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Microsoft has a crazy plan to make your batteries last a lot longer

Matt Weinberger
microsoft batteries

(Jeremy Mashburn/Microsoft.)
Microsoft researchers show off their battery prototype.

A new Microsoft Research project could result in a laptop battery that lasts a lot longer, according to a company blog entry

Right now, the way a laptop battery works is pretty straightforward:

You have a big lithium-ion hunk of a battery that dispenses power to your computer as the hardware says that it needs it.

Basically, that means that if you're doing something like playing a game or watching a movie, your processor and your graphics card needs more electrical juice to make it run smoothly.

Otherwise, if you're just writing in Microsoft Word or messing around on Facebook, the processor draws power at a nice, even keel.

To date, most of the focus in improving battery life has been in simply building higher-capacity batteries. Which is fine, except that computers are getting powerful enough to need more electrical capacity faster than we're building the batteries to provide it. 

Indeed, Google reportedly killed a project that would have provided a smartphone battery with five times the capacity of the ones we have today, simply because the returns weren't worth the investment. 

microsoft surface tablet

(Microsoft)
The Microsoft Surface tablet could be the first device to benefit from this laptop battery-extending technology.

This is where Microsoft Research comes in, with a proposal for smarter batteries.

The solution they propose is still in a prototype phase, meaning it could be years before it becomes available in a product you can buy, if it ever does at all.

"Rather than waiting for the perfect battery, we’re using all the technology available right now,” said Microsoft Research principal researcher Ranveer Chandra, per that blog entry.

Essentially, their solution is to take a whole bunch of batteries, made up of different materials, and use software built into the operating system (presumably, but not explicitly, Windows) to intelligently manage which gets used, when.

In other words, your operating system could detect when you're just working on a document and shunt you over to a longer-lasting battery. If you're playing a game, it could shift to a more short-lived one with lots more juice. No matter what, it'll last longer.

apple macbook air battery

(iFixit)
A MacBook's battery.

Bolstering this system would be a hot technology called "machine learning," which Microsoft already uses internally for stuff like credit-card-fraud detection. Machine learning would let your batteries get to know your habits and get a little more personal.

So if you're the kind of laptop user who's always plugging and unplugging your laptop all day as you run around the office, this system could prioritize the fastest-charging battery, just so you always have some juice in the system.

It sounds a little crazy, but it just might work. 

Microsoft says this idea has application in everything from laptops to phones to cars to planes.

And while we don't know where it'll pop up first, the fact that Microsoft Surface tablet senior engineer Julia Meinershagen is contributing to the project, per that blog entry, seems to give us our first clue. 

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