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Wearable cameras such as Snap Spectacles promise to share videos
instantaneously with the world. But, because these cameras must use
smaller batteries to stay lightweight and functional, these devices can't
perform high-definition video streaming.
Now, engineers at the University of Washington have developed a
new HD video streaming method that doesn't need to be plugged in. Their
prototype skips the power-hungry parts and a smartphone processes the video
instead. They do this using a technique called backscatter, through which
a device can share information by reflecting signals that have been transmitted
The fundamental assumption people have made so far is that
backscatter can be used only for "low data-rate" sensors such as temperature
sensors. This work breaks that assumption and shows that backscatter can
indeed support even full HD video.
The team presented these findings recently at the Advanced Computing Systems Association's
Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation. The UW team developed a new system in which 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, processes the video.
For the 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. 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.
That's like a camera recording a
scene and sending the video to a device in the next room.
The group's system uses 1,000 to 10,000 times less power than
current streaming technology. But it still has a small battery that supports
continuous operation. The next step is to make wireless video cameras that are
There are many applications. Right now, home security
cameras have to be plugged in all the time. But with this technology, people
can effectively cut the cord for wireless streaming cameras.
The group also envisions a world where these cameras are smart
enough to only turn on when they are needed for their specific purpose, which
could save even more energy.
Cameras are critical for a number of internet-connected
applications, but so far, they have been constrained by their power
consumption. This video technology has the potential to transform the
industry as we know it.
Just imagine you go to a football game, five years from
now. There could be tiny HD cameras everywhere recording the action:
stuck on players' helmets and everywhere across the stadium. And you
don't have to ever worry about changing their batteries.
This technology has been licensed to Jeeva Wireless, a
Seattle-based startup founded by a team of UW researchers.