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Breakthrough At Columbia Engineering Could Revolutionize Wireless VR

VR has been progressively growing in importance and this week's Oculus Connect gave it a significant shot in the arm when it comes to mass adoption. Various technological limitations are being and will continue to be overcome as manufacturers figure out the most efficient ways to immerse users in virtual worlds. One particular limitation involves the wired setup of more powerful PC virtual reality HMDs but the secret to fixing that problem may be in the tech that powers cell networks.

Virtual reality requires a very rapid exchange of large amounts data to function correctly. Any poor latency performance will result in a lag that can completely disorient a user and even cause dizzying VR sickness. Going wireless with high-end VR HMDs is tough because it's difficult to reach the exchange rate needed to prevent those latency issues.

A team at Columbia Engineering has developed a way for the transmission of data at millimeter-wave frequencies. As described in the news post from Columbia, most devices are reciprocal. This means signals travel in the same manner back and forth. In nonreciprocal devices, signals can flow more freely without collision. Enabling this type of operation at millimeter-wave frequencies taps into a bandwidth that isn't even in use.

Typically, nonreciprocal devices are too bulky and expensive for consumer electronics. The breakthrough at Columbia is a new way to enable nonreciprocal transmission which they describe as "two trains approaching each other at super-high speeds that are detoured at the last moment so that they do not collide." This allows the improved performance to be built into conventional chips.

“This gives us a lot more real estate," says Harish Krishnaswamy, an associate professor electrical engineering at Columbia Engineering. "This mm-wave circulator enables mm-wave wireless full-duplex communications and this could revolutionize emerging 5G cellular networks, wireless links for virtual reality, and automotive radar.”

The team is funded by a collection of sources included the National Science Foundation and Texas Instruments currently. They're currently working on ways to improve the performance of their circulator with the long-term goal to build a large-scale duplex that takes advantage of the circulator. Once this happens, the team will likely acquire even more support and, hopefully, steps will be taken to put this new tech to work. 

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