Microsoft Wants One-Week Battery Life From Smartphones
June 12, 2014 4:59 PM
comment(s) - last by
Mixture of battery tuning and firmware innovations could deliver 3 to 5 times longer battery life
poaching of Microsoft
) top scientists by Google Inc. (
) and other rivals has made headlines in recent years, Microsoft still appears to have plenty of brainpower in the stable at its long-term R&D unit, Microsoft Research.
I. Batteries Within Batteries
Google X Labs
, Microsoft Research focuses on solutions that are often highly unorthodox and seemingly years away from commercialization yet might make a major splash in key segments. An example of a matured Microsoft Research effort was
mind-bending software that generates 3D scenes from 2D images
Among the most intriguing projects of current Microsoft Research team members is the work of senior mobility research
. Mr. Chandra joined Microsoft in 2005 after receiving his Ph.D in computer science from
research focused on wireless stacks
Today, Mr. Chandra's work is still focused on mobile devices, but on one of the mobile industry's biggest shortfalls --
. Today’s most powerful smartphones and tablets require daily recharges. Mr. Chandra's goal is highly ambitious and specific -- to deliver smartphone technology that takes battery life under average daily use from around a day or two to a full week.
Microsoft Research senior scientist Ranveer Chandra wants smartphones that can go for a week without a recharge. [Image Source: Microsoft]
In other words, he wants to make smartphone battery life around 3 to 5 times greater than what is currently available.
Part of that increase could come from
improved battery chemistries
, but Mr. Chandra isn't holding his breath. He points out that battery capacity has only doubled in the past 15 years. Presenting on his research at the
MIT Technology Review
Digital Summit in San Francisco
You can’t just wait for the best battery technology to come along. We can make a lot of progress because systems today don’t use battery intelligently.
His most innovative idea is to produce a battery with two or more individual cells or segments tuned for different power consumption levels. Today's smartphones have a single battery that supplies current at what is considered an "average" load. In smartphone terms, typically this means an average use case when the phone is on.
Heat and electrical leakages diminish any battery from its ideal theoretical capacity. Batteries see the lowest level of waste -- and highest level of energy efficiency -- when operating at the current they're tuned to. The problem when it comes to smartphones is that at low power (standby), the hardware is typically drawing too little current and wastes more power, as a result. On the flip side, when under an unusual heavy load (e.g. a pocket 3D-game) the phone may draw more than the battery's standard current, causing it to heat up and waste power.
Mr. Chandra's initial concept involves using two lithium ion batteries -- one for standby current levels; the other for current levels at higher performance. In tests this seemingly simple change increase a smartphone's battery life by 20 to 50 percent.
While he didn't go into details, it's reasonable to extrapolate that eventually the principle could be extended to subdivisions of the active power cell into multiple current levels -- perhaps one for very low power activities (reading texts, etc.), one for medium power activities (internet browsing), and one for very graphically intensive activities (HD video, 3D gaming). Also, as standby power is typically consumed while the phone is sitting in your pocket (poorly ventilated) and active power is typically consumed when the phone is sitting in your hand (well ventilated), the standby cell could be tuned to operate under poor ventilation conditions.
II. Smarter Multitasking
While that technology hasn't made it to the commercial phase yet, Mr. Chandra's firmware work has started to trickle into use. One of his projects is
-- a piece of OS firmware that essentially does predictive multitasking. It watches app usage in order to predict which currently unused apps aren't likely to be used for some time. Those apps are then either paused or slowed down. E-Loupe uses a cloud database of a plethora of Windows users in order to generate smarter predictions, even before your device learns the quirks of your particular usage patterns.
Microsoft's E-Loupe uses the cloud to optimize multitasking power consumption.
Windows 8 incorporates a rudimentary version
of E-Loupe into its
laptop power management firmware
. It watches how much computing resources (and by proxy power), an app uses and then uses that information to control CPU frequencies (and power consumption).
It will take a lot of work to achieve the dynamite goal of a 3-5 times battery life improvement in the timeframe Mr. Chandra desires -- the next several years. But Microsoft appears to be in striking distance of those goals, if he is able to properly mature his current mixture of hardware (battery tuning) and firmware (predictive task pausing/backgrounding, CPU clockspeed control).
If Windows Phones could run for a full week on a single charge under normal use and Microsoft held the patents to make that capability exclusive, that could be a game changer for Microsoft's smartphone ambitions.
MIT Technology Review
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Parallel Power Cores
6/12/2014 10:36:02 PM
Wouldn't it make more sense to just have several battery cores?
During stand-by, just use one or two cores.
During moderate tasks, use three to five cores.
During intensive tasks, use six to ten cores.
This would allow for smother current scaling,
AND could optimize power consumption by rotating active cores,
AND could mitigate efficiency drops resulting from loss of full charge (by making the number of active cores dependant upon a current draw vs capacitance relationship).
RE: Parallel Power Cores
6/13/2014 11:58:34 AM
if consumers keep conforming, then we will never get anywhere.
batteries have not progressed anywhere near to what the rest of the components of your typical phone have. We should demand more, not turn off cores and apps.
RE: Parallel Power Cores
6/13/2014 2:01:35 PM
The problem isn't demand for better batteries.
The problem is that physics exists...and batteries are, and have been for quite a while, as good as they're going to get.
Someone's going to have to invent something truly novel for any kind of big jump in battery performance. Not that I have any idea what that "something" might be. But batteries have been in very high demand for a very long time - really, I would say since the transistor radio. And it seems quite apparent that there's just not anything left to squeeze out.
Need something new. Until then...you can either use portable devices with the batteries we *Can* make, or you can do without.
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