New video compression goal of public-private partnership

Purdue University is leading a team of experts from other Indiana universities, the military and industry to develop an advanced ”video compression” technology needed for surveillance and commercial applications. The new technology will enable future military drones to more efficiently transmit data and surveillance video. This will allow the unmanned aircraft to operate longer on a single battery charge and to expand what they see by adding more sensors.

From Purdue University:
Purdue leads partnership to create new video compression

Purdue University is leading a team of experts from other Indiana universities, the military and industry to develop an advanced ”video compression” technology needed for surveillance and commercial applications.

The new technology will enable future military drones to more efficiently transmit data and surveillance video. This will allow the unmanned aircraft to operate longer on a single battery charge and to expand what they see by adding more sensors, said Edward J. Delp, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue and principal investigator on the project.

Video surveillance is expected to represent an annual market of $5 billion in 2005, and researchers hope the technology developed through the project will help Indiana retain high-tech engineering jobs at a time when the economic downturn and competition from abroad has hurt the electronics industry, Delp said.

The two-year project is funded with a $2.6 million grant from Indiana’s 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, established by the state to promote high-tech research and development and to help commercialize innovations.

Delp is working with Mark J.T. Smith, head of Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Robert L. Stevenson, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Notre Dame; Paul Salama, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis; engineer Clay Armstrong at the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Division; engineers Huan Yen and Douglas Welk at the Advanced Information and Entertainment Systems Department of Delphi Delco Electronics Systems in Kokomo, Ind.; engineers Lauren Christopher, Bill Beyers and Michael Deiss at Thomson Inc.’s Corporate Research Group in Indianapolis; and engineer William Brenner at EG&G, a contractor working for Crane.

Compression is a technique that reduces the amount of data needed to transmit video so that it can be sent more efficiently over communications media, such as the Internet and wireless systems that use radio waves.

”Thomson’s Corporate Research Group at Indianapolis has done excellent basic work in video compression research for more than 10 years,” Delp said. ”Thomson, Purdue, IUPUI and Notre Dame will benefit by working together on basic and important problems in video compression.”

Thomson and Delphi may use the new video compression methods in future products. For example, Delphi is interested in applications such as rear-seat vehicle entertainment systems in cars, as well as video surveillance, security and safety applications to monitor highway and pedestrian traffic.

Crane and EG&G are interested in using the technology for surveillance systems in military applications such as ”force protection,” constantly monitoring for enemy intruders approaching a ship. Such a surveillance tool could help to prevent a scenario such as the attack on the USS Cole, in which a small boat laden with explosives maneuvered next to the naval vessel and was then detonated, killing 17 service members.

Conventional video compression techniques, which are mainly used for entertainment applications, have a complex, expensive ”encoder” at the transmission source, such as a broadcast studio, and an inexpensive ”decoder” at the receiving end, such as a person’s DVD player, Delp said.

This configuration makes it possible to manufacture low-cost DVD players that sell for about $50, instead of thousands of dollars, but it does not best meet the specific needs of military applications.

”We want to flip those roles for specialized applications, such as those for the military, so that you have a complex, expensive decoder on the ground and a low-cost encoder flying on perhaps military aircraft called unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs,” Delp said.

This role reversal will require new software to make it possible to transmit video with ”low complexity encoding.” Data and images are transmitted over the Internet and other media by first converting the information into coded signals that are sent in a series of bands. Media can only accommodate so much bandwidth. The greater the volume of signals needed for a particular video, the larger the amount of bandwidth required. If video and images can be sent using less bandwidth, the system will be able to send more pictures, video and other data at the same time.

The work will enable engineers to design encoders that are far less complex than current encoders, allowing military aircraft to transmit video using less power and requiring less bandwidth, Delp said.

The research also will focus on enhancing an emerging standard for video compression, called H.264 or MPEG-4 Part 10, which will soon replace the current standard, called MPEG-2, now used for Web-based video and consumer applications such as DVD players and satellite TV, as well as for video surveillance.

”Everybody will be using MPEG-4 Part 10, which will be better than MPEG-2 because it will require less bandwidth for the same quality signal,” Delp said.

Compression software algorithms, or programs that perform a specific task through a series of steps, ”remove statistical properties that you can’t see in the image but that take up more bandwidth,” Delp said.

Current military UAVs use the MPEG-2 standard to transmit surveillance video, but the new standard will enable the aircraft to consume less power and improve performance.

”If they could save battery time they could add more sensors, fly for a longer time over an area and transmit a higher quality signal,” Delp said. ”We are also looking at ways of securing this video so no outside parties will be able to tap into the signal to see or hear what the system is observing in surveillance operations.”

The research team will be able to create the software needed for the low-complexity encoding by the end of the two-year project, which will be finished in March 2006, he said.

”We are bringing together the best video compression experts in the state to work on this problem,” Delp said.

The new software is made possible by theoretical approaches created in 1970s and 1980s by researchers at other institutions.


The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Have a question? Let us know.

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