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Cloud-Powered GPS Chip Slashes Smartphone Power Consumption

• Kate Greene via

If you’ve used location services on a phone for any length of time, you know they can quickly drain the battery. A Microsoft Research project suggests that there’s a way for location chips inside smartphones to use far less power.

Reducing the power consumption of GPS chips could not only extend the battery life of smartphones and tablets, it could also make it practical to add GPS functionality to more devices, including low-power remote sensors.

The biggest power hog inside a smartphone is the GPS chip. This component can take 30 seconds just to acquire the satellite data necessary to get the information it needs for an initial location fix; it then has to churn through the downloaded codes to calculate its location precisely.

Microsoft researchers reduced that power consumption dramatically by offloading some of the work to the cloud. Jie Liu, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and his team developed a GPS system that collects only a few milliseconds of the most crucial information from satellites. This data is then combined with other important information from public, online databases, such as satellite trajectories and Earth elevation values, to calculate the device’s past locations. But the data fusion and location calculations happen on a remote server.

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