Cloud research project cuts mobile broadband use to a fraction with GPU offload

Microsoft Research and Duke University are combining device graphics chips with those in the cloud to cut mobile broadband usage for streamed applications by up to 83 percent.

Graphics intensive cloud-based games and apps might look nice while you're streaming them on a mobile broadband connection but they'll eat through any data cap you might have.

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Or will they?

A new approach from Duke University and Microsoft Research can cut down on that bandwidth consumption to just one-sixth of what conventional cloud-streaming uses.

The two groups presented their system, called Kahawai, earlier this week at the MobiSys 2015 conference in Florence, Italy.

Kahawai supplements traditional streaming apps by combining effort between the mobile device's GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, and a server's GPU in one of two ways according to the project's published research.

The end result in testing is the same end-user experience as a fully cloud-streamed service but at a large bandwidth savings over mobile broadband.

"The task of quickly generating fine-grained details -- such as subtle changes in texture and shading at speeds of 60 frames per second -- is still left to the remote server. But collaborative rendering lets the mobile device generate a rough sketch of each frame, or a few high-detail sketches of select frames, while the remote server fills in the gaps."

For now, the research teams have only implemented Kahawai as a proof-of-concept in a streaming version of the game Doom 3.

This first effort is impressive based on the video demonstration, showing no apparent loss of detail. Gamers who tried the Kahawai version of Doom 3 experience no reported in-game lag, as well.

Cloud-based gaming is an obvious application area for Kahawai but there are plenty of other potential uses: Graphics-dependent desktop applications, video streaming and medical imaging are just a few areas where the research could be beneficial, particularly for those who rely more on phones and tablets where mobile broadband comes at a cost.