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Wireless Software Synchronization of Multiple Distributed Cameras

Reference code for the paper Wireless Software Synchronization of Multiple Distributed Cameras. Sameer Ansari, Neal Wadhwa, Rahul Garg, Jiawen Chen, ICCP 2019.

If you use this code, please cite our paper:

  author  = {Ansari, Sameer and Wadhwa, Neal and Garg, Rahul and Chen, Jiawen},
  title   = {Wireless Software Synchronization of Multiple Distributed Cameras},
  journal = {ICCP},
  year    = {2019},

This is not an officially supported Google product.

Five smartphones synchronously capture a balloon filled with red water being popped. Five smartphones synchronously capture a balloon filled with red water being popped to within 250 μs timing accuracy.

Android App to Capture Synchronized Images

The app has been tested on the Google Pixel 2, 3, and 4. It may work on other Android phones with minor changes.

Note: On Pixel 1 devices the viewfinder frame rate drops after a couple captures, which will likely cause time synchronization to be much lower in accuracy. This may be due to thermal throttling. Disabling saving to JPEG or lowering the frame rate may help.

Installation instructions:

  1. Download Android Studio. When you install it, make sure to also install the Android SDK API 27.
  2. Click "Open an existing Android Studio project". Select the "CaptureSync" directory.
  3. There will be a pop-up with the title "Gradle Sync" complaining about a missing file called Click ok to recreate the Gradle wrapper.
  4. Plug in your Pixel smartphone. You will need to enable USB debugging. See for further instructions.
  5. Go to the "Run" menu at the top and click "Run 'app'" to compile and install the app.

Note: By default, the app will likely start in client mode, with no UI options.

Setting up the Leader device

  1. On the system pulldown menu of the leader device, disable WiFi.
  2. Start a hotspot.
  3. After this, opening the app on the leader device should show UI options, as well as which clients are connected.

Setting up the Client(s) device

  1. Enable WiFi and connect to the leader's hotspot.
  2. As client devices on the network start up, they will sync up with the leader, which will show up on both the leader and client UIs.
  3. (Optional) Go to wifi preferences and disable "Turn on Wi-Fi automatically" and "Connect to open networks", this will keep devices from automatically disconnecting from a hotspot without internet.

Capturing images

  1. (Optional) Press the phase align button to have each device synchronize their phase, the phase error will show in real-time.
  2. (Optional) Move the exposure and sensitivity slider on the leader device to manually set 2A values.
  3. Press the Capture Still button to request a synchronized image slightly in the future on all devices.

This will save to internal storage, as well as show up under the Pictures directory in the photo gallery.

Note: Fine-tuning the phase configuration JSON parameters in the raw resources directory will let you trade alignment-time for phase alignment accuracy.

Note: AWB is used for simplicity, but could also be synchronized with devices.

Information about saved data

Synchronized images are saved to the external files directory for this app, which is:


A JPEG version of the image will also populate in the photo gallery under the Pictures subdirectory under Settings -> Device Folders.

Pulling data from individual phones using:

adb pull /storage/emulated/0/Android/data/com.googleresearch.capturesync/files /tmp/outputdir

The images are also stored as a raw YUV file (in packed NV21 format) and a metadata file which can be converted to PNG or JPG using the Python script in the scripts/ directory.

Example Workflow

  1. User sets up all devices on the same hotspot WiFi network of leader device.
  2. User starts app on all devices, uses exposure sliders and presses the Phase Align button on the leader device.
  3. User presses capture button on the leader device to collect captures.
  4. If JPEG is enabled (default) the user can verify captures by going to the Pictures photo directory on their phone through Google Photos or similar.
  5. After a capture session, the user pulls the data from each phone to the local machine using adb pull.
  6. (Optional)The python script is used to convert the raw images using:
python3 img_<timestamp>.nv21 nv21_metadata_<timestamp>.txt

How Networking and Communications work

Note: Algorithm specifics can be found in our paper linked at the top.

Leader and clients use heartbeats to connect with one another and keep track of state. Simple NTP is used for clock synchronization. That, phase alignment and 2A is used to make phones capture the same type of image as the same time. Capturing is done by sending a trigger time to all devices which will independently capture at that time.

All of this requires communication. One component of this library is to provide a method for sending messages (RPCs) between the leader device and client devices, to allow for synchronization as well as capture triggering, AWB, state etc.

The network uses wifi with UDP messages for communication. The leader IP is determined automatically by client devices.

A message is sent as an RPC byte sequence consisting of an integer method ID (defined in and the string message payload. (defined in sendRpc())

Note: This app has the leader set up a hotspot, through this client devices can automatically determine the leader IP address from the connection, however one could manually configure IP address with a different network configuration, such as using a router that all the phones connect to.


The leader sends a METHOD_SET_TRIGGER_TIME RPC (Method id located in ) to all the clients containing a requested capture synchronized timestamp far enough in the future to account for potential network latency between devices. In practice network latency between devices is ~100ms or less, however the latency may be more or less depending on what devices or network configuration is used.

Note: In this case the future is 500ms, giving plenty of time for network latency.

Each client and leader receives the future timestamp and checks the timestamp of each frame as it comes in and pulls the closest frame at or past the desired timestamp and saves it to disk. One advantage of this method is that if any delays happen in capturing, the synchronized capture timestamp will show that the time offset between images without requiring looking at the images.

Note: Zero-shutter-lag capture is possible if each device is capable of storing frames in a ring buffer. Then when a desired current/past capture timestamp is provided each device can check in the ring buffer for the closest frame timestamp and save that one.


A leader listens for a heartbeat from any client, to determine if a client exists and whether starting the synchronization with that client is necessary. When it gets a heartbeat from a client that is not synchronized, it initiates an NTP handshake with the client to determine the clock offsets between the two devices

A client continuously sends out METHOD_HEARTBEAT RPC to the leader with it's current boolean state for if it's already synchronized with the leader.

A leader received METHOD_HEARTBEAT and responds with a METHOD_HEARTBEAT_ACK to the client. The leader uses this to keep track of a list of clients using the ClientInfo object for each client, which will also include sync information.

The client waits for a METHOD_OFFSET_UPDATE from the leader which contains the time offset needed to get to a synchronized clock domain with the leader, after which it's heartbeat messages will show that it is synced to the leader.

Whenever a client gets desynchronized, the heartbeats will notify the leader of it and they will re-initiate synchronization. Through this mechanism automated clock synchronization and maintenance is achieved.

Simple NTP Handshake

The is used to perform an NTP handshake between the leader and client. The local time domain of the devices is used, using the method for getting local nanosecond time.

An NTP handshake consists of the leader sending a message containing the current leader timestamp t0. The client receives and appends it's receiving local timestamp t1, as well as the timestamp it sends a return message to the leader t2. The leader receives this at timestamp t3, and using these 4 times estimates the clock offset between the two devices, accounting for network latency.

This result is encapsulated in which also contains the hard upper bound timing error on the offset. In practice the timing error is an order of magnitude smaller since wifi network communication is mostly symmetric with the bias accounted for by choosing the smallest sample(s).

More information can be found in our paper on this topic.

Phase Alignment

The leader sends out a METHOD_DO_PHASE_ALIGN RPC (Method id located in to all the clients whenever the Align button is pressed. Each client on receipt then starts a phase alignment process (handled by which may take a couple frames to settle.

Note: The leader could instead send its current phase to all devices, and the devices could align to that, reducing the total potential error. For simplicity this app uses a hard-coded goal phase.

Exposure / White Balance / Focus

For simplicity, this app uses manual exposure, hard-coded white balance, and auto-focus. The leader uses UI sliders to set exposure and sensitivity, which automatically sends out a METHOD_SET_2A RPC (Method id located in ) to all the clients, which update their 2A as well. Technically 2A is a misnomer here as it is only setting exposure and sensitivity, not white balance.

It is possible to use auto exposure/sensitivity and white balance, and have the leader lock and send the current 2A using the same RPC mechanism to other devices which can then set theirs manually to the same.

Note: One could try synchronizing focus values as well, though in practice we found the values were not accurate enough to provide sharp focus across devices. Hence we keep auto-focus.


📷 📷 📷 📷 📷 Wireless software synchronization of multiple distributed smartphone cameras.








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