A New Kind of Chip Could Make Wearables Last Way Longer on a Charge

Smartwatches, Google Glass, even humble fitness trackers: all great, apart from the fact that the batteries last for what seems like minutes. But now, a new kind of low-power processor could change that.

Developed by a startup company Ineda Systems, the new chip is actually intended to work alongside another, more powerful processor—and that's the clever part. You see, this little, low-power chip is the eyes and ears of a wearable: it listens for voice commands, senses a little of what's going on around it, runs simple apps, and gives the primary silicon a shove when it's required.

Indeed, Ineda Systems realised that, in most cases, wearables are in ambient mode or only running simples apps 90 percent of the time. By allowing the main chip a little more chance to be powered down, this chip allows for massive power savings.

So far, Ineda is testing two prototype designs, featuring two and three processor cores. One core has very little computational power, but also uses commensurately little energy, and is always on. The other one or two only come alive when they need to. And if that grunt isn't enough, the wearable's main chip would be called into action.

The simplest core can monitor motion sensors to detect movement, maintain a Bluetooth connection, or recognise one key spoken phrase. At full tilt, the other cores can play music or run a simple app, like a heart-rate tracker.

Sounds pretty great. And even better, Ineda plans to move into mass production sometime next year. Where it will appear remains uncertain: while it would boost the battery life of a smartwatch, it could do the same for a smartphone too—and indeed, this chip rolls some features already found in existing phones together, into a single package.

Regardless, though, it could help eek out the battery lives of our gadgets—which is always a good thing. [Ineda Systems via Technology Review]

Image by Andrew Cavell under Creative Commons license