New Digital Camera Mimics Insects' Vision

New Digital Camera Mimics Insects' Vision

9 May 2013

US scientist John Rogers from the University of Illinois and his students have created a new digital camera that mimics the structure of an insect's compound eye, Science Magazine reports.

Unlike humans, who possess single-lens eyes, insects have eyes that are covered with many small visual units, resembling little eyes called ommatidia, which are connected to cells that detect light and an optic nerve. The compound eyes of bugs have a number of advantages, such an extended field of view, strong sensitivity to motion and almost infinite depth of field. And while biologists are still trying to learn more about insects' compound eyes, Rogers and his team have made an attempt to mimic their multifaceted vision.

The camera developed by the scientists contains 180 artificial ommatidia, about the same number as in the eye of a fire ant, which were embedded in a flexible rubber sheet and tied together with flexible silicon circuits. Each of the mini-eyes contains a lens, tiny silicon photodetectors and a system of circuits to read the image. Rogers and his team then inflated the sheet into a hemispherical shape so that it curves like a compound eye. The camera was tested with high-contrast images of soccer balls and the Chinese symbol character for 'eye' and simulations suggested that the digital compound eye had a field of view of about 160 degrees. While the resolution was not as high as on smartphones, the images were still recognizable. Going forward, they could be used for a broad array of applications such as surveillance or endoscopy.

The researchers will now try to improve the the radius and curvature characteristics of the flexible ommatidia array to explore the camera's optical capabilities.