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Dark Silicon Could Lead to Bright Future for Solar Powered Smart Phones

University of Southern California researchers are developing smartphone chip based on dark siliconResearchers at the University of California have developed a  smart phone chip that could spur a new generation of more efficient mobile electronic devices.  In turn, a more energy efficient device would enable the more widespread use of solar energy and other forms of renewable energy for battery recharging.

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The new chip is based on the use of “dark silicon.” Dark silicon is shorthand for the growing portion of silicon on transistors that is underused because there is not enough power available to run them all of the transistors at once. The new chip, called GreenDroid, is designed to use about 11 times less energy than a typical processor.

Dark Silicon and Energy Efficiency

The use of hand-made processors based on dark silicon is not new, so the real breakthrough at U Cal was a method for automating the process. The researchers focused on the most popular smart phone (specifically, the Android) applications including browsers, email, and music players. These core applications generally run for long periods of time, demanding long battery life. With greatly increased efficiency comes a wider set of options for battery charging, not only solar power but other forms of renewable energy including kinetic energy.

Energy and Smart Phones

Energy consumption by all mobile devices has become a hot issue, particularly for handhelds which are cheaper and in more widespread use than laptops. In fact, the researchers focused on smart phones because of their potential to replace laptops for many functions. Aside from processor efficiency, a number of other solutions are at hand. For example, AT&T has developed an energy-saving phone charger that automatically shuts off when the battery is charged. The introduction of universal chargers will help cut down on energy related to manufacturing and disposing millions of out of date and incompatible chargers. And in India, the use of solar powered cell phone towers could all but eliminate the use of 530 million gallons of diesel per year.

Image: Smart Phones by freewheelinbiker on flickr.com.


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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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