Insect eyes inspire researchers to build next generation cameras

By May 21, 2013

Researchers from have developed a prototype of compound camera inspired by bugs’ eyes. Those devices offer a much more acute vision than the human eye.


Today, video cameras we use have single lenses, just like the human eye that only has one light-sensitive tissue. However, arthropods - invertebrate animals with an exoskeleton - might be the key to the development of more sophisticated cameras. The compound eyes of insects like bees or dragonflies give them a very wide field of view, a high sensitivity to motion and a sharp sense of depth. Researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a prototype that mimics the structure of those insects’ eyes.

Compound lenses for acute vision

The eyes of arthropods are made of hundreds of photosensitive organs. The researchers’ artificial version comprises 180 micro-lenses, assembled together and layered on top of a flat surface of silicon photodetectors. The flat compound structure is then inflated it in a hemispherical shape, which gives it a 160 degree field view. The lenses each point of different directions, and therefore have the ability to focus simultaneously on a separate object, at different depths.

Applications range from health to disaster relief

This version of the prototype corresponds, in the researchers’ own words, to a “low-end insect eye” like fire ants of bark beetles, who actually don’t see very well. However, the team intends to develop other versions with a higher resolution, and reach the resolution level of dragonflies, which necessitates 20.000 micro-lenses. The applications, however, are worth the try. Those compound cameras could be particularly useful in the health sector, for endoscopies, but could also be valuable for disaster relief. For instance, those devices could be used to look for bodies under a collapsed building.



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