Microsoft Research Blog

The Microsoft Research blog provides in-depth views and perspectives from our researchers, scientists and engineers, plus information about noteworthy events and conferences, scholarships, and fellowships designed for academic and scientific communities.

Microsoft researchers have developed a way to make wearables last longer

July 9, 2015 | Posted by Microsoft Research Blog

By Allison Linn, Senior Writer, Microsoft Research

Microsoft researchers Anirudh Badam and Ranveer Chandra are developing methods to dramatically increase the battery life of mobile devices.

Microsoft researchers have come up with a way to make wearable gadgets such as fitness trackers and smart watches go much longer between charges.

The research project, called WearDrive, is the latest development in the researchers’ broad effort to vastly improve the battery life of all our favorite devices. This week, the paper outlining WearDrive was named one of the three best papers at the USENIX Annual Technical Conference in Santa Clara, California.

WearDrive works by offloading most of wearable gadget’s most energy-intensive storage operations to a nearby smart phone it is paired with, using a regular Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection. The wearable itself is then only responsible for doing smaller, less energy-intensive tasks, meaning it has a longer battery life.

Ranveer Chandra, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, said many of the current wearable battery designs are based on the battery-saving tricks that were developed for smart phones. WearDrive takes a completely different approach by offloading operations to the smart phone.

“Everyone has been thinking of reusing what exists for mobile devices,” Chandra said. “What we’re saying is, ‘It’s a different paradigm. It’s a different usage scenario.'”

Unlike a phone or other device you carry in your pocket or bag, a wearable is designed to always be on your body, gathering and providing information. Anirudh Badam, another Microsoft researcher who worked on the project, said that creates more serious battery challenges.

“The size of the battery is even more problematic,” Badam said. “You can’t have heavy batteries because they add weight. And you can’t have a large battery because of real estate concerns: You don’t have much room on people’s wrists.”

The researchers tested their work on an Android phone and a compatible wearable device. They found that their system significantly improved the wearable’s performance and battery life while having only a minimal effect on the smart phone’s battery life. The tradeoff, they concluded, was worth it.

The system is designed so that the wearable can function without the smart phone, and then can work with the smart phone again when the two devices are again close by. That means users can go for a run or do another activity without always having to carry a smart phone.

Microsoft’s own wearable, the Microsoft Band, already gets kudos for its long battery life.

The engineers working on the Microsoft Band say they aren’t currently including technology exactly like this into the Microsoft Band, but they welcome research projects like WearDrive because they can potentially help inform future improvements in commercial products.

Microsoft researchers, working with researchers from other universities and institutions, also are presenting additional papers at the USENIX conference. They include: