn off. Once you get there, plug back in to wake it up and you can count on it being just as charged as when you put it in the box.
One of the best experiences I have had with the Venture was when I was out with my family. We wanted to explore these lava tube caves, so we drove out across the desert to them and when we got there, we realized we had forgotten any type of flashlight or headlamp. As that occurred to me, I thought, “I’ve got my Venture and it’s already got a great light”. It worked amazing and it had a very broad, nice warm light that saved the trip.