Researchers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have shown that a cloud of atoms can be used as a receiver to pick up video transmissions. The team demonstrated this “Atomic Television” by transmitting live video feed and even video games through the atoms to a monitor.
The “atomic” part of this Atomic TV comes from a gas of rubidium atoms in a glass container. The team uses lasers of two different colors to coax these atoms into a strange “Rydberg” state, where they have high energy and electrons that orbit at a relatively long distance out from the nucleus. This makes them sensitive to electromagnetic fields, and in previous work the NIST team demonstrated how they could act as radio receivers.
For the new study, the researchers added video to the service. First a stable, carrier radio signal is applied to the Rydberg atoms, then this signal is modulated using input from a video camera or other source. The new modulated signal is transmitted through a horn antenna to the atoms, which causes them to shift their energy in certain ways. This pattern of energy shifting from the atoms can be interpreted as an output signal, which is then run through an analog-to-digital converter into a VGA format, which is finally fed to a TV that displays the video.
“We figured out how to stream and receive videos through the Rydberg atom sensors,” said Chris Holloway, lead researcher on the project. “Now we are doing video streaming and quantum gaming, streaming video games through the atoms. We basically encoded the video game onto a signal and detected it with the atoms. The output is fed directly into the TV.”
The team says that the video can be transmitted with a data rate of around 100 MB/s, which is pretty respectable by current internet standards. It did however only only transmit video with a standard definition of 480i, a resolution that looks blurry to modern sensibilities.
That said, the specs can be improved by tweaking the size and power of the laser beams, as well as the detection methods for the output signals. Narrower beams produce higher refresh rates and better resolution in the signal.
The team says that these kinds of atom-based communications systems could be useful because they can be packed into smaller spaces, and tolerate more interference, than existing electronics.
The research was published in the journal AVS Quantum Science. The team demonstrates the Atomic TV in the video below.
NIST’s Atomic Television