Microsoft researchers are looking at the age-old problem of laptop battery stamina. Rather than trying to improve battery chemistry – there are plenty of other researchers and engineers looking into that – they instead looked at using multiple different types of battery for the different tasks and components of the laptop. Using this 'software-defined battery' means the system decides the right battery for the task at hand. The researchers say that using current battery technology this system can "keep laptops and tablets charged much longer than current standards".
Explaining the thrust of the study, principal researcher Ranveer Chandra said "Rather than waiting for the perfect battery, we're using all the technology available right now". The central idea behind the longer lasting batteries is 'Software Defined Batteries'. Instead of a collection of identical Li-ion cells, for example, the prototypes built by the researchers use different kinds of battery cells for different tasks. The current system used to manage a device's battery charge isn't usually the device OS but some firmware.
"Everyone wants a better battery, and while lithium-ion is generally good, it can't meet all our wants and needs," said Julia Meinershagen, a senior engineer with Microsoft's Surface Devices, who also contributed to this project. The 'software-defined battery' (PDF) combines several different kinds of batteries, all of which are optimized for different tasks and works with the OS to check what kinds of tasks are going on. It then applies the most efficient battery to that task.
Machine learning is implemented to mean that the optimisation is personal to each computer user. It might learn the regular plugging and unplugging times of your laptops, and what your computing habits/demands are to make sure you have enough juice for what you have to do.
While it is experimenting with laptops and tablets right now, Microsoft reckons that its 'software-defined battery' tech will be useful in other industries such as smartphones or even automobiles.