My Thoughts On Proprietary Electronic Technology Among Brands

Since the dawn of RC there have been numerous options for electrical connectors offered by various manufacturers. From the old-school standard Tamiya (Molex) style connector to the W.S. Deans T-Plug to the Anderson Powerpole, users have had a choice to mix and match into whatever project they want to build. Want a Tamiya TA01 Skyline sedan with Powerpole’s? Fire up the soldering iron and install a pair on your esc and battery and off you go. Want an Associated RC10T3 with a basic speed control and a Tamiya (Molex) connector? Take the speed control out of the box and install it, simple as that.

With the advent of LiPO batteries and the higher amperage that they can provide, the older style connectors became a choke point for the power heading to the speed control. Early lithium batteries were available with a Molex connector and users quickly found them to be well short of handling the power; connectors melted together, batteries were overheating and the performance just wasn’t there. Over time even the lower end sport pack type batteries began making the switch to higher efficiency connectors such as Deans, Traxxas conectors or 4mm (or larger) bullet connectors. This allowed the battery to transfer the amperage more efficiently, thus reducing heat issues and increasing performance.

Fast forward to 2015 and the introduction of the Traxxas iD connector. This little black piece of techno-wizardry automatically identified the type and cell count of the battery allowing the low voltage detection inside the ESC to be automatically calculated and set without any input from the end user. This also made one-touch charging possible as the balance plug was built directly into the connector, nothing else to hook up. For a wide-eyed RC enthusiast buying their first hobby grade RC this took a big chunk out of the learning curve with lithium batteries. This also made things safer as the risk of unbalanced charging was all but eliminated.

Early spring 2019 saw Spektrum introduce their own proprietary technology called Spektrum Smart Technology that included batteries, chargers, power supplies, and now speed controls and integration with the receiver for telemetry. Once again, this was a great thing for those who needed an all encompassing package to power that brand new Horizon branded RTR or kit.

The same blessing for some is a curse for others though. If you’ve been in the hobby for years or decades and have numerous cars, batteries and chargers, these proprietary systems force you to buy all new gear. Your current Deans plug batteries won’t work with the Traxxas ESC or the Spektrum charger. Buying a Horizon brand RC means buying into their ecosystem of products and locks you into the brand for future vehicles unless you intend to use that battery and charger with only that one vehicle. The same issue arises with Traxxas and the iD connector.

Changing the connectors to the same units as the rest of your equipment is a simple enough solution to the issue. Solving that problem does create another one though: if you are paying a premium for the Smart Technology or the iD functionality, you are essentially wasting money by clipping that connectors and tossing it in the bin.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand why brand do this. Brand retention is key to their survival. Keeping a customer costs much less than attracting a new customer. Marketing dollars can be spent more effectively, targeting those who already have experience with your products instead of trying to make an ad that caters to all types of RC enthusiasts. Saving money here can mean putting more money into research and development or funneling some extra funding into a race program. It’s a win-win if you are planning to stick with that one brand or family of brands.

If you are like me though, this presents a problem. I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 RC vehicles, numerous batteries and a handful of chargers to charge those batteries. All of my collection has been switched to Deans connectors over the years and that means I need fewer batteries to serve the same purpose. What that also means is if I want a new Traxxas E-Revo 2.0 I would have to buy TWO iD batteries and an iD charger, along with the $600-700 truck. That can mean an additional $300 or more to outlay before I can even drive the truck. And what if I don’t like the iD setup? Then that’s $300+ that could have been spent elsewhere, much more wisely. The same problem arises with Horizon/Spektrum. If I don’t want another Horizon brand car, I’m stuck with batteries and a charger that only work in one car.

What do you think? Is Smart Technology or the iD system worth the hassle and cost? Do you feel stuck with a brand because of this? Do you feel like the increased safety and simplicity of charging is worth the extra cost? Post a comment below and let us know!

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