Camera sensor tweaks could improve smartphone battery life

Everyone knows that constantly using a smartphone camera will quickly drain the battery. Researchers have pioneered a new form of power management to help conserve battery life.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
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A team of researchers from Microsoft and Rice University have developed a solution to battery drain from camera use.

(Credit: Sony)

Most users are aware that constant use of a smartphone's camera, or indeed the camera on any mobile device, is a sure-fire way to use up plenty of juice. In this paper (PDF), the researchers found that five different sensors were still consuming power during their idle states. Reducing the quality of images captured did not reduce the power consumption, either.

The solution outlined by the researchers involves tweaking the amount of "active time" of the image sensor, or putting the sensor in a standby mode when idle. Before capturing the next frame, the sensor switches back to a higher-power idle mode.

This method of putting the sensor into standby mode reduced power consumption by 95 per cent for certain applications.

It's not just battery life of the humble smartphone that will be affected by this new research. Continuous mobile vision, as the researchers call it, is being spearheaded by developments such as Google Glass and GoPro cameras that are used for applications beyond their initial design of image and video capture. Gesture and object recognition require a persistent camera feed, which consumes a lot of battery life, which is why these findings will have a significant impact on continuous capture.

According to Technology Review, the paper's findings will be presented at MobiSys 2013 in Taiwan later in June.