Researchers Develop Digital Camera That Mimics a Bug’s Eye

May 3, 2013, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

You might have noticed a bug’s eye, and learned in school about the dome-shaped eyes of an insect. Ever wondered how they see through those eyes?

Well, that wonderment can soon find some answers. A team of insect-admiring engineers and builders have developed a digital camera that mimics the bulging eyes of insects, so the next-generation of cameras could very well show you how an insect views the world.

Based on the eyes of fire ants and bark beetles, these cameras can capture a 160-degree-wide field of view with nearly infinite depth of field. This means that all the areas in the photo will be in focus.

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There are 180 microlenses covering the tiny dome, and each lens would capture a particular angle of the subject to be photographed. “We feel that the insect world provides extremely impressive examples of engineering — in the vision, flight, power and sensing systems. I, personally, have been intrigued by the insect eye for as long as I can remember,” said professor John Rogers of the University of Illinois, who is part of the team that worked on the camera.

These types of cameras could be used for high-resolution imaging, and can be used to capture images on an expansive scale with all areas in sharp focus. Moreover, it would have interesting applications in medical sciences, like endoscopy cameras, which doctors use to probe inside the body.

“Nature provides a remarkable diversity of ideas for designs in cameras. We think that it will be interesting to explore some of these, because in many cases, the concepts offer unique and powerful capabilities in imaging,” explained Rogers.

Where normal digital cameras have a flat sensor and a single camera lens, the working prototypes of this new camera would have hundreds of lenses, which would have the basic elements into a rounded shape. Thin silicon sheets of photodiodes and elastic microlenses were combined together and stretched into a hemisphere to achieve the curved effect.

The images obtained are curved and are recorded in that shape on a computer. However they can be flattened and printed out if necessary.

The working prototype’s resolution is similar to the fire ant’s, and researchers say that with more advanced tech, they can improve the resolution. According to Rogers, the availability of a set of materials and fabrication techniques would allow them to develop ocular organs of other creatures as well.

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