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Startups

Making Smartphones Smarter
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USC Viterbi startup Reduced Energy Microsystems is creating a microchip that will increase battery life.

The smartphone has become the essential lifeline of modern America, with the average American spending 4.7 hours a day on their smartphones, according to Informate Mobile Intelligence, a research firm that specializes in consumer behavior and smartphones.

Yet the rapid loss of battery life has become the scourge of every obsessive Instagram selfie perfectionist or purveyor of YouTube videos of adorable cats.

Reduced Energy Microsystems (REM) has its sights set on something more grand than keeping Millennials glued to their phones. The startup is developing a microchip that will enable all mobile devices to run on lower power, including smartphones, laptops, wearable appliances, processors and servers.

“Everyone needs mobile devices that run on less energy,” said Peter Beerel, USC Viterbi professor in entrepreneurialism and innovation in engineering, who serves as an REM adviser. “Not only does this microchip solve a crucial technology market need, but it will also reduce our carbon footprint.”

Expert Reviews, a prominent product review site based in the U.K., reports that iPhones’ average battery life is around 13 hours and 25 minutes; Android phones have an average battery life of 11 hours and 40 minutes; and Windows phones last an average of 10 hours.

REM is seeking to make microchip processors in smartphones more efficient, thus increasing the longevity of mobile batteries by several hours. Increasing battery life will result in less manufacturing of batteries, fewer batteries in landfills, less electricity used to charge these batteries — and happier consumers.

“Smartphones get more powerful each year, and companies are trying to figure out how much these phones can do without using battery life,” said Eleazar Vega-Gonzalez, head of software at Reduced Energy Microsystems.

Vega-Gonzalez and two USC Viterbi students, Dylan Hand and William Koven, founded Reduced Energy Microsystems. Hand, a USC Viterbi Ph.D. student, has tapped Beerel as a thesis adviser, while Koven worked with Beerel at Intel.

The startup uses technology called asynchronous resilient design to develop a microchip that uses less power than existing ones. Essentially, this technology decreases the amount of voltage used in computers, allowing processors to multitask more efficiently and computers and mobile devices to use less energy.

REM spent this past summer in the Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator developing its product and business model. Y Combinator, named by Forbes in 2012 as the best incubator in the world, accepts applicants looking for funding or entrepreneurial guidance.

The incubator invites all accepted applicants — this past summer included 85 startups — to participate in a three-month boot camp, where the companies are groomed, business models perfected and pitches refined to secure to assistance the startups succeed. As an angel investor, Y Combinator also provides $120,000 for a 7 percent stake in the company.

The immediate consumer impact of REM’s technology will be longer smartphone battery life, as the chips will allow the phones to multitask while using less power — great news for people using Yelp to locate top restaurants in their area while simultaneously using Google Maps to find the most efficient route to get there.

Beyond smartphones, REM hopes to introduce its technology to data centers that host a number of servers to facilitate telecommunications, act as a source for wireless Internet signals or store memory. REM chips will enable servers to perform such tasks more efficiently with less energy.

The result: faster Internet, better search results, more memory in cloud computing and better communication via Skype or FaceTime.

“While the average consumer won’t notice the difference, Google will be able to have smarter searches and Facebook will perform much faster,” Vega-Gonzales said.

This trend is already occurring, but REM’s technology could accelerate it.

“These guys are some of the brightest guys in the field, and they are on a good track to making a huge impact in this field,” Beerel said.