Microsoft Researchers develop new system for increased battery life

There's one thing that everybody looks for in a mobile device - long battery life. There are constant promises of technological breakthroughs that are just around the corner, but rather than waiting for these to come to fruition, Microsoft researchers have decided to come up with a different solution.

Instead of using a new battery type, Microsoft Research workers have devised a system that using currently available battery technology in conjunction with smarter software. Known as Software Defined Batteries, the system uses multiple batteries, and management software is used to pick the most suitable power source depending on the task that is being performed.

The researchers working on the project will give a presentation at the ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles this coming week, but have already published a paper explaining that the system "exposes APIs to the operating system which control the amount of charge flowing in and out of each battery, enabling it to dynamically trade one battery property for another depending on application and/or user needs".

What this means in practice is that a system will include several batteries, each optimised for a particular task. The usage, discharge, and charging of each battery will be controlled by software and determined by what the computer is being used for. For example, one battery might be used when graphic-heavy tasks such as gaming or video editing are under way, while another is responsible for powering the computer when browsing the web. But a key feature of Software Defined Batteries is learning how a computer is used:

"For example, the system may recognize that the user plugs in the tablet every day around 2:45 p.m., and then gives a long PowerPoint presentation every day at 3 p.m. That means the computer needs to be ready to do quick charge at that time, so the person can make it through that afternoon meeting.

Prototypes have already been produced, and it is hoped that it won’t be long before the software-controlled, multiple-battery idea is adopted by laptop and tablet manufacturers. But the potential goes further.

The researchers believe that the technology could be used in wearable devices to share power duties between a traditional Li-ion battery and flexible battery built into, say, the strap of a smartwatch. This would allow for a smaller battery to be used in the main body of the watch, meaning that thickness and bulk can be reduced.

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