Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Wearable cameras, such as the type found in Snap Spectacles, are often limited to low-resolution video streaming due to their tiny batteries and small size. But now, researchers with the University of Washington in Seattle have developed a solution to that problem, one that involves offloading the processing burden to a nearby smartphone in order to stream high-definition content from the wearable camera.

The new low-power HD video streaming method utilizes backscatter technology and works by transmitting pixel intensity values via an antenna directly to the user's smartphone. Unlike the wearable camera, which by its nature is small and lightweight with limited hardware resources, a smartphone offers way more processing power and a much larger battery.

When used as part of this new system, the phone receives the pixel information from the wearable camera, then processes it into a high-definition video for streaming. The prototype system was tested using a 720p HD YouTube video, which was successfully fed into the backscatter system and streamed at 10fps to a smartphone located 14ft / 4.2m away.

The wearable camera features only a small battery and uses between 1,000 and 10,000 times less power than existing streaming methods; however, the researchers plan to go a step further and develop a battery-free camera system with potential applications outside of smart glasses and body cameras.

Security systems, for example, could benefit from this technology, which would eliminate the need to either plug the cameras into a power source or frequently recharge internal batteries. Instead, the video data would be transmitted via antennas from the cameras to a central processing unit connected to a large battery or wired powered source.

As study co-author Joshua Smith explained:

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.

If the idea of "tiny cameras everywhere" also sounds mildly disturbing and like a privacy nightmare to you, you're not alone... but we digress.

The full paper detailing this technology is available here.