Tiny Device Looks To Extend Battery Life

As the technology built into battery powered devices like laptops and cell phones advances, so does their demand for power. It’s great that your cell phone can now act as a fully functional GPS device and HD video player, but it starts looking a lot less attractive when its battery life is knocked out in a matter of minutes.

It may seem like battery technology isn’t keeping up with demand, but the real culprit behind the shorter battery life we suffer with is the inefficient way in which our devices draw power. ”If you’re listening to music on your MP3 player, you don’t need to send power to the image and graphics processors at the same time,” said Harvard graduate student WonYoung Kim. “If you’re just looking at photos, you don’t need to power the audio processor or the HD video processor.”

Voltage Regulation

Image courtesy of Wonyoung Kim, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

So, in an effort to combat this growing problem and get more devices on board with energy-efficient multi-tasking,  Kim has developed an on-chip, Multi Core Voltage Regulator (MCVR) device that, in mere nano-seconds, adjusts power levels to meet a processor chip’s demands. Unlike the bulky, slow voltage regulators that are found on circuit boards, this MCVR is attached directly to a processor at each of its cores and can make lightning-fast adjustments to increase or decrease power as needed. The MCVR uses an algorithm to recognize parts of a processor that are not in use then cuts power to them. This saves energy without sacrificing performance and could do wonders to maintain battery life standards as processor power demands increase.

In 2008, Kim’s idea was purely theoretical. Today, he says it is ready to be implemented into hardware. He’s already applied for a patent anticipating a high demand for use  in mobile phones. Kim also thinks the device will be useful in laptop computers, where the regulator can be used to reduce the heat that processors generate, a major stumbling block in the effort to thin down devices.