Researchers create a wireless camera using Ambient Backscatter Communication that can process and stream HD video via WiFi using 99% less power than current systems.

The Achilles heel of wearables is the problem of autonomy. These connected objects must have small batteries that accommodate their small size, which results in losing a lot of autonomy.

Another issue that arises with lightweight wearables is their inability to send HD video without running out of power quickly.

For wearable cameras and other wireless connected cameras like in home security systems, to take and send HD footage constantly, they need to be plugged in most of the time. For many uses, that’s too impractical.

Now, researchers at Washington University may have found a radical solution to enable low-power HD video streaming.

Read More: 4 Incredible Smart Textiles Applications for Future Wearables

Ambient Backscatter Communication

There’s a phenomenon in physics called “the Backscattering effect”, by which radiation and particles, such as light and sound, are diverted in various directions. This includes the one they came from through interaction or reflection with other objects.

Among the several applications of backscattering is in wireless communication or Ambient Backscatter Communication.

Ambient-backscatter” allows devices to rely on existing radio signals that surround us like mobile, TV and WiFi signals to transmit data. This eliminates the need for these devices to have batteries altogether.

Small devices like temperature and motion sensors already use ambient backscatter to function. This allows them to communicate without the need for a power source as they don’t generate these radio signals.

Researchers previously thought that ambient backscatter works only with devices with very low data rates and couldn’t serve data-intensive applications.

This is where the research team from the University of Washington comes in as they have shown that backscatter works with wireless cameras too.

The fundamental assumption people have made so far is that backscatter can be used only for low-data-rate sensors such as temperature sensors,” said co-author of the study, Shyam Gollakota, “This work breaks that assumption and shows that backscatter can indeed support even full HD video.

Low-Power HD Video Streaming System

The new HD streaming method from the UW engineers allows wireless cameras to skip the need for components to process, compress, and transmit HD videos.

Here, it’s the smartphone that does the video processing job. The camera pixels connect to the antenna that sends data through backscatter, where the signal duration is proportional to pixel brightness.

This prototype system is able to send HD videos at 10 FPS (frames per second) to a smartphone or processing device that’s up to 14 feet away. Most importantly, it uses up to 10,000 times less power than current video streaming systems.

The next step for the UW researchers is to develop a completely battery-free streaming system as the prototype still needs a small battery to operate constantly.

Would this new method revolutionize other traditional radio communication systems?

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