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Engineers eye-up insect biology as inspiration for curved camera

By dpreview staff on May 3, 2013 at 19:44 GMT

Engineers have developed a curved camera designed to mimic insects' compound eyes. The hemispherical design gives a wide field-of-view with no aberrations and effectively infinite depth-of-field, with the hope it could be used in applications such as endoscopy or as visual sensors on unmanned aircraft. The current design uses 180 light-sensitive elements, each behind its own lens, but researchers hope to build one with 20,000 elements, giving a similar resolution to that seen by dragonflies.

Because each sensor element looks through a single lens (presumably focused at the hyperfocal distance), the camera sees everything in focus in each direction. The differing perspective of each element makes the camera incredibly sensitive to motion.

The team, from The University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign's Materials Science and Engineering department, worked with scientists and engineers across four countries, to develop the camera. The big development, reported in a letter to the journal Nature (doi:10.1038/nature12083), is the ability to construct the array of photosensitive elements on a curved surface. This was achieved by arranging the combined lenses and elements on a flexible material with deformable connections between each element. The backing material was then inflated to give a predetermined degree of curvature.

As well as developing higher resolution versions, the team also says it intends to try inflating or deflating the camera to allow changeable fields of view.

The work is essentially the inverse of the same team's previous work on a concave arrangement of sensors that captured an image from a simple lens.


Total comments: 23
By spikey27 (11 months ago)

This sounds like it is about the same size and weight as the earliest of cameras, which took a whole herd of people to carry.

I think this is a terrific idea, if it doesn't take too long to develop.

Best wishes on getting those criteria down to be competitive with other methods in the near future.

By atlien991 (11 months ago)

Another tool to kill people faster. Cool.

By petepictures (11 months ago)

Can you imagine the One who made the dragon fly in the first place , so we can draw inspirations and ideas !!!!!

By thk0 (11 months ago)

Darwin did not make the dragon fly eye, he only explained how it came to be.

By kevin_r (11 months ago)

So here we have a team of highly intelligent engineers work together, using the latest equipment and techniques in technology to create a very complex piece of equipment - which just so happens falls far short of the capabilities of the eye of the dragonfly.

The eye in the dragonfly is connected to an unbelievable control system which allows it to keep track of parallel flying insects and keep itself perfectly synchronized in order to fool the prey that it is not pursuing it.

So how does the dragonfly get to get it's eyes and control system together, all by the mindless, random machinations of biological mutations?

Me thinks it's a bridge too far. But then, your mileage may vary.

About the tech itself- great stuff! The possibilities for applications are almost endless.

Comment edited 57 seconds after posting
By LWW (11 months ago)

And your point is?

By BunnyKicker26 (11 months ago)

His point is that God did it. But as such people also tend to believe prophets can hear voices from heaven, angels fly up high on wings, a man can be born from a virgin and that disembodied saviours rise from the dead, I generally put little stock in their ability to grasp evolution, science and engineering. Your mileage may vary.

By technic (11 months ago)

Some of the control functions described by kevin_r are not handled by the dragonfly eye, but by its nervous system and the ocelli which are a different (tiny) organ that looks a bit like an eye. DARPA already made a crude copy of the ocelli system for use in very small drones.
Next step: an artificial dragonfly that can keep airborne for hours instead of minutes like the current ones. Still a long way to go, and nature figured this out more than 100 million years ago ;-)

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
By micahmedia (11 months ago)

The speed of technology is actually a rate of acceleration. And the OP hasn't a clue what they're trying to say, other than to attempt to be unimpressed. Saying "same old same old" about technology is often just a way of coping with a fear of change.

1 upvote
Rolo King
By Rolo King (11 months ago)

No, the OP is actually making a statement to support his point of view as a creationist. He's not saying "same old same old."

By LKJ (11 months ago)

It's funny how creationists manage to shoehorn their screwball beliefs into completely unrelated discussions.

By mariuss (11 months ago)

The Copyist is/will not be more intelligent than the Maker.

1 upvote
By Spectro (11 months ago)

nature is one of the best engineer

By Karroly (11 months ago)

For sure, but one of the slowest...

By Bervilat (11 months ago)

If those engineers had some hundred million years to develop the technology, i would put my bet on them.

By rfsIII (11 months ago)

This is awesome, but didn't Nikon already do this with their 6mm f/2.8 fisheye back in 1972?

1 upvote
By CameraLabTester (11 months ago)

The curve camera is only the beginning...

what would be awesome is the way it will be projected.

Similar to a planetarium with spherical surface projection.

Great for gaming experience... and forensic investigations.


By jaygeephoto (11 months ago)

Years ago there was a movie camera (film based) equipped with a 180º angle of view fisheye lens. The image was then projected with a fiseye lens equipped projector onto a hemispherical screen. The test movie I saw was chasing two Chevrolet Corvettes down a twisty road and ended in a synchronized stop. It was very compelling albeit nauseating as well. I imagine this could easily be done digitally and in 3-D. Harvard researchers have created a mechanical fly that is still tethered and without any sensors (at this point). Can the army of networked spy bugs from the movie Minority Report be that far off?,2817,2418501,00.asp

By Trollshavethebestcandy (11 months ago)

So a drone with dragonfly eyes shaped like a dragonfly?
I want one but in a golf ball to take 360 video.

1 upvote
Paul Guba
By Paul Guba (11 months ago)

Love to see some images off it. Coming to a drone near you.

Cy Cheze
By Cy Cheze (11 months ago)

Insects may not have focal vision or perceive bokeh, but the perception of location and motion must be extremely acute.

Could the same approach be applied to laser guidance or sub-optical frequencies, such as infra-red or radar? Might result in one heckuva agile mechanical dragonfly to use for surveillance or as a drone. But the data or imaging would not resemble anything people are accustomed to "see." The "pictures" might differentiate objects and distances, but not resolve text or facial features. Just my ant-brained guess, mind you.

By technic (11 months ago)

check out the dragonfly ocelli; it's a combination of artificial horizon and motion/acceleration detection (plus more) and replaces gyroscope systems as used in aircraft; gyroscopes are not an option at the small scale of insects. The median ocellus consists of about 1500 photoreceptors and a dozen nerve cells; it is tiny and very fast compared to our equivalent technology.

Dragonfly doesn't have the equivalent of GPS or Wifi though ;-)

1 upvote
Richard Wonka
By Richard Wonka (11 months ago)

Hmm... makes me wonder how they would perceive bokeh when seeing it in an image. An unreal experience? Surreal? Broken/eye-watering? Or just: "Not food - must keep flying!"

Total comments: 23