Engineers at the University of Washington have developed a new high definition video streaming method that doesn’t need to be plugged in. Their prototype skips the power-hungry parts and has another device, like a smartphone, process the video instead.
They accomplish this using a technique called backscatter, through which a device can share information by reflecting signals that have been transmitted to it.
The UW team developed a new system that eliminates the need for the camera to first process and compress the video before it is transmitted via Wi-Fi. Instead, the pixels in the camera are directly connected to the antenna, and it sends intensity values via backscatter to a nearby smartphone. The phone, which doesn’t have the same size and weight restrictions as a small streaming camera, can process the video instead.
For video transmission, the system translates the pixel information from each frame into a series of pulses where the width of each pulse represents a pixel value. The time duration of the pulse is proportional to the brightness of the pixel.
“It’s sort of similar to how the cells in the brain communicate with each other,” said co-author Joshua Smith, a professor in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the UW Department of Electrical Engineering. “Neurons are either signaling or they’re not, so the information is encoded in the timing of their action potentials.”
The team tested their idea using a prototype that converted HD YouTube videos into raw pixel data. Then they fed the pixels into their backscatter system. Their design could stream 720p HD videos at 10 frames per second to a device up to 14 feet away.
The team has also created a low-resolution, low-power security camera, which can stream at 13 frames per second. This falls in line with the range of functions the group predicts for this technology.
“This video technology has the potential to transform the industry as we know it. Cameras are critical for a number of Internet-connected applications, but so far they have been constrained by their power consumption,” said co-author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the UW’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering.
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