Connectivity

Mobile Summit 2013: Camera Tweaks Should Boost Gadget Battery Life

Research could make persistent computer-vision more feasible, and improve your smartphone’s battery life.

Mobile technology has vastly improved in recent years, but battery technology lags behind, limiting what we can do with these gadgets.

The digital cameras in smartphones, tablets, and devices like Google Glass are increasingly powerful and useful. But the more powerful they are, the more they drain battery life.

Researchers at Microsoft Research and Rice University have now developed a way to make digital camera sensors far more energy-efficient. The effort could allow smartphones to last longer on a charge and make it feasible for the camera in a wearable computer like Google Glass to always be on (see “Wearable Computing Pioneer Says Google Glass Offers ‘Killer Existence’”).  

Over the past decade, while smartphones have gotten immensely more powerful, capable battery development hasn’t kept pace. It’s even harder to eke more life out of a smaller package, such as a sensor-laden gadget you could wear on your face or clothing.

Victor Bahl, research manager of the mobility networking group at Microsoft Research and a coauthor of a paper describing the camera sensor modifications, said at the MIT Technology Review Mobile Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday that while much work has been done to reduce the size and improve the resolution of image sensors, there hasn’t been much attention paid to their power circuitry. The method researchers came up with—to be presented at the annual MobiSys 2013 in Taiwan later this month—addresses this issue.

Bahl said that the researchers tested five different image sensors, paying attention to how the power usage changed while capturing images. They noticed that lowering the quality of the images they captured barely reduced the amount of power used; they also noticed that there was still some power consumption during the short “idle” periods between the “active” periods in which the sensor captured each image.

The researchers propose reducing the amount of active time when taking a picture, or temporarily putting the sensor in a lower-power standby mode when it is idle and then putting it back into the higher-power idle mode before capturing the next frame. They found that this standby method reduced power consumption by 95 percent when they were performing continuous image registration—which relates to estimating depth and building mosaics of images.

Such information could help with the design of wearable computers with computer-vision capabilities, perhaps by determining that a system should first take a low-resolution picture to determine if a person is in front of it, before taking a higher-resolution picture if a person is, in fact, there, Bahl said. He said he envisions the work being applied to robots as well as consumer electronics.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.
Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all five of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium

$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.

  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Join in and ask questions as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

You've read of free articles this month.