We’ve said it before and we’re saying it again. Batteries have now largely become the bottleneck of mobile computing and the new obsession for engineers. Being able to offer battery life that exceeds more than half a day, with the same amount of computing power and usage, and without bulking up the device is sort of like the holy grail these days. But while many manufacturers and researchers are investigating new types of batteries and materials, Microsoft researchers have a different idea: to use the same kinds of batteries we have today and let software do the work.
Computers, laptops, and mobile devices all use batteries in almost the same way. The amount of energy consumed naturally depends on the task at hand, but that is all but dictated by hardware. When the CPU is churning like mad, it will slurp up more power. When it’s idling, that is reduced to only a trickle. While logical, Microsoft researchers believe it’s not an efficient or smart way of power management. Being primarily a software house, Microsoft naturally holds that software is the key.
The battery that Microsoft researchers are working on is in fact not a single battery. It is a battery system, made up of different kids of batteries, with different capacities and different output rates. The theory is that the OS will dictate which kind of battery is used. If a task requires more power, it will switch to using the high rate batteries. Menial tasks can be relegated to lower outputs that also have longer lives. In effect, it is almost like ARM’s big.LITTLE CPU architecture in wide use in mobile chips these days. These are composed of two sets of high-performance but energy-hungry cores and energy-efficient but low-performance cores.
Microsoft also sees a possible application of machine learning here. The operating system can observe user habits and determine how to best schedule and allocate battery consumption in the future based on these. It can make sure that a laptop won’t be consuming too much battery just before your regularly scheduled meeting presentations, for example. Or it will know that you love catching up on social media on your commute home and makes sure there is enough juice left for you to do that.
The other thing that makes Microsoft Research’s solution unique is that it doesn’t rely on still unproven new battery materials. It can simply reuse the existing lithium-ion batteries in wide use today. It all mostly depends on the software. As such, it can also be used not just in laptops and mobile devices but even in cars, airplane computers, and anything else that runs on a battery. Maybe Microsoft wants those to run on Windows as well.
SOURCE: Microsoft Research