The Army has always been at the forefront of exploring new ways to accelerate the deployment of innovative solutions that can help tactical operators gain battlefield advantage. Since leading the development of the first cellular network, the Army has always looked for ways to improve rapid and secure communication on the battlefield. In parallel, mobile communication in the consumer market has transformed the world around us, and the Army has realized the advantages of developing ruggedized versions of these commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) devices. The Nett Warrior (NW) system and the use of a secured, COTS mobile device, is one instance of how the Army has embraced cutting-edge mobile technology to augment tactical capabilities. Operators are relying more and more on the power of mobile solutions to make informed decisions that impact mission success.
Now in 2020, the Army is moving forward with even more powerful technology. In partnership with Microsoft, the Army is developing the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) device (Figure 1) which is based on the HoloLens product. The result of these efforts has been the rapid deployment of cutting-edge mobile technology that has greatly improved the ability of Soldiers to do mission command on the move. While mobile platforms have proven to be a force multiplier for our Warfighter, the power needed to support these devices has resulted not only in an increase to the Soldier’s combat load but also adds a new layer of complexity. With these increased capabilities comes an increased need for even more energy. In response to this challenge, the Army has been working to develop batteries with much higher capacity by using the latest cell technology and materials. But as these batteries increase in capacity, a new challenge is faced – how to keep them charged. As stated at one Industry Event held at Fort Belvoir, the Army is seeking help to “prevent power from becoming its Achilles heel” as it continues rolling out new products with more advanced features.
Power Hungry Mobile Devices
We are a long way from the early mobile phone days when the main feature was to make and receive calls. As the telecommunication technology shifted from analog to digital, and since the launch of the first iPhone, features like Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, sensors and apps are commonly found in all the modern-day mobile phones. Applications that run on smartphones can heavily use the processor, LCD screen and GPS, and transfer data with Wi-Fi or 4G/5G. Each of these features draws a significant amount of power, especially if they are all used at the same time. Therefore, while making a call is one of the highest-power functions of conventional mobile phone, a smartphone’s state-of-the-art features can consume much more power.
Just as what the US Army has experienced, the increase in device features has dramatically increased power consumption. One of the most power-consuming features is video streaming and social media over the carrier network. With the evolution of the 5G network and advancement in data speeds, today’s mobile devices consume more and more power. Because 5G deployment is only limited to certain cities and areas across the country, the constant switching between the 5G network and 4G network has a significant impact on battery life. While the first-generation network (1G) was only limited to speeds of 2.4Kbps (kilobits per second), the latest 5G network speeds can be 10 gigabits per second (Gbps). As the Army also adopts 5G, it will see the same need for more power.
The second most power-consuming feature in today’s mobile devices is the display screen. While early mobile devices had displays which were the same size as the modern-day smartwatches, the latest mobile devices have displays the size of a human palm. The early display screens were low power consuming made from thin-film transistor (TFT), while today’s modern-day display screens are high-resolution made from organic light-emitting diode (OLED), which consume much higher power.
This increase in the size and technology of the display screen, combined with constant video streaming and social media over the carrier network, drains the mobile phone battery much faster. To support more and more powerful mobile devices, battery capacity for consumer devices has significantly increased (Figure 2).
Responding to higher capacity batteries, the mobile device industry has made tremendous progress in developing faster wired and wireless charging technology. Users no longer want to wait for hours while their mobile devices charge. Rapid charging is quickly becoming the norm. Most smartphone and laptop designs look like they have not changed much on the outside over the last few years; however, the same cannot be said for the electronics on the inside. While charging may have been the last area of focus, there have been tremendous improvements over the last couple of years with more coming soon. Next month we will discuss several new charging technologies being integrated into mobile devices to support faster charging and the benefits it could bring to the Warfighter.