Snap will be dying to get its hands on this new HD streaming technology

20 Apr 2018

The prototype streaming device. Image: University of Washington

A new breakthrough could mean that battery-draining streaming of HD video will become a thing of the past.

Anyone who has tried to stream HD video from a device such as Snap Spectacles will know that such a feat cannot be achieved due to the limitations of the hardware.

Even when you turn on the Periscope app and try to stream HD video, you know that your battery is going to drain rapidly, making it far from ideal when trying to shoot footage for more than a few minutes.

However, a new breakthrough achieved by a team from the University of Washington could be about to make this problem a thing of the past, to such a degree that it would seem almost impossible.

In a paper published online, the team revealed a HD video streaming method that skips the power-hungry parts in the device’s hardware and transfers it to another device such as a smartphone, reducing the power consumption by a factor of as much as 10,000.

In today’s streaming devices, the camera first processes and compresses the video before it is transmitted via Wi-Fi, which eats a lot of power, meaning a lightweight streaming camera that doesn’t use large batteries or a power source has been out of reach.

In the research team’s new method, it used a technique called backscatter, through which a device can share information by reflecting signals that have been transmitted to it.

This means that all of the power-hungry components of current streaming devices are eliminated and instead, the pixels in the camera are directly connected to the antenna, sending intensity values via backscatter to a nearby smartphone.

The phone can then process the video instead, making it far more efficient for energy usage.

Similar to cells in the brain

“It’s sort of similar to how the cells in the brain communicate with each other,” said co-author Joshua Smith.

“Neurons are either signalling or they’re not, so the information is encoded in the timing of their action potentials.”

To test the concept, the team created a prototype device that converted HD YouTube videos into raw pixel data and subsequently fed the pixels into its backscatter system.

The results showed it could stream 720p HD videos at 10 frames per second to a device up to 14ft away, similar to a camera recording a scene and sending the video to a device in the next room.

Speaking of its future, Smith added: “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, everywhere across the stadium. And you don’t have to ever worry about changing their batteries.”

The current design still needs a small battery to operate, but the next step will be to make the device battery-free.

No doubt those working in the internet of things (IoT) space will sit up and take notice.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic