Researchers create 'atomic television' that transmits live video with big atoms and small lasers

The team even transmitted video games through the atoms to a monitor.
Deena Theresa
NIST scientists demonstrate using rubidium atoms in a Rydberg state as receivers which can pick up live video, and even play video games. A screenshot from the video feed in action.
NIST scientists demonstrate using rubidium atoms in a Rydberg state as receivers which can pick up live video, and even play video games. A screenshot from the video feed in action.


Scientists at the US National Institute of Standards have developed an 'Atomic Television' that uses lasers and atom clouds to pick up video transmissions that meet the 480i resolution standard. The team demonstrated the same by transmitting live video feeds and even video games through the atoms to a monitor.

Now, why is this super cool?

Atom-based communication systems could be physically smaller and more tolerant of noisy environments compared to conventional electronics. And adding video capability could enhance radio systems in remote locations or emergencies.

A glass container of gaseous super-sized rubidium atoms excited by two colors of laser beams - known as the Rydberg state - is central to the technology. In the Rydberg state, atoms have a high energy level, which causes the electrons to orbit further out from the nucleus. This makes the atoms larger and sensitive to electromagnetic fields, including radio signals. In previous work, the NIST scientists demonstrated how they could act as radio receivers.

In the new study, however, the researchers added video. "We figured out how to stream and receive videos through the Rydberg atom sensors," electrical engineer Chris Holloway from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said in a release. "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 latest work is described in AVS Quantum Science.

The Rydberg state - a key technology

In a glass container, two different color lasers were used to prepare gaseous rubidium atoms in Rydberg states. The researchers previously relied on the arrangement with cesium atoms to demonstrate the basic radio receiver and a "headphone" appliance to "boost sensitivity a hundredfold".

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To prepare the radio receiver, a stable carrier signal is applied to the glass container, which comprises the Rydberg atoms. This signal is modulated using input from a video camera or other source. Next, the modulated signal is transmitted through a horn antenna to the atoms - which causes an energy shift. The team can detect these energy shifts and interpret them as an output signal run through an analog-to-digital converter into a VGA format, which is eventually fed to a TV that displays the video.

Now, the input is sent from a video camera to modulate the original carrier signal to display a live video signal or video game. This signal is fed to a horn antenna directing the transmission to the atoms. The original carrier signal is used as a reference and compared to the final video output detected through the atoms to evaluate the system.

Excellent speed for household internet and video gaming

An in-depth study into the laser beam sizes, powers, and detection methods required for the atoms were essential to receive video in a standard definition format.

According to the release, the beam size affects the average time the atoms remain in the laser interaction zone. This average time is inversely related to the receiver's bandwidth, which means that a shorter time and smaller beam produce more data. Smaller areas result in a higher signal "refresh rate" and better resolution.

The researchers found that small beam diameters for both lasers led to faster responses and color reception - a data rate of 100 megabits per second was achieved. This is an excellent speed for video gaming and household internet.

However, the atomic television may take a while to be part of your home entertainment setup; research is ongoing to increase the system's bandwidth and data rates.

Study abstract:

We demonstrate the ability to receive live color analog television and video game signals with the use of the Rydberg atom receiver. The typical signal expected for traditional 480i National Television Standards Committee format video signals requires a bandwidth of over 3 MHz. We determine the beam sizes, powers, and detection method required for the Rydberg atoms to receive this type of signal. The beam size affects the average time the atoms remain in the interaction volume, which is inversely proportional to the bandwidth of the receiver. We find that small beam diameters (less than 100 μm) lead to much faster responses and allow for color reception. We demonstrate the effect of the beam size on bandwidth by receiving a live 480i video stream with the Rydberg atom receiver. The best video reception was achieved with a beam width of 85 ?m full-width at half-max.

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