Tech Breakthrough Could Double Mobile Device Battery Life

Smartphone battery © Pavel Ignatov Shutterstock 2012

MIT scientists have developed a power amplifier technology that requires 50 percent less power

Scientists from US startup Eta Devices claim to have invented a technology that could double the battery life of an average smartphone, without interfering with the batteries themselves.

The breakthrough is related to the power amplifiers – chips that control energy distribution in mobile devices. Called ‘asymmetric multilevel outphasing’, the technology was developed by two electrical engineering professors from MIT, and is expected to go into production sometime next year.

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Since smartphones experience different computational loads at different times, they need a component that controls the distribution of energy from the battery, moving it between standby, and “on”. This job is done by power amplifiers, which, unfortunately, can waste up to 65 percent of the phone’s energy.

Smartphone battery © Fabio Berti Shutterstock 2012The new power amplifier chip, developed by professors Joel Dawson and David Perreault, allegedly consumes just half of the energy used by transistor-based power amplifiers on the market, reports MIT Technology Review.

The technology is still being tested, but the lab results show a 50 percent reduction in the power requirements. The breakthrough also promises to solve the problem of overheating, familiar to many tablet users, and even reduce the cost and power requirements of cellular base stations.

Traditionally, power amplifiers used in mobile devices have two states – ‘standby’ and ‘output signal’. However, switching from one state to another can distort the current signal, so the manufacturers keep the ‘standby’ state at a higher power level than necessary. “It means you are pulling a lot of energy just to keep the thing on,” says Dawson.

The technology developed by Eta Devices can be compared to a gearbox – it selects the best possible voltage for the current load, minimising the power usage. And it does this up to 20 million times per second.

Eta Devices is expected to present this clever piece of technology at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February. The initial target market is the developing world, where 640,000 diesel-powered generators are used to run base stations, chewing through $15 billion worth of fuel annually. After that, the company hopes to start disrupting the mobile device market elsewhere.

And Eta Devices isn’t the only startup with eyes set on this lucrative field. Last month, scientists from Edinburgh-based Sofant Technologies unveiled a design for a miniature antenna that could transform the performance of smartphones and tablets.

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