Cloud-focused GPS chip by Microsoft Research slashes smartphone battery consumption

Anyone who makes use of GPS functionality on a smartphone understands the impact such connectivity has on the limited battery supply that's packed inside the device. Unfortunately, we're not quite at the stage where 10,000mAh batteries are utilised, so Microsoft Research has been working on a cloud-powered GPS chip that will reportedly slash battery consumption on smartphones.

As well as improving the life of batteries inside smartphones, the improvements in this project by the Microsoft initiative could make it feasible for GPS functionality to be added to more devices, including those that are low-power. This will be a huge advancement to what's currently utilised to-date as GPS chips certainly aren't afraid to use more power than consumers would like.

So how would this "low power consumption" be achieved? Put simply, the Microsoft Research team offloaded some of the calculations and tasks the GPS chips carry out to the cloud. Jie Liu, principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and his team has developed a GPS backend system that collects only a few milliseconds of the most crucial data from satellites, which is subsequently combined with other details from public, online databases.

This process then calculates the device's past locations using said data, including satellite trajections and Earth elevation values. This all happens on a remote server. So what's this fancy technology titled? The team refers it as CLEO (Cultivating the Long tail in Environmental Observations), and the approach is called cloud-offloaded GPS. According to the research team, CLEO can perform continuous GPS sensing for just over a year efficiently enough to be sustained by just two AA batteries.

Liu states that on a typical smartphone, continuous GPS use would burn through the battery in approximately six hours (which is currently helped by WiFi base stations and cellular towers that both contribute to location calculation in mobile devices). CLEO was developed for animal-tracking systems that can acquire movement data over a period of time without transmitting the data to the cloud. Liu affirms that the same approach could be implemented on smartphones (and other Internet capable devices).

Some good news for consumers (if this project wasn't enough for mild celebration already) is that Microsoft isn't the only company attempting to make GPS systems more energy-efficient. Swiss company U-blox has designed GPS chips based on similar principles. Chris Marshall, product manager at U-blox, states the processing could be carried out on either a server or PC / tablet connected to the Internet.

In addition to the research already being carried out by companies, researchers at MIT, Duke, and the University of Southern California have developed signal processing among other engineering tricks to make location services more energy-efficient. But what about the future, especially with the technology that's being proposed by Microsoft Research?

Liu believes that low-power GPS systems on smartphones could introduce continuous location logging, which would make the device appear more advanced. As an example, consumers could potentially opt into a service that contributes to a database of noise pollution levels in a given city. Alternatively, should a smartphone record driving or public transportation habits, users could receive tailored directions or updates based on what the device collects.  

Source: Technology Review


Reader comments

Cloud-focused GPS chip by Microsoft Research slashes smartphone battery consumption


Its not on 24/7, currently it only polls every 30-60 min to get a rough estimate of your location so that the next time you actually funny utilize gps it connects quickly. The only way it would ON 24/7 is if you were on Nokia drive navigating for the entire time. If you did i would doubt that it lasted 16 hours.

It's a new type of chip so it won't just be a case of getting an update, it will mean a new device. Besides, don't expect to see this in any consumer level device for another couple of years given the testing and approval process hoops that will have to be jumped through.

I just hope it doesn't stay behind the doors of Microsoft Research centers and they actually make it available to OEMs and, eventually (sooner rather than later) to consumers.

Which I think it might. It is still a research product so I highly doubt it would appear on WP9. Maybe WP10 but even that is a stretch. Thing has at least 3-4 years before it begins to hit mainstream and Microsoft isn't exactly known for pushing the envelope when it comes to trying out new technologies.

As this one using cloud calculation. Is it this means we need internet connection to use it ? So it means we can't use it while we're in jungle for instance....

Wouldn't that require an always-on internet connection? What about regions where you can't get internet at all or if you have a postpaid no-data plan? Well, I guess we'll just sit, wait and see!

Hey, cool! That opens up real-life tracking of people! Perfect observation system. And since it will be "low power", you can implant those chips into nearly any electronical device. Another step towards BBIWY (big-brother-is-watching-you). :)

I'm glad someone else brought this up, this technology seems ripe for abuse from our police forces. I don't need continuous tracking so I'm not exactly looking forward to this technology.

Take your meds and calm down. Do they keep banning you so you have to keep changing your handle? Anyway, what I meant was that this is not ready for market and we should not get our hopes up. I used to read about all sorts of cool stuff in Popular Science magazine that was right around the corner and would change everything. It was so exciting until after a few years I realized almost none of the stuff actually came to fruition. So, it's an interesting article, but take it for what it is: research.

I would like to test if GPS or 3G is the main culprit of battery drain on my phone. They're both turned on if I navigate with Maps and I would be lucky to get 3 hours without plugging it in.

We don't need a 10000mah battery. Look at the galaxy note 2. Crazy screen-on time and the note 2 has so much going on. You can keep GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, screen brightness on high and not worry about battery.

Its 3100mah and its android with samsungs touchwiz. You know... Real multitasking, multiview windows, so much stuff going on in the background unlike wp8. It has a quad core processor with 2gb ram, duuuuude.

no disrespect to the android and linux open source fanboys, but good lord they are either the biggest whiners on the planet or just a bunch of virgins lol. all i hear from android fans are blah blah blah quad core blah blah x amount of ram blah blah sd card slot. im a big fan of technological advances, but just because a piece of technology doesnt suit you doesnt mean they have to cry about stuff. if they like their stuff Hazzah! and if they think they're convincing anyone they arent besides the people who are currently on the fence already. if people bought a windows phone do you think any wp fans give a flying rats ass about what android fans have to say? God they sound like those hacks over at zdnet.... and my lumia 920 2000mah battery runs circles around my friends nexus 4 2100mah battery. android is more resource intensive and if you disagree your foolish. this isnt directed at you optimus. this is just for android fans in general. sorry read a zdnet article and just needed to rant lol.

Holy shit. Did you even comprehend my original comment? I don't care about quad core. I have a Lumia 810 I'm using instead of my note. I mentioned those specs and power hungry features because of its toll on battery life yet the note 2 has impressive battery life-more importantly, screen-on time. Damn hippies. And oh yea... The nexus 4 isn't all that great either. Its a piece of shit cheap lg

Said it wasn't directed at you optimus lol I did read your comment it just said android and set me off

The Note does have a stellar battery life. That is an impressive phone and just because this is a WP site then that doesn't mean we cannot mention anything else that's good. I seriously wish Samsung makes something like that with WP powering it.

The battery life, like you pointed out, amazes me. Samsung has done some serious optimization with that thing.

Which brings me to another point, the battery life on some WP devices isn't nearly as impressive as it ought to be (which sucks since they claim explicitly that they designed it to "sip" battery power).

The Note just has a huge battery, thats not optimization.
My Windows Phones have always been more predicatable with battery consumption than my droids or iphones.
Its not more than 2 days ever, but its always consistent in how it runs down.
I have had Android devices, and iPhones just decide to empty of juice. Often when I am out at night and I need it most!

If its cloud based, that means its gonna eat my data right? I'll take a diminishing battery vs being charged overages. Car chargers ftw.

ha ha ! difference between microsoft and apple :
if the same research was done by apple, they would have never published such results for academic triumph; instead ensure the next idevice had this and blow the competitors away !!!

MS would not say anything if it wasn't patented already. I don't think they're that careless of their works especially you have the two biggest clowns in the martket that likes to copy "Apple and Google".

Just like how they used "research" to be the first in developing a real mapping solution, a notification bar, LTE and soon-to-come NFC?

People miss the point behind the stuff Apple does. None of their stuff is technologically revolutionary. Their main strength lies in the implementation of technologies - it is usually very smooth, well thought out and intuitive. That's what gives them an advantage against a company like Samsung, which is probably why they usually use software by other major players as a blueprint to implement their own (every single app they have ever published is terrible for instance).

The whole idea of having a phone with independent GPS built in to it means not relying on a data connection... So to me this sounds amazingly retarded since it would be adding to my data usage... Not only that I would have to rely on my data connection while driving with a map program.

I'll pass. So now I have to make sure there is internet connection before I use GPS. Nice way to eliminate hiking excursions.

I'm surprised no one is crying about how the service will track their movements and store them on a server for someone to have access to. That seems to be a big deal to people.