Scientists are working on a new digital camera imitating the eyes of insects and being able to capture an impressive 160-degree field of view. The bug-eye camera consists of 180 tiny lenses stretched along a centimeter-wide curved array, inspired by the eyes of bark beetles and fire ants.
The digital camera was designed by a research team led by University of Illinois scientists whose purpose was to develop a man-made camera able to reveal how insects see the world. Traditional cameras, like the human eye, gather light through a single frontal lens, while other internal lenses focus the light on the film or sensor.
But insects’ eyes work totally differently: they are provided with a vast number of tiny lenses called ommatidia, which break down an image into small pieces. The pieces are then reassembled at the center of the eye to form a larger, more complete image than what humans are able to see.
The system based on insects’ compound eyes presents numerous advantages, including a very wide-angle view and immense depth of field. This depth of field allows the bug-eye camera to focus on objects at different distances at the same time, without the distortion seen in regular cameras.
For the time being, the prototype has few pixels so it produces low resolution images, but researchers expect to be able to improve the resolution with more advanced technology. Scientists are also hoping to further expand their research so as to develop insect eye-inspired cameras with as many as 20,000 lenses or even more. The dragonfly eye has about 28,000 ommatidia, while the praying mantis has around 15,000.
This technology could have numerous uses in the medical field, but also in surveillance and security. The research team believes the system could be used to manufacture highly efficient endoscopic cameras, but also high-resolution surveillance cameras that can offer a 180-degree wide view. The camera could even be fitted on a small robotic mechanism that could be used to scan various locations remotely. For instance, such a device could be sent in a collapsed building to scan the area for further risks and survivors.
[Images via uasvision]