Researchers Create Battery-Free HD Streaming Tech To Power Next Gen Smart Glasses

Wearable cameras are convenient and useful, but their video quality is often limited by their size. A team of researchers at the University Washington recently developed a new HD video streaming method that does not require a battery. Their "backscatter" technology leverages existing ambient RF waves as a power source and then selectively reflects these same RF waves to encode its own signal. This technique will allow wearable cameras to remain lightweight but be able to stream HD videos.

university of washington low power HD streaming camera
Image from Dennis Wise, University of Washington Marketing and Communications Visual Media Producer

Most streaming cameras first compress a video before sending it via Wi-Fi. This method typically requires a lot of power. The University of Washington team’s method directly connects the camera’s analog pixels to an antenna by translating each pixel into a “pulse”. The width of each pulse represents a pixel value while the duration of each pulse corresponds to the brightness of a pixel. The “intensity values” of the pixel or “pulses” are sent through a backscatter to a nearby smart device. The smart device then processes the video instead of the camera. In the end, this new technique uses roughy 10,000 times less power than current methods.

Joshua Smith, professor of electrical engineer at the University of Washington, compared the backscatter technique to the communication processes of the brain. He remarked, “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 backscatter prototype can stream 720p HD videos at ten frames per second to a device up to fourteen feet away. They have also created a low-resolution security camera that can stream thirteen frames per second.

The team has a number of plans for their technology. Saman Naderiparizi, co-author of the University of Washington research paper, noted, “Right now home security cameras have to be plugged in all the time. But with our technology, we can effectively cut the cord for wireless streaming cameras.” The team hopes to also be able to develop security cameras that would only turn on when needed and thus save even more energy.

The University of Washington team’s research was presented at the Advanced Computing Systems Association’s Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation. Their research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and Google Faculty Research Awards and was recently licensed to Jeeva Wireless. Jeeva Wireless was founded by several of the team’s researchers and paper authors.